David Crosby and Graham Nash do not talk to each other and haven’t in several years. Fifty years after they met, there is now the sound of silence. Crosby would like to heal the rift, but Nash is angry, very angry. That is a fascinating story. For another time.
Crosby and Nash were the bookends in Crosby, Stills & Nash. Stephen Stills was recognized as the musical virtuoso in the group, the musical director and multi-instrumentalist. Crosby and Nash were equally strong songwriters, and equal combatants in the rocky group dynamics that would be a hallmark of Crosby, Stills & Nash, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
Stills and Neil Young had an uneasy alliance stretching back to their Buffalo Springfield days. Their competitiveness would be part of the reason CSN&Y didn’t perform together much, but when they did, it was mostly magic.
Crosby and Nash found they could easily relate to each other, personally and musically. Neither were considered instrumental heavyweights, decent rythym guitar players, and Nash also composed on the piano, but the more challenging guitar parts were handled by Stills and/or Young. On the Crosby, Stills & Nash debut album, Stills played most of the instruments, overubbing the various, guitar, bass and keyboard parts.
After the CSN&Y album, Deja Vu (1970), Crosby and Nash each released successful solo albums (If I Could Only Remember My Name and Songs For Beginners). The two teamed up for a solo acoustic tour, then went into the studio to record an album together, Graham Nash David Crosby, which reached number four on the chart and produced a top forty hit, “Immigrataion Man”. Credit Crosby and Nash, they surrounded themselves with top-rate musicians, many who would work with them throughout the decade.
Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reformed for a massive tour in 1974, playing stadiums, which dwarfed their intimate sound and harmonies. The tour was a great success but wasn’t released as a recording for more than 40 years.
Following the group tour, the four made another attempt at an album, but it wasn’t to be. Crosby and Nash signed with ABC Records and set about recording their second album as a duo. Wind on the Water (1975) stands as their best effort and ranks as solid as anything CS&N or CSN&Y recorded together.
Again, relying on the musical talent of a corp group of L.A. musicians to help imagine and embellish this collection of songs. These folks were the “new Wrecking Crew” playing with Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and many others.
David Lindley and Danny Kortchmar: guitars
Tim Drummond and Leland Sklar: bass
Russell Kunkel: drums
Craig Doerge: keyboards
Others who played on the album included: Levon Helm, Carole King, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and Ben Keith. Crosby and Nash handled the production and chipped guitars and piano.
In 1975, I was in my first year of college and my musical horizons were expanding at warp speed. Not only was I hearing new releases but I was mining the rock treasures of the past decade. I was in heaven.
Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Neil Young, were squarely on my radar as I was listening to everything I could get my hands on. Then Wind on the Water landed on my shore.
There is no doubt that David Crosby and Graham Nash wrote good songs. Each had a command of melody and could write compelling lyrics. Nash wrote from the heart, story songs, he freely injected his social consciousness and passion into this songs. Crosby’s songs were more introspective and his music often infused softer, jazz structure which allowed his vocals to wander and soar. While Stills and Nash provided searing guitar-focused songs, Crosby and Nash were thought of as pop-writers from the Byrds and Hollies. Wind on the Water showed they could rock, passionately.
Curiously, Wind on the Water, had slightly less success than their first album, peaking at number six on the chart, and missing the top forty on three singles released from the album. Wind on the Water achieved Gold status shortly after release and would sell more than a million copies.
The album is terrific, from start to finish, no filler in the group. They would tour in support of the album then head back into the studio to record Whistling Down the Wind, released less than a year later, using essentially the same group of musicians and same format, though not as successfully. More on that later.
Wind on the Water is divided between slower, introspective songs that accentuate Crosby and Nash’s vocal prowess, and harder rockers that would make CSN&Y proud.
- “Carry Me” David Crosby. One of two classics submitted by Crosby, this song shines with the vocal interplay between Crosby and Nash. The song changes tempo between the verses and chorus, and ramps up the instrumental power. A great beginning to the album, it shows that the strength of this record will be vocally, but instrumentation will do more than just accompany the singing.
- “Mama Lion” Graham Nash. Another stellar, muscular vocal performance by Nash and Crosby, backed by David Lindley’s slide guitar. The guitar work in general is top rate on this album.
- “Bittersweet” David Crosby. A beautiful song, driven by piano instead of guitar. The interplay of vocals shows how an average song becomes an intricately textured vocal performance. When Crosby and Nash go quieter, it really isn’t soft, it is a different kind of power.
- “Take the Money and Run” Graham Nash. My favorite song on the album, an upbeat rocker that Nash was known for. If you weren’t sure if Crosby and Nash had muscle, this should remove any doubt. This song should have been a big chart hit.
- “Naked in the Rain” David Crosby, Graham Nash. A true ballad, this might have been just a solo acoustic guitar accompaniment on a previous album, instead, the acoustic guitars are backed by layers of keyboard which don’t crowd the vocals but add fills and texture. The wealth of strong songs overshadows quieter moments like this.
- “Love Work Out” Graham Nash. A great close to side one, Nash belts out a powerful vocal performance. Clocking in at nearly five minutes, the song rocks hard. Great guitar work by Danny Kortchmar and David Lindley, and backup vocals by Jackson Browne.
- “Low Down Payment” David Crosby. Probably Crosby’s weakest song, nothing particularly special about the song, but the arrangment lifts it to a fine song. Again, the vocal skills of Crosby and Nash, along with the inventiveness of the band, makes this a more interesting song than it would otherwise be. This illustrates the difference between the quality of songs on this and their next album. Had this song been held back for the next album, the result might been less pleasing.
- “Cowboy of Dreams” Graham Nash. The lone song on the album that I don’t care for. A real change of pace, I don’t believe it fits on this collection. It’s not a bad song, just one I skip when I play the album.
- “Homeward Through the Haze” David Crosby. A contemplative song by Crosby, beautiful and aching. Crosby has a strength for creating haunting imagery. Carole King helps with piano and vocals.
- “Fieldworker” Graham Nash. A pounding song about the treatment of immigrant farm workers. Nash is on full assault, it is skillfully crafted and transitions into one of their hardest rocking songs. David Lindley’s wonderful slide guitar is on display, along with the bass playing of Tim Drummond and drumming of Levon Helm. This song is angry.
- “To the Last Whale…” (A. Critical Mass B. Wind on the Water) David Crosby, Graham Nash. This the jewel of the album, an ode to the fate of the whale. This is a beautifully written and arranged song of two parts. The first, is an acapella vocal performance by Crosby and Nash. The second part is a haunting ballad, augmented by James Taylor on vocal and guitar, along with excellent orchestraion by Jimmy Haskell. If there is one signature song for the duo, this is it.
Whistle Down the Wind was admitedly, a let-down. The quality of the songs was noticably lacking, compared to the highwater creative mark set by Wind on the Water. The rumor was that more time was spent on drugs than creating songs. The album was successful but less than Wind on the Water. My guess is the label pushed them to get back in the studio, follow the same formula and produce another winner. After Wind on the Water was released, Crosby and Nash went on the road, then regrouped with Stills and Young in a disasterous attempt to record another album, then rushed back into the studio to record Whistle Down the Wind. The result showed the hectic nature and demand on their time. Crosby had also begun his desent into drug abuse.
The best songs on the album are “Taken at All”, “Spotlight” and “Out of the Darkeness.” “Marguerita” and “Foolish Man” are okay, but they wouldn’t have made the cut for Wind on the Water. Most of these songs feel unfinished and definitely uninspired. I hate to say that, but I’ve felt that way for forty years and countless listens.
The magic that was heard when Crosby, Stills and Nash first sat together at Cass Elliott’s house in 1969, when the voices blended together, defied age and retained that great harmony. Crosby and Nash were in demand to lend their voices to the work of their friends. Dave Mason, J.D. Souther, Elton John, Art Garfunkel, Gary Wright, Carole King, John Mayer, Neil Young, James Taylor, Jackson Browne and David Gilmour.
David Crosby is the subject of a new documentary, Remember My Name, about his life and career. I haven’t seen it, but plan to. Rottentomatoes.com has a critics rating of 91 percent for this film. I mention this film because it may be the closest we get to seeing Crosby with any of his former bandmates. The split with Nash is the most sad, in part because of their lengthy partnership, but also because Nash was Crosby’s lifeline through the dark years. Now sober and in the twilight of his life, Crosby’s voice is surprisingly strong, and perfect for harmonizing. He just needs his partners.