So…as promised, here are a couple of examples of Neil’s impact on the ability of CSN to rock during live performances. Let’s start with one of Neil’s classic songs, Down By The River as performed by CSNY at the Big Sur festival in 1969.
Stephen wanted CSN to rock and I think we can agree that with the addition of Neil that goal was accomplished. Stephen and Neil’s dueling guitars were magic in Buffalo Springfield and they are just as much as so in CSNY.
As a child of the 60’s I have to admit that I have to giggle a little watching these clips from the Big Sur festival. Now that I am looking old age in the face, it all seems a little silly but if I had a time machine and could go back to that time I would do it without a second thought.
This second clip from the Big Sur festival is a mixture of Neil Young inspired CSNY rock, some true 60’s absurdity, and a beautiful acoustic performance by Stephen. Enjoy…
This wraps up the Plus One posts. Be looking for the next post in this series (The Southern California Sound (9) – Not The Way We Planned It) in the coming week
When we last discussed Crosby, Stills, and Nash the group’s self titled album had just been released to critical acclaim. You might also remember that it was Stephen that played most of the instruments during the recording of the album…they were a group but not a real band. We hinted in that post that this would become a significant issue once they decided to tour and so it was. Dallas Taylor had been brought in as drummer for the Crosby, Stills, and Nash album but they needed more…here is an excerpt from Shakey (a Neil Young Biograph by Jimmy McDonough) that picks up the story with Stephen and Dallas on the way to talk to Neil after a Crazy Horse concert. (By the way, if you are a Neil Young fan at all you really to buy Shakey and read it!)
“I’ll never forget our ride in the limo on the way to see Neil,” said Dallas Taylor, recalling a 1969 Crazy Horse gig on Long Island they were crashing. “Stephen said, ‘How would you feel about Neil joining the band?’ ‘Wow great – except isn’t that why the Springfield broke up?’ He said, ‘Oh, no, man- it’s going to be different this time. It’ll be cool .’ But there was this tone of doubt in his voice.”
With their debut album topin the charts, Crosby, Stills, and Nash were faced with the necessity of performing live – a bit of a problem, since so much of the record had been overdubbed by one-man-band Stills. Crosby and Nash wanted to keep the live presentation acoustic, but Stills had a fatal desire to hear the trio rock. Many possible musicians had been discussed and even approached before Ahmet Ertegun, at a dinner with Stills and David Geffen, suggested the obvious choice: Neil Young.
At first Neil Young was wanted only as a sideman. Ever the master manipulator, Elliot Roberts laid down the law: full partnership, equal songs. “He’d have to be a Y,” Roberts demanded. Graham Nash balked. “We’d spent a lotta time getting this beautiful harmonic sound together. I mean, Jesus Christ, wasn’t the album a huge multiplatinum success? I didn’t feel like we needed anybody else.”
Nash had never spent time around the reclusive Young, so the pair met to discuss matters over breakfast in New York City at Bleecker Street Cafe, near where the group was already in rehearsal. Young charmed Nash instantly. “Neil absolutely won me over. I came out of that breakfast two eggs over easy.”
This put Neil Young in an amazing position: He could reap the hype benefits of a smash album he didn’t even play on and in the process expose a gigantic audience to his own music. “CSNY was definitely not hurting Neil,” said Roberts. “Neil never had a downside to any of this, never. It could only help us. What we were asked to do is take something soft and give it balls….Neil’s got balls dripping from his shoulders, there’s balls in his hair, there’s balls comin down his back – he’s got balls everywhere.”
Young was definitely the guy with the balls. He gutted one band – the Rockets – to create his own, then walked into a super group with full membership status and continued to work with Crazy Horse. “Neil made it clear that CSN was not his first priority,” said Roberts. “The work was the priority, So the seeds of discontent were always there.”
Once Young was in the group, his power continued to swell. “As soon as they started to rehearse, it was clear Neil was gonna be in charge,” said Roberts. “Everyone was afraid of Neil. Because Neil walked. When Neil said, ‘Fuck you, I’m leaving,’ Neil left. Everyone else goes, ‘Fuck you, I’m leaving,’ and then they to the bathroom, roll a joint and come back. But when Neil said anything, he did it. He really did back out of Monterey. And this was terrifying to these guys because they were full of that – every other thing was ‘I’m not playing, I’m not showing.” Like little kids. Neil wasn’t into that. It was serious business.
You may not realize it but we have already seen an instance Neil’s power. In an earlier post I provided you with a video of Crosby, Stills, and Nash performing at Woodstock. In reality CSNY was at Woodstock, not just CSN but you would never know it unless you were there in person. None of the Woodstock movies or albums provided any indication that Neil was there because he refused to allow himself to be included!
The CSNY band was completed with the addition of Greg Reeves on bass and the recording of the first CSNY album, Déjà vu, was initiated.
Let’s listen to a contribution to the album from each of the four members of the group.
David Crosby – Déjà vu
Stephen Stills – Carry On
Graham Nash – Our House
Neil Young – Helpless (alternate mix)
I have to say that I like the Déjà vu album, but I also need to say that it did not achieve Stephen’s goal of having the group rock! The Rolling Stone review from April 1970 echoes my opinion:
“Along with many other people, I had hoped that the addition of Neil Young to Crosby, Stills, and Nash would give their music the guts and substance which the first album lacked. Live performance of the group suggested this had happened. Young’s voice, guitar, compositions, and stage presence added elements of darkness and mystery to songs which had previously dripped a kind of saccharine sweetness. Unfortunately, little of this influence carried over to the recording session for Déjà vu.”
Later this week, in a Part 2 of this post, we will listen to some examples of the group in concert at the Big Sur Festival in 1969 to appreciate Neil’s additions to the group’s live performances.
For now let’s wrap it up Part 1 of this post by noting that CSNY continue through today to break apart, and come together, at the whim of Neil. Déjà vu, in my opinion, was the artistic zenith for the group.
When Neil, has not been interested, CSN has continued to be very successful at times, although David Crosby’s drug problems in the 70s and 80s created some significant issues for the group. Crosby, Stills, and Nash have also all had successful solo careers and successful side projects. We will check in on some of these side projects in subsequent posts in this series.
l finally finished the California Sound (4) – Triumvirate post. Please go back and check it out. When you do, you will understand the significance of this song to the beginnings of Crosby, Stills, and Nash.
So, before we move on, there are some loose ends that need to be tied up.
When we last discussed Buffalo Springfield, things appeared to be looking up. The band, with Jim Messina now on board as bassist, recorded some new tracks in early 1968; however, things fell apart for good when Neil, Richie, and Jim were caught up in a drug bust in April of 1968. Although the group formally disbanded in May of 1968, it still had a contractual obligation for one more album. Jim and Richie took the tracks from earlier in the year (and some culled from recording sessions in 1967) and used them to create the final Buffalo Springfield record that was appropriately titled Last Time Around. Here is one of Stephen’s songs that made it onto that last album.
The Byrds were in a creative growth spurt at the end of our first post in this series. David, Chris, and Jim (who was by now going by Roger) were all proving to be accomplished song writers and we highlighted some of their key contributions to the Younger Than Yesterday album. Work on their next album, The Notorious Byrd Brothers, started in 1967. The first song they recorded was one of David’s titled Lady Friend. It was a wonderful song, perhaps his best to date, and David took the lead during the recording session. See what you think.
Lady Friend was David’s only A side single for the Byrds but, inexplicably, it was not a hit. David took its lack of success hard. Although I love David and his music, based on everything I know about him, he is not an easy person to live with. The failure of Lady Friend probably exacerbated this issue. In David’ own words (from a ByrdWatcher interview in 1998), “I was not an easy guy at that point. I was pretty much of a punk and had an enormous attitude and thought I was a lot better than I probably was, and wanted to be… to have a larger share of things.” David’s attitude started to grate on Roger and Chris and as the recording sessions for The Notorious Byrd Brothers continued the tensions in the group continued to increase. The end result was that David was kicked out of the band (and/or left the band) before the album was released. In addition to David’s attitude, other contributing factors to his departure included the refusal of Roger and Chris to include David’s song Triad on the album and their decisions to include a cover of Goin Back on the album when David felt that he had songs that were better. The end result was (again in David’s own words from the interview referenced above), Notorious Byrd Brothers…”is the record they tried to pretend I wasn’t on. [Laughs.] I’m on it. It was not a comfortable parting of the ways. They threw me out. And they were not nice about it. And they did take songs that I co-wrote, and music that I made, and tried to pretend that I wasn’t there. Or at least give the impression that I wasn’t there, which was unkind, but understandable under the circumstances.” Maybe most troubling to David was the band’s failure to include Lady Friend on the album. On this topic David has said (from the interview referenced above) “That frustrated me more. That was when I realized that I was really up against them, because I thought, “Man, this is good as anything else there — at least.” And it should have been used.”
Bottom line….David was out of the band. Around the same time, Michael Clarke left the Byrds as well leaving the group with only two of its original members (Roger and Chris). We will continue the Byrds saga in a later post.
So…..when we last discussed the Hollies all was looking up. Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks, and Graham Nash had taken over songwriting duties on the Hollies last two albums in 1966 and 1967 and the band was creating some wonderful music. Graham Nash, in particular, was stretching his songwriting wings. He wrote the Hollies’s next single King Midas in Reverse (credited to Clarke, Nash, and Hicks) but had to fight with the producer to get it released. The producer thought the song was too complex, let’s listen and you can decide for your self whether you agree with the producer
As it turns out, the song was not as commercially successful as earlier Hollies songs. (If you have been following closely you might start to notice some interesting similarities starting to develop between the career’s of David Crosby and Graham Nash) The Hollies next album, Butterfly, was released in 1968. This album, like the previous two, was completely written by the Hollies. Although Alan, Tony, and Graham all contributed to the album, Graham clearly was playing the lead role for the group on this album in terms of songwriting and lead vocals. All of this makes the Hollies next career decision almost impossible to understand….they decided that their next album would be entirely composed of Bob Dylan covers. To be clear, by “they” I mean the whole band excluding Graham. Putting out an album of cover songs was a course of action was totally unacceptable to Graham (yet another similarity between David and Graham). He decided to leave the band in late 1968 . The Hollies would continue as a successful band but the they had peaked from an artistic perspective. This was not to be the case for Graham.
In my very first post in this Blog we talked about how Stephen and David got together after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield and David’s departure from the Byrds so I will not repeat that story here. If you missed that post, why don’t you take a minute and read it before proceeding.
At some point during 1968, David and Stephen were hanging out at Cass Elliot’s house and harmonizing on You Don’t Have To Cry, a new song by Stephen. Graham Nash, taking a break from the Hollies, was also present at Cass’s house that day and asked Stephen and David to sing the song one more time. Graham joined in, added an improvised harmony part, and musical history was changed forever. The guys knew that they were on to something special but at this point Graham was still in the Hollies so it would take a few months for this new relationship to be fully consummated. When Graham finally left the Hollies later in 1968, Crosby, Stills, and Nash was officially a group but there was one remaining hitch. Ahmet Ertegun, was ready to sign the group to a recording contract with Atlantic Records but Graham was signed to Epic which was the Hollies label. This problem was finally solved in a deal that basically traded Richie Furay, and his new post-Buffalo Springfield group named Poco, to Epic records in return for Epic releasing Graham. We will talk more about Richie’s new group in our next post in the Southern California Sound series.
The group’s self titled album was released in 1969. Although all three members contributed incredible songs to the album, it was Stephen that played most of the instruments during the recording of the album. This ended up being a critical issue once the band decided to tour and we will talk more about this in a future post. For now, let’s just enjoy a song from each of the members.
I think the Rolling Stone reviewer of the album nailed it (for once) in July of 1969 when he said, “They are in complete control of all they do, and the result is an especially satisfying work.” I hope you agree with the reviewer. Look for the next post in this series by late next week.
Change was in the air in early 1968 for David Crosby. He had quit (or been kicked out of) the Bryds in late 1967 at least in part due to the bands refusal to include his song “Triad” on the Notorious Byrd Brothers album (we will talk more about Triad in a later post). His relationship with his Byrd band mates had been deteriorating for some time but it hadn’t helped matters when David decided to play with Buffalo Springfield at the 1967 Monterey Pop festival.
Stephen Stills, of Buffalo Springfield fame, was also dealing with change in 1968. Buffalo Springfield was in the process of falling apart. Neil Young had quit the band (for the first time) prior to Monterey which is why David was asked to fill in for the festival set. This unplanned initial collaboration between Stephen and David was the start of a musical friendship that would shape the remainder of both men’s musical careers.
Jefferson Airplane, a stalwart in the burgeoning San Francisco psychedelic music scene, was another major group headlining the Monterey Pop Festival. The San Francisco scene seemed to better suit David’s lifestyle and musical taste and he was starting to gravitate away from LA and towards Northern California. He was already friends with Paul Kanter and Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane. While his Byrd band mates had refused to release Triad, Jefferson Airplane embraced it, releasing a version on their Crown of Creation album.
The Birth Of Wooden Ships (On The Mayan)
Freed of the Byrds and other entanglements, David purchased a yacht, the Mayan, in Florida.
He had learned to sail at the age of 11 and was happiest while on the water. He invited friends Stephen Still and Paul Kanter to join him for some quality time on the Mayan and, of course, some music.
David had been working on a set of changes on the guitar that he really loved but didn’t have any lyrics to go with the music. Listen to the demo using the link below:
As he played those changes for Stephen and Paul on the Mayan the magic happened quickly. Paul came up with the opening line “Wooden ships on the water very free and easy” while Stephen helped with the musical arrangement and contributed the lyric “Horror grips us as we watch you die”. By the time they were done the basic song had taken shape.
Stephen Still Wooden Ships Demo
A month later Stephen was in a New York studio working on Judy Collin’s album. At the end of one session, he stayed in the studio and recorded demos of a few songs, among them was Wooden Ships as written on the Mayan. Listen to the Wooden Ships demo using the link below:
This recording represents the first recorded version of the song with lyrics. The demo recording was finally released in 2007 as part of Stephen’s Just Roll Tape album. This recording was the genesis of the song that eventually found its way onto the first album of the yet to be formed Crosby, Stills, and Nash (CSN) which was released in early 1969. Paul Kanter was not credited as a writer on Wooden Ships on that first CSN album due to contractual issues that he and Jefferson Airplane were having.
Jefferson Airplane Wooden Ships In Haight Asbury
Although not initially credited as a writer on Wooden Ships, Paul Kanter continued to work on the song including the addition of a significant number of new lyrics not included on the song as completed on the Mayan. You can get a sense of these additions on an incredible historical video relic from 1968 that Marty Balin posted on You Tube. This video shows key members of Jefferson Airplane, along with David Crosby, playing Kanter’s updated version of Wooden Ships in 1968 in the basement of the Jefferson Airplane house in Haight Asbury. Watch the video at the following link:
The finalized version of this Jefferson Airplane version of Wooden Ships was completed and released on their classic album Volunteers in late 1969.
Wooden Ships surprisingly was the only song written by Crosby, Stills, and Kanter. But lets give them credit, if you are only going to write one song make it a great one. Put the banner up on the Aircraft Carrier….Mission Accomplished.
So…now that you know the story behind Wooden Ships and have heard versions of the song from its first inception by David Crosby through early versions by Stephen Still and Jefferson Airplane I encourage you to buy the CSN and Jefferson Airplane released versions of the song. Both versions are great in their own way. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite. Let me know what you think.