Graham Nash Reflects On
Career & Country At The Grammy Museum
Story by Shawn Perry
Photos by Kimberly Annette
It's been quite a whirlwind year for Graham Nash. Back on January 20, 2016, he held an intimate listening party for his new album, This Path Tonight, and I was lucky enough to wrangle an invite. Indeed, the record, which he wrote and produced with guitarist Shane Fontayne, marks a new path for the British singer and songwriter. It dropped on April 15, and Nash and Fontayne spent the next few months promoting it with concerts all over the country. In fact, a couple of our VintageRock.com correspondents caught a show in New York, and filed a nice report and photos.
Nash's path hasn't necessarily been laced with primrose. Many of the new songs speak to the heartache of breaking up his marriage of 38 years, with three kids. He has since found new love with photographer Amy Grantham. Still, there are other issues the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee has confronted with mixed results, like the future of CSN and CSNY. In interviews, he's done a thorough job of disparaging David Crosby, in the interim dismissing the notion of the band in any combination ever regrouping.
So I was a bit alarmed when Scott Goldman, the VP of the Grammy Foundation and MusiCares, and a frequent moderator at Grammy Museum events, began his Q&A with Graham Nash by broaching the subject of President-elect Donald Trump. I suppose when you're talking to the guy, an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, who wrote songs like "Military Madness," "Chicago" and "Immigration Man," politics isn't off-base — though it did at times detract from what the audience had come to see: Graham Nash talking about and playing his music.
Nash, who is nothing less than passionate and mindful, certainly didn't hold back when it came to Trump and, for that matter, anything else. "I thought it was a democracy. We are headed into a dictatorship and we must fight it," he remarked. "I'm grieving for my country. My heart is bleeding. I understand the anger."
Eventually, Goldman steered Nash away from Trump and over to the music. Regarding This Path Tonight, he said it's basically about what's happening in his life. "I was married for 38 year and I'm 75," he stated matter-of-factly (even though he's not yet 75). "Whatever is left of my life, I want to be happy."
Somehow, the conversation drifted back to Trump, and an audience member yelled out: "What About Brexit?" Nash explained he's been a U.S. citizen for 30-odd years, and doesn't really have an opinion about Brexit. Fortunately, he does have an opinion about music, suggesting at one point that the only music people would remember from his era would be the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.
He spoke with great reverence about Joni Mitchell, with whom he was romantically involved with back in the late 60s. These days, Mitchell deals with major health issues, but Nash assured the audience he had seen her recently, her prognosis is good and she will soon "be back to being Joni Mitchell."
Of his other friends and associates, he said Stephen Stills is a very smart man, and that Levon Helm was the "very soul of the Band," adding that he and Fontayne wrote "Back Home" from This Path Tonight for the singer and drummer who passed away in 2012.
When I asked him about working with Neil Young, Nash remembered a song the two of them had cut with the Stray Gators back in 1972 called "War Song." Released as a single and long out of print, Young reissued the song on the Archives Vol. 1 1963 - 1972 boxset. Nash, however, said he could never forgive Young for canceling a tour, although he didn't specify which tour that may be.
In 2014, Young said in no uncertain terms that CSNY would "never, ever tour again," as did Crosby in separate interviews. It would appear that the mere mention of "touring" with regards to CSNY is off the table for all concerned parties.
For all the F-bombs he dropped and the cutting jabs at various situations, people and the aforementioned current political scene, Nash offered an apology of sorts before he and Fontayne played. "I have a deep anger," he said. "Forgive me for being short."
It was clear that once he invited Fontayne up, strapped on an acoustic and began singing, that any and all misgivings, if they ever existed in the first place, were instantly forgotten. Over the course of a breezy 10-song set, all parts of Nash's career received a little care and feeding.
He opened up with "Bus Stop," a Top 10 hit for the Hollies in 1966. Nash talked about the song's writer, future 10cc member Graham Gouldman, who also penned another Hollies hit "Look Through Any Window," as well as singles for the Yardbirds ("For Your Love") and Herman's Hermits ("No Milk Today").
"Immigration Man" was as powerful as it was topical, although I was half-expecting "Military Madness" to follow. Instead, Nash tackled an early CSNY song he 'd written called "Right Between The Eyes" after receiving a request from an audience member. "Back Home" and "Myself At Last," both from This Path Tonight, went over nicely in the mellow setting of the Clive Davis Theater. You could see how Fontayne, who played these tasty razor blade leads all night, brings out the best in Nash.
"Sleep Song," from Nash's acclaimed 1971 debut solo album Songs For Beginners, was simply divine. In between "Our House" and "Teach Your Children," Nash and Fontayne harmonized on the Beatles' "Blackbird." For that very moment, the anxiety stirred up by the election of Donald Trump, the sadness of recently departed legends like Leonard Cohen and Leon Russell (part of a long list of 2016 casualties), whatever the future holds — it lifted, evaporated, dissipated, vanished.
Graham Nash may be creeping up 75, unsure of where his life is headed. But we should all be thankful he's still around, making beautiful, meaningful music. Perhaps he can take solace in knowing he's still greatly appreciated and needed for providing a calm and sound voice in trying times, from the tumultuous 60s and 70s right on through to 2016, a year in which a few unexpected shifts in the wind have everyone sitting on the edge of their seat, waiting to see what happens next.