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Graham Nash - Friend of the DFC

Graham Nash is a legendary artist known for co-founding musical groups the Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN). His list of accomplishments is too long to list here, but it includes being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (each twice!) and winning a Grammy.

His latest project, Graham Nash: Live revisits his first two solo albums - Songs for Beginners and Wild Tales. Graham spoke to us about touring, Mama Cass Elliot, Joni Mitchell, the magic of photography, songwriting and a lot more. 

Graham Nash: Live
Graham has been on the road this year promoting his new record and “the tour is going very well. I’m looking forward to the rest of it.”

He has his wife, artist Amy Grantham, to thank for this album. “I must confess, making this album was at the gentle persuasion of my wife. I was thinking about doing it for many years because I love those first two records. So, I did four shows with a full band, came out and did Songs for Beginners from start to finish, took an intermission, then came back and did Wild Tales from start to finish. And that’s the live album that’s out now.”

joni mitchellWith his new live album and his past recordings, Graham hasn’t been listening to a lot of new music. “I’ve been totally concentrating for the last ten years on the amazing amount of music CSN, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, me and David (Crosby) and I've recorded over the last fifty years. I know good music will find me. For instance, Childish Gambino’s 'This is America' – what a great song and video!

He also mentions his former partner, Joni Mitchell, and was thrilled to see her perform at the Newport Folk Festival in July. “It’s so great to see her alive and playing and singing. I know her range is a little limited right now, but Holy Toledo, her phrasing within her range is unbelievable!”

mama cass Elliot graham nashCrosby, Stills & Nash (& Young)
Graham gives all the credit to Mama Cass (from The Mamas and the Papas) for getting CSN together in the first place. “Use a nice photograph of Cass Elliot for this. She’s the reason we’re talking right now. She was friends with David and Stephen (Stills). She knew David had been thrown out of The Byrds and that Buffalo Springfield had broken up. David and Stephen were doing a duo thing like the Everly Brothers, and she knew what those voices would sound like with my voice on top. She was also the only other voice on the first CSN record (she sang on "Pre-Roads Down") that was not me, David or Stephen."

When CSN finished their first record they knew they had something special. However, there was one problem. “Stephen played most of the instruments. Of course, me and David played rhythm guitar on our stuff – “Guinevere,” “Long Time Gone,” “Lady of the Island,” “Marrakesh Express” – but Stephen played bass, piano, lead guitar, rhythm guitar. When we got to the end of the album and realized we had a powerful piece of music, we wanted to go out on the road. But how do you put a band together when one guy played most of the instruments? That’s why we had to get Neil (Young).”

David and Stephen were in New York having dinner with then president of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, who told them they needed Neil. "Stephen went crazy. He said, ‘What?! I just spent two years of madness with this kid. Yes, he’s on the road. No, he’s not on the road. Yes, he's doing the Ed Sullivan Show. No, he’s not doing the Ed Sullivan Show. This is crazy!' But Ahmet insisted, ‘Neil’s the guy, man.’”

Eventually, David and Stephen were convinced they should invite Neil to join the band, so they asked Graham what he thought. “I knew he was a great songwriter and singer, but I’d never met him. How could we invite somebody into the band that I’d never met?” Graham decided to have breakfast with Neil in New York and “he was great, really funny. I asked him why we should invite him into this band? He looked at me with those Neil steel-knife eyes and said, ‘Have you ever heard me and Stephen play guitar together, man? That’s why you need me.’ After that I would have made him king of the world! I mean, it’s Neil Young.”

On Songwriting
When it comes to writing songs, Graham thinks the process can be “very mysterious” for those who enjoy, but don’t write music. He “waits for something to catch my eye, something that I think is important, something that I research to get all my words correct. I write about my life and always have twenty or thirty melodies running around my head at all times.”

And while many songwriters have the occasional dry spell, it's never happened to him. He believes the reason is he does many other things besides making music. “I’m a photographer, a sculptor, a collector. If I’m not writing, I’ll be working on my photographic images. Then I’ll go back to music. I don’t have a blank spot because I can move through different genres.”

Blame It on Rock 'n' Roll
When he was around thirteen years old, Graham experienced “the joy of the music of American early rock ‘n’ roll.” He first heard it on Radio Luxemburg “being broadcast in Europe, and when the weather permitted, we could hear the signal in Manchester. And come Sunday night, when I’m supposed to be getting ready for school the next day, American Top 40 was broadcast at nine o’clock. I put my ear to my bed post where I could hear the radio downstairs playing and it turned me on to music.”

Soon he taught himself how to play the guitar. “You’d find a book with guitar chords in it. There was one particularly famous one in England by a man called Bert Weedon. It was very simple … here’s how to play an A, here’s how to play C, here’s how to play A D and C together.”

The Magic of Photography
In addition to being a talented musician, Graham is a celebrated photographer. It was his father who inspired his interest. “My father was an engineer and worked very hard from eight o’clock in the morning ‘til five o’clock at night. But on the weekends he would take pictures of me and my sister at this local zoo. And then one day I asked my dad how it all worked. So, he showed me.

“He took a blanket off my bed and put it against the window to block out the light. And he put a piece of paper into a colorless liquid and said ‘Wait.’ And I’m waiting … and I’m still waiting. And just as I said, ‘Dad, I’m still waiting,’ a photograph of a giraffe, that I know my father had taken that morning, came floating into existence out of nowhere. And that magic has remained with me to this day. I’ll never forget that moment and I will be forever grateful to my father for showing me the magic of photography.”

Photography has been a passion of his for quite a while. “I bought my first digital camera thirty years ago in Tokyo, Japan. It was called a DaVinci and it was crude as hell. I knew what was coming – this digital world of ours. That’s why I started Nash Editions, to be the first printer in the world that made portfolios for photographic artists. The first printer I ever used is in the Smithsonian Museum, which is kind of cool.” 

A Life in Focus
Graham is also doing promotion for his book A Life in Focus: The Photography of Graham Nash. “It’s got all kinds of strange photos of my friends in compromising positions – no, not really. People seem to love the book. Every time I see someone open it, they start to smile, no matter which page they turn to. And that makes me smile, because that’s what I wanted when I decided to share my images. I take pictures of everything I think is beautiful. Beauty exists everywhere – in the clouds, in the gutter, everywhere. I take pictures of whatever’s in front of me.”

And when he has the time, Graham enjoys sculpting. “I’ve done a pregnant lady’s torso, about ten inches high. And I’ve been working on a piece of marble. I’m telling you, if you’ve ever tried sculpting marble you’d understand how slow it is. You have to go a little bit at a time and hope it doesn’t crack open.”

Music Can Change the World
Having lived through and been a part of the social and cultural movement of the 1960s, where people and music were energized to take action to make positive changes, Graham feels that the music of that time did indeed influence people. “Absolutely! And I still feel that music can change the world. When you can engage somebody in the thought process about something you believe is important, and you can reach just one listener, you’re changing the world in a small way. And you times that by a million people, now you’re talking!

An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash
Unfortunately, Graham has had to postpone his 2022 Colorado tour dates due to a COVID-19 outbreak among the touring part. He will reschedule as soon as possible and looks forward to seeing all of his fans again when he’s back on the road.