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Graham Nash holds nothing back, part 1

Enjoy part 1 of our extraordinarily candid conversation about Graham Nash's solo work and the wild, behind-the-scenes tales of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and everyone in their orbit.

“I knew that I would have to spend years with these guys” — Graham Nash

With the release of Reflections, a triple-CD anthology of music ranging from the ridiculously famous to the never-before-released, Graham Nash is a satisfied man.

“I’ve had an incredible life,” says the 66-year-old singer, songwriter and longtime least-likely-to-implode member of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. “I’m probably one of the luckiest people you’ll ever know. And the soundtrack to that life is on this box set.”

At 64 tracks, Reflections spans over 40 years of music — from The Hollies, started in 1963 by Nash and his boyhood chum Allan Clarke, to the big Crosby, Stills & Nash (and occasionally Young) tunes, the duo work with David Crosby, and from Nash’s stop-and-start solo career.

Over the years, Nash has become the official keeper of the key to the vast CSNY archive; he’s currently assembling five other CD projects, including a Stephen Stills box set, a Crosby, Stills & Nash demo collection and — at the specific request of Neil Young — a live album from CSNY’s 1974 “reunion” tour.

Professionally and personally, it’s been quite the tug-of-war, with Nash often the referee in a game of cocaine-fueled cross-purposes and bullying self-interest.

“Money, stardom and ego are a deadly combination if not handled well,” he says, and he should know.

Older and wiser — well, certainly older — Crosby, Stills and Nash have just begun a series of studio sessions for their first album in 15 years. Teaming with ace producer Rick Rubin, they’re working on an album of songs from their favorite songwriters. It’s an all-acoustic project, with the focus back where it was in the beginning — on the amazing harmonic blend of their three voices.

They made a wish list of 20 or 30 songs. “My criteria was this: ‘It has to have a great melody, and it has to say something great’,” Nash explains. “And most importantly, we have to own that song — we have to make it feel like we’d written it, and that’s us singing it.”

 For this interview, we told Nash we wanted to avoid re-hashing stuff everybody knows already — about Woodstock and “Wooden Ships,” pot-smoking and politics — and pull questions from somewhere deeper. Things the serious fan might have always wondered about.

“Go ahead,” he responded. “Ask whatever the f**k you want.”

So we did.

I’ve always wondered about the culture shock that you, a hard-working British pop star, must have experienced when you fell in with those California hippie musicians.

Graham Nash: The Hollies were five kids from the North of England who managed to escape doing what their dad did, and what their grandfather did. Which was expected of us: ‘Go down to the mine, or go to the mill — if it was good enough for your dad, it’s good enough for you, lad.’ Music was the escape mechanism. We were in a certain kind of culture there.

When we moved to London and started making records — hit records — that was another, incredible, culture. By the time I got to the end of my time with The Hollies, when they refused to record some of my songs, and I’d kind of lost my grip on the reins of that horse, I’d met Cass Elliot, and she’d introduced me to Crosby. He’d been in England with the Byrds. The promoter there was touting them as ‘America’s Answer to the Beatles,’ which pissed off a lot of people in England, so it was kind of a funky tour.

But Crosby came and stayed with me