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'Come to my house and I'll take care of you': Graham Nash on his romance with Joni Mitchell, and making music with Crosby and Stills   Print

by Graham Nash
Daily Mail
September 15, 2013

It was the biggest tour ever staged. The Beatles had played Shea Stadium and the Stones had done some big dates, but until Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young hit the stadiums and arenas of America in the summer of 1974, no rock band had ever played to that many people, night after night, for two-and-a-half months.

Everything was going to be first-class. Travel was in private planes, helicopters and limousines with police escorts. There were hand-embroidered pillowcases in every hotel with Joni Mitchell's drawing of the four of us silk-screened in five colours on the front. That same logo was burned into the teak plates we all ate from.

It was a wild, profligate, orgiastic, self-indulgent tour. David Crosby, our resident free spirit, took two beautiful young women on the road with him.

Some nights, we'd have great parties, with strange people all taking the weirdest things and eating the best food - all paid for by us. Other nights, the excess would overwhelm. Tensions between us crept up all the time.

It was six years since Crosby, Stephen Stills and I had first sung together and discovered a flawless three-part harmony that came naturally to us.

Our first album caught fire and went burning up the charts; our second show was Woodstock. We were in love with each other and in possession of something magical.

By 1974, things had changed. Music, drugs, talent, ego, excess, stubbornness - mix them together and it's a powerful explosive.

We hadn't been out on the road for a while and all of us had expensive lifestyles. We liked to play small venues, where you could see the audience's eyes. That's difficult with 50,000 people. So we did it for the money. We'd fallen for the rock 'n' roll bullshit in a big way.

On an August evening in 1968, the sun was sinking in the western sky as the cab crawled up Laurel Canyon, bathing the Hollywood Hills in a golden flush of summer.

We stopped in front of a small wooden house on Lookout Mountain Avenue. Inside, lights glowed and I could hear the jingle-jangle of voices.

I leaned on my guitar case - the only baggage I'd carried off the plane at LAX - and considered again where I was and what I was doing here: leaving my country, my marriage and my band, all at once.

It was August 1968, and the Hollies and I had come to an impasse. We had grown up together and enjoyed incredible success, but we were growing apart.

The same with my marriage: Rosie was off in Spain chasing another man, and I was in Los Angeles, the city that already felt like my new home, to visit Joni Mitchell, who had captured my heart.

For just a moment, I hesitated. Sure, I was an English rock star - I had it made. I had co-written a fantastic string of hits with The Hollies. I was friends with the Stones and The Beatles.

You could hear me whistle at the end of All You Need Is Love. But deep down, I was still just a kid from the north of England, and I felt I was out of my element.

Suddenly, Joni was at the door and nothing else mattered. She was the whole package: a lovely, sylphlike woman with a natural blush, like windburn, and an elusive quality that seemed lit from within.

Behind her, at the dining room table, were my new American friends David Crosby and Stephen Stills - refugees, like me, from successful, broken bands. I grinned the moment I laid eyes on them.

I had never met anybody like Crosby. He was an irreverent, funny, brilliant hedonist who had been thrown out of The Byrds the previous year. He always had the best drugs, the most beautiful women, and they were always naked.

Stephen was a guy in a similar mould. He was brash, egotistical, opinionated, provocative, volatile, temperamental, and so talented. A very complex cat, and a little crazy, he had just left Buffalo Springfield, one of the primo LA bands.

That night, while Joni listened, the three of us sang together for the first time. I heard the future in the power of those voices. And I knew my life would never be the same.

Joni and I had first met after a Hollies show in Ottawa, Canada in March. I'd seen this beautiful blonde in the corner by herself, and I'd shuffled over and introduced myself.

'I know who you are,' she said, slyly. 'That's why I'm here.'

She had invited me back to her room at a beautiful old French Gothic hotel, where flames licked at logs in the fireplace, incense burned in ashtrays and beautiful scarves were draped over the lamps. It was a seduction scene extraordinaire.

She picked up a guitar and played me 15 of the best songs I'd ever heard, and then we spent the night together. It was magical on so many different levels.

That evening with Crosby and Stills at Joni's, five months later, was the first time I'd seen her since.

After that, I moved out to Los Angeles for good, as soon as I had messily extricated myself from The Hollies.

The plan was to crash at Crosby's house, where a party was always in full swing: beautiful young women all over the place, some clothed, some not so clothed. Music pulsing through the place. Hippy heaven.

On my first night, in the midst of the party, Joni appeared.

Taking me by the arm, she said: 'Come to my house and I'll take care of you.'

America - what a country this was! I moved into Joni's and never made it back to David's.

Joni had a great little place, built in the 1930s by a black jazz musician: knotty pine, creaky wooden floors, a couple of cabinets full of beautifully coloured glass objects and Joan's artwork leaning discreetly here and there.

From the moment I first heard her play, I thought she was a genius. I'm good at what I do, but genius?

Not by a long shot. She was finishing her Clouds album and writing songs for what would become Ladies Of The Canyon.

We both wrote whenever the spirit moved us, but in Joni's house, when it came to the piano, I always gave way. If she was working there or playing guitar in the living room, I'd head into the bedroom with my guitar or simply take a walk.

Occasionally, I lingered in the kitchen, just listening to her play. I wrote there too.

On one of those grey days in LA that foreshadows spring, Joni bought a vase on the way home from breakfast.

When we got back, she gathered flowers in the garden, and while she was away from the piano, I wrote Our House, capturing that little domestic moment.

'Our house is a very, very, very fine house; With two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard; Now everything is easy 'cause of you.'

Early on, Joan and I went to visit her parents in her Canadian hometown of Saskatoon. I can't describe what her childhood room looked like because I wasn't allowed within 20 feet of it.

Bill and Myrtle were a very straight, religious couple, and they weren't about to let a long-haired hippy sleep with their daughter under their roof.

It wasn't like she was a virgin - not even close. But just to make sure, they put me in a downstairs bedroom, separating us by a floor, and made it clear I'd need an army behind me if I intended to sneak up there.

Joni represented one aspect of my new life in LA; Crosby and Stills the other. Crosby and Joni had been lovers not long before, but he wasn't the possessive type.

He had fallen in love with a beautiful girl named Christine Hinton, enjoying a ménage à trois with her friend, Debbie Donovan. He even wanted me to experience what he had, so one night when I crashed at David's, he asked Christine to go downstairs to be with me. Rock 'n' roll, huh?

When David, Stephen and I flew out to The Hamptons for our first serious Crosby Stills & Nash rehearsals, we rented a wooden chalet by the lake and invoked the 'no women' rule. We were finally free from our previous bands.

We had a hell of a time, cementing our friendship, getting wasted, working up the first CSN album - three hippies wired to their eyeballs in a snowbound cabin for a month.

We recruited Stills's old bandmate Neil Young as our fourth member and played our first show in Chicago. Now, I know a few things about crazy tours.

At our height, the Hollies' shows had been insane: wall-to-wall teenage girls, screaming their heads off in a sexual frenzy at these young, good-looking guys playing loud rock 'n' roll.

At one of our shows in Glasgow, 75 girls fainted during the Hollies' set and had to be passed hand-over-head, like in a mosh pit.

Some of those gigs had an eerie, war-zone quality. If a chick took a shine to the lead singer, you could bet he was going to get his ass kicked by her boyfriend and his pals after the show. I can't tell you how many buses I ran for after concerts. One time, I got three front teeth shattered.

Woodstock, however, was something else. We heard it was going to be monumental, transformative, a cultural flashpoint.

As the festival approached, rumours told of 100,000 people there, then 200,000. By the time we headed to New Jersey to catch a helicopter on the Sunday evening, they were calling it a disaster, a revolution; they were calling out the National Guard.

We flew up along the Hudson River, and then it came into view. David said it was like flying over an encampment of the Macedonian army. It was more than a city of people - it was tribal. Fires were burning, smoke was rising, a sea of hippies clustered together, shoulder to shoulder, hundreds of thousands of them.

John Sebastian of the Lovin' Spoonful met us. We went straight to his tent at the right-hand side of the stage and got incredibly wasted. It was such a tumultuous, smoke-ridden moment that it's hard to remember everything as it went down, but we played for an hour and we could hardly hear ourselves.

The sound of the audience was enormous, their energy thrumming like an engine. We only knew we had done well. We could sense it. As we left, Jimi Hendrix was launching into The Star-Spangled Banner.

There's no doubt CSNY were a political band. We were flame-throwers in the best democratic sense.

We recorded Neil's song Ohio in response to the 1970 Kent State University shooting of four American students by National Guardsmen, and we put it out within two weeks. It was us at our best: town criers, saying, 'It's 12 o'clock and all is not well.'

Stephen Stills exploded when Graham Nash moved in on Rita Coolidge

When Nixon resigned in August 1974, we were onstage at the Roosevelt Raceway in New York, in front of 60,000 people. We had a TV backstage.

'Guess what, folks? He's gone!' we announced. We didn't have to say who, everyone knew. Huge cheers erupted.

Some time before Woodstock, Joni and I had talked about marriage, but I'd already been in a marriage that ended after three years. I was very hesitant, and Joan picked right up on that. Although I loved her, our relationship started winding down.

Crosby had far worse problems. His girlfriend Christine was taking the cats to the vet, when one escaped in the van. Veering into the opposite lane, she was hit by a school bus and killed instantly. I watched a part of David die that day. He wondered aloud what the universe was doing to him. And he went off the rails; he was never the same again.

We kept working, but the hippy love and sunshine in the first album had disappeared. We were all tormented, miserable, all coked out of our minds.

We had a short tour in Europe with Joni, and it went weird in Copenhagen. A few days earlier, we did a show in Stockholm, rapping as usual about politics onstage with a gentle anti-American slant, especially when it came to the Vietnam War and the myth behind the Kennedy assassination. It upset Joan. We were in our hotel when I asked her what was up.

'You keep slagging America after it gave you all this opportunity,' she said. 'Why are you biting the hand that feeds you?'

We argued. Then she poured her cornflakes and milk over my head. I was stunned, not to say p****d off.

She expected some response from me - she knew who I was. There was a maid in the room. I turned to her and said: 'Would you kindly leave?'

Then I put Joni over my knee and I spanked her. With all due respect, she took it very well. It was over within 30 seconds.

Later, we laughed it off. I'm not so sure what she is going to make of me writing about it now, but what can I say? It happened. Me, with a bowl of cornflakes on my head, spanking Joni Mitchell. It was a crazy time.

Back in the U.S., with Crosby torturing himself over Christine's death, he and I took his boat and embarked on a trip from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to San Francisco: 3,000 miles, seven weeks at sea, with a bottomless supply of weed and coke.

Joni met us just outside Panama, and it wasn't pleasant. A row broke out, Joan yelling that I hated all women. Things had turned ugly between us. She decided to leave us and fly back to LA. I was somewhat relieved.

When I got home, Joni decided she needed a break. I was laying a floor in her kitchen when a telegram arrived from her. It said: 'If you hold sand too tightly in your hand, it will run through your fingers. Love, Joan.' I knew at that point it was truly over between us.

The Déjà Vu album made us bigger than ever, but it wasn't exactly lovey-dovey between us. Stephen in particular was pushing the limits of cocaine madness. Driving to rehearsal one afternoon, he was distracted by a cop in his rear-view mirror and veered into a parked car, fracturing his wrist.

Both of us were smitten by the singer Rita Coolidge, a gorgeous creature: part Cherokee Indian, part Southern belle with pigtails. She ended up living with Stephen for a couple of weeks, but I didn't think her heart was in it.

'I really like this woman,' I told him. 'I think I like her more than you do, and I think she likes me more than she likes you. So having told you this, I'm going to be with her.'

Stephen didn't say a word. Then he spat at me. This was hardly going the way I'd hoped, so I made a beeline for my car, Rita on my heels. She grabbed her clothes and left with me. Stephen and I didn't speak for a while. I'm not sure he's forgiven me to this day.

We nearly lost him a couple of times in those days. I remember one occasion at his house in Surrey when he OD'd. A doctor pounded on his heart while Crosby and I anticipated a bad ending. Luckily, we were wrong.

Drugs were beginning to take an even more serious toll on David, who by the mid-1980s would end up near death and ultimately in prison.

When Crosby and I did an acoustic gig at Carnegie Hall in 1973, David didn't want to travel with his stash, so he insisted our manager David Geffen bring it to New York. Begrudgingly, Geffen agreed. He put the envelope in his briefcase, got stopped at LAX, and was arrested and taken to jail.

Somehow, Geffen made bail and got to New York. He showed up at our hotel before we went on, at which point Crosby demanded the dope.

Geffen couldn't believe his ears. 'I was arrested and put in jail!' he explained, completely exasperated. 'I don't have it.' David was apoplectic.

'I'm gonna fucking kill you!' he screamed. Geffen had the last word. He figured handling us was a nightmare and ditched us and all his rock clients, dissolving his management business.

That's how things were by 1973. But Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were a habit I couldn't kick, and we jumped at that 1974 tour.

We made $12 million, though David, Stephen, Neil and I only got $300,000 each. Plenty of people took their cuts off the top, while we picked up the tab for the decadence.

We were our own worst enemy. Put the four of us in a room, and anything could trigger a fatal blast. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young wouldn't tour together again for 26 years.

Dylan was too scared to play for Cash... so I grabbed the guitar

In April 1969, Joni and I flew to Nashville for her appearance on The Johnny Cash Show.

The night before the show, Johnny and wife June had a dinner at their house for all of the stars appearing on the bill, including Bob Dylan, who had had a motorcycle accident and hadn't been seen in public for over a year.

At one point, Johnny rose, picked up a gold knife, and tapped it on a glass.

'Here at the Cash house we have a tradition you sing for your supper,' he said in that gravelly growl.

'So . . . there are some guitars. Let's go.'

Nobody moved. I doubt anyone knew who I was. I was Joan's boyfriend, along for the ride. So I grabbed a guitar, sat on the stool, and whipped off Marrakesh Express. I hit the last chord, knew I'd killed it, put the guitar back . . . and walked into a lamp. That broke the ice.

The geniuses sang one by one. Kris Kristofferson did Sunday Morning Coming Down, Joni sang Both Sides Now, and Bob performed Lay Lady Lay. But the CSN album was about to be released, and I knew how special it was.

'You don't know it now, but you just wait.' I thought.

 

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