"We knew it was something special," Graham Nash says on the phone from New York City. "No one had done a tour like that, in that many big venues. But I felt we were up to the task. We could all play and sing, and there were four of us. With four intense egos!"
Today, massive football stadium tours by rock's major acts are taken for granted. But many years ago, 40 to be precise, it hadn't even been attempted. While the Beatles and Stones had done the massive gigs as one-offs, it was a reunited Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young who took the plunge first.
Their fabled 1974 tour encompassed 31 shows in 24 cities in three countries from July through September, with the group presenting nearly 80 songs played in various personnel combinations -- a quarter of which hadn't even been released at that point but would find their way onto later group, solo, and duo records.
Reasons for the tour? Several. Partly financial; the money raked in was huge, even though the final fees to the four minus expenses weren't huge. Partly it was a career move, because the four were always stronger musically and as a draw than the three or the two or the one. But it was also unfinished business -- with only one studio and one live album to their credit, CSNY still wanted to show they were a viable artistic entity.
The jaunt has passed into rock legend. David Crosby dubbed it the "Doom" tour for its manic mix of music with huge highs and lows, drugs, fights, crazy financial expenditures and the aforementioned egos.
A number of those shows were recorded. And while shitty bootlegs have circulated for years, the massive box set simply titled CSNY 1974 (Rhino) has 40 live songs over three CDs, as well as a DVD with rare video footage shot during two of the shows (though the audio seems sourced from other shows), and a thick booklet with essays, photos, and liner notes.
The project, like other archival sets from the group, was helmed and produced by Graham Nash himself and Joel Bernstein, with Stanley Johnston as sound engineer. And it took four years to put together.
"It was an absolute labor of love. And we set a high bar both musically and graphically," Nash says. "Our original intent was to present the best possible performances from this tour. And that's why 'Carry On' isn't on there. We just couldn't find a performance that stood up to the other songs."
The songs that did make it on the box run the gamut from CSN (and/or Y) warhorses ("Wooden Ships," "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Déjà Vu") and solo songs ("Love the One You're With," "Old Man," "Prison Song"), and rarities ("Grave Concern," "Myth of Sisyphus," "Fieldworker"). Some others, audiences were hearing for the first time anyplace.
"So many of the songs are relevant even today, like 'Immigration Man' and 'Military Madness.'" Nash offers. "Even 'Goodbye Dick!'"
The last song is perhaps the most ultra-rare CSNY tune -- a bizarrely funny, 90-second, seemingly improvised ditty by Neil Young in which he celebrates the then-recent resignation of Richard Nixon. Ironic, since Tricky Dick himself is back in the news with the recent release of more damning audiotapes. It was performed only once, and is captured on the box set.
While very few "live" records by any band are actually live, Nash says he wanted to keep the music of CSNY 1974 as real as possible, but does cop to a little tweaking.
"There is not one single overdub on the entire album," he says. "Did I tune certain things? Yes. And if I could find a note or phrase that make a song better, I took it from another performance. But it's very true to us. Anybody who is curious about who CSNY was or is, they can go to that box set."
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The quartet were aided and abetted onstage by longtime CSNY associates Tim Drummond (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums, now Lyle Lovett's longtime drummer), and Joe Lala (percussion). The tour did make a stop in Houston, playing to about 40,000 people at the University of Houston's Jeppesen Stadium on July 28.
And while Nash says he doesn't have a particular memory of that show, playing to huge, huge crowds was not intimidating. "We had already played Woodstock, and that was nearly a half a million people," Nash says. "So playing to 40 or 80,000 people wasn't that big a deal to us."
All shows on the tour were divided into three parts: an opening electric set, an acoustic middle set and electric final set. As the cover photo for the box set can attest, many of the concertgoers were away from the stage. Far, far away. So how did the band try to reach those sun-baked fans half a world away with the gentle melodies and subtle lyrics of "The Lee Shore," "Mellow My Mind" and "Teach Your Children?"
"We had the best sound system that was possible at the time," Nash recalls. "Not what they are today of course. And we had the best monitoring, best front of house speakers, and best people running them. I knew of we had control, we'd be able to reach that very last row at the top of the stadium."
Crosby, Stills, and Nash (sans Young) play Bayou Music Center. Monday, August 25. Doors open at 8 p.m.
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