Legendary singer, songwriter and musician Graham Nash returned to Rams Head On Stage for the first time in three years Wednesday night to play for a sold out audience. Nash is a founding member of two of the most iconic bands of the 60s, Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Hollies. The Grammy Award winner, two-time inductee into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame (as a solo artist and with Crosby, Stills and Nash), and two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (with Crosby, Stills, and Nash and with The Hollies) entertained the crowd with his classic hits along with his new material. Some of the most fascinating bits of the night was the storytelling. Everyone really enjoyed listening to the moments of inspiration behind his iconic songs.
Nash took the stage and addressed the audience, “Everything we’ve done in our lives has brought us to all be together at this point in time right now,” and broke in to The Hollies 1966 hit “Bus Stop.” Next up was “I used to be a King,” a song written during the time he decided to leave The Hollies. Accompanying Graham on his solo tour is Shane Fontayne, who played a lovely guitar solo on this song.
In 1971 Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young were in British Columbia getting ready to fly back home to California. Airport officials let Crosby through, they let Steven Stills through, and they even let Neil Young through. Graham, however, was not allowed to get on the plane. There was something wrong with his visa and he had to go through extra red tape. When he finally returned to San Francisco after dealing with all the paperwork and b.s., Nash said he immediately sat down at his piano the moment he got home and wrote “Immigration Man.” Fontayne’s guitar sweetly wailing in accompaniment.
Nash talked about what it is like to be a touring musician on the road. One minute you are cheered and adored by fans, the next minute you are standing in front of a brick wall not knowing what to do with yourself. He explained how while on tour with Crosby, Stills and Nash they each have their own tour busses and hang out with their own people on their busses. Shane Fontayne is one of Graham’s guys from his bus. Graham explained how in the down time on the road there is nothing left but music and he and Shane ended up writing 20 songs together over the past year. They put together a solo album which they recorded in just eight days and it will be released in the Spring of 2016.
“Golden Days” is a song off this upcoming solo album and speaks about moments of his life from the beginning of his career to today. In “At Last” he asks the question is my future like my past and touches on the theme of losing yourself in life’s experiences. Nash said that neither he nor Crosby, Stills or Young can write music, but they can speak the language. Which means they can come up with lyrics and a melody but don’t actually compose. He explained a good musician will be able to understand a fellow musician without written music. There were times the sound wasn’t quite right yet he could walk up to the others and say can you make that sound a bit more purple and they will totally understand.
Besides the fantastic food, drinks and crystal clear sound system, one of the best aspects of attending a concert at Rams Head On Stage is the intimacy of the location. Performers and fans can interact in ways not offered in larger venues. At one point during the concert an audience member shouted out “Southbound Train” to Graham. Even though that song wasn’t on the set list planned for the night Nash spontaneously agreed to do it. He went on to explain how he never understood why he decided to write that song in the key of “F,” as most musicians will understand. He even needed to track down and “F” harmonica, but it was worth it. The song was absolutely beautiful. Nash received a standing ovation, one of many throughout the night.
A favorite story of the evening was the inspiration behind “Cowboy of Dreams.” Back in the day Neil Young invited Graham Nash to his ranch which sits next to a lake. Neil asked Graham if he’d like to listen to the new album he’s been working on called Harvest. Graham says sure, let’s go inside and listen to it. Neil says they can’t go inside, they have to get into the rowboat. Graham admitted he was a bit confused, but this was Neil after all and he was always into the best sound systems and figured there was some sort of Hi-Fi equipment in the rowboat. Graham’s looking around but doesn’t see anything special, no speakers. Neil proceeds to row them out to the middle of the lake and then music begins to play. Neil had the house rigged as the left speaker and the barn rigged as the right speaker. The ideal location to listen to the “stereo” was sitting in the middle of the lake. The two of them listen to the album and Graham tells Neil how much he likes the new material. Neil turns to him and says, “Yeah, but it needs more barn.”
Between the four of them, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young have written over 1,000 songs. According to Nash, if they hadn’t done so many drugs and been involved with so many personal issues they could have written a lot more. Hence, “Wasted on the Way” was created. A recording of Crosby and Nash harmonizing on “Critical Mass” was played as always before Graham went in to “Wind on the Water.” He is such a talented man and the haunting echo of Shane’s electric guitar accompanied Graham’s tender lyrics and voice beautifully.
Nash’s passionate voice sounds great as ever and the harmonizing vocals between Graham and Shane were beautiful. According to Graham, songs can come from some of the strangest places and you never know when the moment of inspiration will strike. He said one day he took Joni (his then girlfriend singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell) out. As they were walking along on this gloomy day a little bright yellow vase caught her eye in the window of a shop, so he went inside and picked it up for her. Upon getting home he said, “I’ll start a fire, why don’t you put some flowers in that vase you bought,” and just like that the classic “Our House” was born. Everyone in the crowd joined in for a group sing-a-long and there was yet another standing ovation. He said this was the second song he ever wrote on the piano. The first being “Simple Man.”
“Military Madness” is a song he said he is sick of singing. Not because he dislikes the song, but the topic is one that he had hoped would go away by this time in his life. Chants of “No more war!” arose from the crowd. Graham seemed genuinely disheartened that there are more wars in the world today than ever before and said, “It is an insane game and we have to stop this.”
Graham told a story about a house he owned in Hawaii. David Gilmore, from Pink Floyd, and Bette Midler were visiting and helping him with some plumbing work, believe it or not. Graham was out of the house and called his home. David Gilmore answered the telephone, “House of Broken Dreams.” Gilmore’s simple greeting inspired Nash to write that song. He really is a prolific songwriter and it seems to come as second nature to him. Upon leaving Maui one day while waiting in the airport to catch a flight to California a friend bet him he couldn’t write a song in the short amount of time there was left before the flight boarded. Graham sat there and wrote “Just a Song Before I Go.” Again the harmony between Graham and Shane in this performance was stunning.
A good song is a good song, especially when stripped down to its essence. When it is just a performer singing on a stage with their acoustic guitar there is no hiding. The song “Cathedral” has an interesting story behind it as well. Graham said he rented a Rolls Royce one day, went to his dealer and bought a bunch of acid. He drove to Stonehenge and talked to the magnificent rocks for a bit and then headed down the road to Winchester Cathedral. Once entering the location he realized there was a feeling coming over him rising up from the ground through his feet. Looking down he saw he was standing on a 1799 grave of a soldier who happened to die on the same day Graham was born. The acid was really kicking in at this point and he began to wonder the significance of what was taking place. He thought that maybe there was some sort of a connection between the two of them. He asked himself, “Is he me? Am I him?” It was this experience that inspired him to write the song.
In December 1968 Wavy Gravy called Graham to say that cops were beating up innocent protestors and seven hippies had been arrested at the Democratic National Convention. Nash wrote “Chicago,” the final song of the set, to help raise money for their defense fund. He told the audience Wednesday night, ‘We live in a land known for freedom and together we can change the world.”
Upon returning to the stage for an encore Nash explained how in order to warm up their voices before a show they sing Beatles songs. Graham and Shane then sang a stunning version of “Blackbird.” The last song of the evening was dedicated to David Crosby’s dad, it was his favorite song. (Crosby’s dad by the way was famous in his own right and was the cinematographer that shot the Western movie High Noon.) The song was “Teach your Children.” Graham’s favorite story about Crosby’s dad? The time the 75 year-old rear-ended another car in front of Hollywood H.S. because he was watching all the pretty girls walk out.
It truly was a special treat to see Graham Nash live. Not only has he changed the world with his music, but his influence on social issues has been immeasurable as well. If you are interested in learning more about Graham and his incredible life story check out his new candid biography, Wild Tales, which is available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. For more information on upcoming events at Rams Head On Stage visit their calendar here.