The Singer Sings His Songs

Graham Nash bares the basics

Cover for the excellent new Graham Nash anthology, out now on Rhino Records

I just get on with what songs I’m working on. It’s like, ‘Here I am. This is what I’m doing now.’” — Graham Nash

 

That quote, given to this writer in an interview that transpired in 2015, sums up the essence of what Graham Nash has always been about, both personally and professionally for all of his 55-plus year career. It’s a sentiment adequately expressed in a new compilation succinctly entitled Over the Years, a set of songs that traces his work beginning with Crosby, Stills and Nash (and occasionally Young), and continuing through the efforts on his own and in the company of his now estranged partner David Crosby.  “Marrakesh Express,” “Military Madness,” “Teach Your Children,” “Our House” et. al, are included of course, many remixed for added clarity. However, it’s the second disc that proves a keeper for collectors, 15 original demos of Nash’s best known songs featuring the songwriter solo on guitar or piano, save the final entry “Wasted on the Way” with Stills and Timothy B. Schmitt supplying harmonies.

The point is, of course, that Nash is all about the songs. It’s a fact stated repeatedly in Arthur Levy’s liner notes and indeed, it is well worth emphasizing. That’s because Nash’s role as a harmony singer has been the main description applied to him over the full course of his career, beginning with the Hollies, with whom he penned the songs “Carrie-Anne, “Butterfly,” “Dear Eloise,” and King Midas in Reverse,” initially under the collective pseudonym “L. Ransford.” While Nash took the occasional lead vocal in place of Allan Clarke, his major function was to share in the Hollies’ collective harmonies, a signature sound they were well known for in the heady days of the so-called ‘60s British Invasion.

Nash would further impact that reliable reputation as a harmony singer with CSN (and sometimes Y), even though his contributions sometimes relegated him to the band’s back line. Singing onstage with his colleagues, he always seemed to stand in the shadows and sing mostly in support of Stills, Crosby or Young. Especially Young, as witnessed on the quartet’s Living With War tour which Young clearly dominated. So too, the fact that Nash’s songs were so deliberately and deceptively simple might have also been a factor in initially negating their impact

For the record then, it’s worth noting that Nash’s contributions to the band’s canon – songs such as “Teach Your Children,” “Our House,” “Marrakesh Express” and “Just a Song Before I Go” among the many – makes him an intrinsic part of that conglomerate, even though it sometimes comes at the expense of maintaining his own individual efforts. Indeed, his most recent album, This Path Tonight, arrived a full 14 years after his last solo release.

Likewise, his double induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — as a member of both the Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash – attests to his indelible imprint.

“I think, and I hope, that my music will resonate,” Nash told me at the time. “I think I’ve managed my life fairly well, and maybe touched a few hearts in the process. And maybe caused a few minds to think about what they might not always have thought about. I think I’m an honest musician and I’ve done my job well.”

That attitude comes through in the songs, especially in the stripped down sound of these revealing demos. It’s also evident in the inherent emotion and conviction that comes across, especially in these formative stages.

“The truth is, when you write songs, the first thing you want to do is play them for your partner, play them for your family and then go out and play them for the public,” Nash added. “That’s what we do. We’re communicators. We’re writing songs about life that we feel people need to listen to.”

A better description of this man’s mission would be hard to ever imagine.

Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman is a writer and columnist based in beautiful Maryville Tennessee. Over the past 20 years, his work has appeared in dozens of leading music publications. He is also the author of Americana Music: Voice, Visionaries, and Pioneers of an Honest Sound, which will be published by Texas A&M University Press early next year.

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