Graham Nash on Life, Nixon, Trump and The Everly Brothers
By Wayne Bledsoe
Graham Nash has never held back his political opinions. In the 1960s and ‘70s, his opposition to the Vietnam War and his support of environmental causes loomed large in his work with Crosby, Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young), along with his solo work. So it’s no surprise when Nash lets loose about current events.
“Trump has given permission to all the crazies to come out and to exist and to grow,” says Nash. “I don’t feel like we’ve heard the last of neo-Nazis and the KKK and I think they’re only gonna get louder and stronger, because they’re encouraged by this president.”
Nash says he never thought things could be worse than under President Nixon.
“Now it’s 10 times as bad. At least Nixon had a brain. At least Nixon, as divisive as he was, had a heart. It was Nixon who started the Environmental Protection Agency. Now we’ve got a guy who puts a person who doesn’t believe in climate change in charge of the EPA. Madness. … Now look where we are. Two madmen with nuclear weapons barking at each other.”
On a happier note, Nash says he’s as inspired to create music and art now as he’s ever been, probably more so. He will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17, at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville.
His most recent album, “This Path Tonight,” was released in early 2016, and he says he’s done 16 paintings since last November.
“I’m more creative now than I’ve been in my entire life,” says Nash.
Born in 1942, Nash was raised in Lancashire, England. While he was the perfect age when rock ‘n’ roll hit, he says Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” was the first piece of music that really affected him deeply.
“Incredibly emotional piece of music,” says Nash.
It wasn’t Samuel Barber’s influence that Nash and his school friend Allan Clarke were inspired by when they formed the band The Hollies, though. The Hollies’ harmonies owe a debt to American (and one-time Knoxville) duo The Everly Brothers.
“Who the (expletive) would’ve NOT been a fan of the Everly Brothers?” says Nash. “Seriously! I first heard them when I was 15. ‘Bye, Bye Love’ changed my life. Six years later me and Allan Clarke met them and talked to them on the steps of the Meridian Hotel in Manchester.
Not long after, The Hollies were at a sound check before a performance at the London Palladium with folk artist Pete Seeger when Phil Everly called the hall and asked Nash if The Hollies had any songs the Everlys could record.
“The very next day we were in the studio recording with the Everly Brothers,” says Nash. “A couple of the session men that you might be interested in? Reggie Dwight, who became Elton John. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.”
The album, “Two Yanks In England,” was released in 1966 and featured primarily songs by members of The Hollies (who wrote collectively under the pseudonym L. Ransford) and The Hollies backing them up.
Later, when The Everlys and The Hollies were playing on consecutive nights in Toledo, Ohio, Phil Everly called to invite Nash to the Everlys’ show.
“I go down to the sound check…and Don looks over and says, ‘What are you gonna sing with us?’ ” says Nash. “I’m dying inside. I’m dying. This is my life’s dream! But I’m trying to be cool and I go, ‘How about “So Sad.” How about that?’ Then it’s…‘That key OK?’
“I have a cassette of me singing ‘So Sad’ in three-part harmony with the Everly Brothers. Don’t think I didn’t want to impress them and pay them back for the music that they gave me that changed my life.”
Graham Nash will perform at 8 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17,
It was the harmony he found with former Byrds member David Crosby and former Buffalo Springfield member Stephen Stills that changed his life again. He says it was hearing what the three created the first time they sang together in a house in Laurel Canyon, California, that convinced him he had to break up with The Hollies and form Crosby, Stills and Nash. The trio, or quartet when Neil Young joined the act, was one of the first rock “super groups” and was an immediate hit.
Nash says the only person he hasn’t sung with that he’d like to is Paul McCartney.
“I had a dream some time ago that me and McCartney did ‘Yesterday,’ two-part harmony with him playing the guitar. I’d like to do that. I think that I could bring something to that.”
Nash says, at 75 years old, he’s only looking to leave the world a little better for a younger generation: “I have moved people a little to try and make the world a better place. That’s what I’ve done with my life. … As an artist, my job is to tell the truth as much as I can and to reflect the times in which we live. My job is to pay those people back who pay their hard-earned money to see me. I want to make sure they’re laughing when they leave. In a world of total (expletive) chaos right now, isn’t it nice to spend a couple of hours with someone who’s making music that makes you sing and makes you dance and makes you happy?
“This is what my future holds: More love, more peace, more creation, every day. That’s what I want for my life.”