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How Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young Arose From The Byrds, Hollies And Buffalo Springfield

Music | April 2, 2021

Neil Young, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young pose for a composite publicity photo circa 1970. The Neil Young image is by Henry Diltz. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's perfect harmonies, heard in songs such as "Woodstock," "Helpless," and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," belie the group's chaotic and unharmonious beginnings. The four band members were a collection of rock refugees who'd seen great success with their former bands -- Neil Young and Stephen Stills with Buffalo Springfield, David Crosby with The Byrds, and Graham Nash with The Hollies. The individual instrumental and songwriting talent from each musician is what contributed to one of the most brilliant supergroups of all time.

David Crosby Was Fired From The Byrds

Source: Pinterest

David Crosby had been playing guitar for psychedelic folk rock sensations The Byrds since 1964. However, the band was growing tired of his ego and his control of their creative direction, which was causing tensions to increase. Crosby was very passionate about politics and, against The Byrds’ wishes, he would give speeches about JFK’s assasnation and the benefits of LSD between performances at their concerts. In 1967, Crosby got booted out of The Byrds as they could no longer stand his antics and felt he wasn’t even that essential for the band. Crosby would soon prove the rest of his old mates seriously wrong.  

CSN Was Born From The Breakup Of Buffalo Springfield

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Buffalo Springfield formed in 1966 and was another one of the earlier folk rock bands popular in the California folk scene. The band released one of the biggest hippie protest anthems of all time, "For What It’s Worth."  Both Stephen Stills and Neil Young were in Buffalo Springfield, but Young frequently missed appearances and began to slowly leave the group. At the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, Crosby filled in for Young in Buffalo Springfield (who were rivals of The Byrds, so this caused even greater tension between Crosby and his bandmates.) Chemistry formed immediately and from that moment on, Crosby and Stills began meeting casually to jam together. One of these informal jam sessions resulted in the future CSN song "Wooden Ships," with the involvement of Jefferson Airplane’s Paul Kantner. Eventually Graham Nash of the British pop group The Hollies met Crosby as they crossed paths on their international tours. The three would run into each other at many of the infamous Laurel Canyon rockstar parties, and at one glorious shindig (the rumored site was either Mama Cass' or Joni Mithcell’s house) magic was created. The three jammed on Stills’ "You Don’t Have To Cry" and they all broke out in laughter because they couldn’t believe how perfectly their vocals harmonized together. Since the three musicians all came from harmony bands, they sure knew what they were doing. 

A Perfect Trio Of Harmonies Made Up The Band

Source: Pinterest

The British group The Hollies were very popular throughout the UK and had some success in the States as part of the British Invasion. They were regularly near the top of the British singles chart and managed to crack the Top Ten in the U.S. with "Bus Stop," "Stop Stop Stop," and Carrie Anne."  Nash, the guitarist and principal songwriter of the group, was becoming very frustrated with the group as he began expanding his musical direction and desired to write deeper songs. The rest of his bandmates wanted to continue their simple, poppy tunes, so Nash decided to quit because pop music just wasn’t doing it for him anymore. It was perfect timing for Crosby, Stills, and Nash, all recent refugees, to come together and form CSN. The trio released their debut album Crosby, Stills & Nash in May 1969 and it was an instant hit. Their angelic voices haunted the masses with hippie songs such as "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes," "Wooden Ships," and "Marrakesh Express."  They created a new sound that fused together folk with heavy guitar riffs and solos along with enchanting vocals that blended effortlessly. The album peaked at no. 6 on the Billboard charts and remained on the list for 107 weeks. 

Neil Young Made The Band A Five-Piece

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After the first album’s success, CSN realized the difficulty of replicating these songs in a live setting, so they decided to scout out a fourth member. The idea was presented to add Neil Young, Stills’ former bandmate in Buffalo Springfield, on keyboards. However, there was severe hesitation of this plan as Young was known not only for his immense talent, but also for his ego and reluctance to commit. Nash was especially against the addition, but when they all first met with Young and jammed, Nash pulled a 180-degree turn in his thinking and was convinced particularly because of Young’s sense of humor. Nash said, “Now, maybe he understood that I was the group’s lone holdout where he was concerned and he was on his best behavior, but at the end of breakfast I would have nominated him to be the prime minister of Canada. Based on his personality and my intuition, I went back to the guys and said, 'I get it -- he’s in. Let’s give it a shot.'” CSN had officially transformed into CSNY.  

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young Hit The Road For The First Time

Source: Rolling Stone

With Young now in the band, CSNY set out on the road for a five month tour that kicked off at the Auditorium Theatre in Chicago with Joni Mitchell as the opener on August 16th, 1969. The next day was almost a spiritual awakening for the world when the quartet performed for the second time ever at the Woodstock Music Festival. Nobody could tell the band was absolutely terrified especially because of their lack of live performances. The hundreds of thousands of hippies in the audience were immediately hypnotized by their enchanting harmonies that seemed to reach the heavens along with their intense instrumentation. CSNY left a mark on the world that day and people were now expecting an album. Society was then gifted with the record Deja Vu, which was even heavier than the previous album, but still smoothed over with their mesmerizing vocal harmonies. Iconic songs were featured on the album that included "Teach Your Children," "Our House," "Ohio," "Almost Cut My Hair" (a song that stood up for all the long-haired people), and a cover of Joni Mithcell’s "Woodstock."  Deja Vu peaked at no.1 and remained on the charts for 97 weeks, and was a complete masterpiece of songwriting and musicianship.  

Drug Abuse Contributed To The Band’s Breakup

Source: NY Daily News

Unfortunately, clashing personalities caused tensions to grow for CSNY. Stills also developed a harsh addiction to cocaine and alcohol, and the group became annoyed with his ego problems. As their tour ended, the band broke up after their final show in Bloomington, Minnesota on July 9th, 1970. The band reunited in 1974, and throughout the years since then, the members have reunited and broken up several times and continued to work together during multiple collaborations.  

Tags: Crosby Stills and Nash | Crosby Stills Nash And Young | David Crosby | Graham Nash | Music In The 1960s | Neil Young | Stephen Stills

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Emily Morenz

Author

Despite her younger age, Emily Morenz (Emo) is a serious 1960s/1970s enthusiast who is pretty much the Austin Powers of this decade. Through her all-vintage wardrobe, obsession with old time rock 'n' roll, and her mid century bedroom and 1,200+ vinyl collection you might think she just stepped out of a time machine. Emo plays the rare gems of the ‘60s and ‘70s on her radio show on OC’s 101.5 KOCI and teaches rock ‘n’ roll history on her podcast “The Rock & Roll Sweetheart.” When there's not a pandemic, she's rockin’ out with all the middle aged-men at every single classic rock concert happening around the town, and she will battle her away to front row and dance hard. Paul McCartney even once brought her up on stage to dance...while she was in a walrus costume. You also might find Emo surfing waves, skateboarding through a neighborhood, groovin' '60s gogo style, and pretending like she can play bass. And she's obsessed with peanut butter and corgis.