Graham Nash talks David Bowie, Glenn Frey, 'This Path Tonight,' touring solo and more
Graham Nash knew he had something special the moment he laid down Myself at Last, the delicate second track on his forthcoming album This Path Tonight.
“That’s the first attempt at the first song we ever tried,” Nash said of the version on the album, which drops April 15. “How fantastic is that? When you turn around and the bass player is almost in tears, you know you’ve got it.”
This Path Tonight sees Nash in an open-hearted mood, and he’s eager to share it on his spring tour, which hits Clearwater’s Capitol Theatre on Tuesday. The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer — both with the Hollies and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young — will play nearly solo on this tour, accompanied only by guitarist Shane Fontayne, who co-wrote the new album.
“People that come and see me are going to see an individual who is a human being, just the same as they are, going through the changes that they’ve all been through and may go through,” said Nash, calling from Manhattan Beach, Calif. “And maybe for a couple of hours a night, we can escape from the chaotic life that is life right now.”
The years are ticking by faster and faster these days for Nash. Over the past few weeks, he’s witnessed the deaths of friends like Glenn Frey and former Crosby, Stills and Nash drummer Dallas Taylor.
“Life’s a little chaotic,” he said, “but still alive and moving forward.”
Your show in Clearwater is on Feb. 2, your 74th birthday. How are you going to celebrate?
You know, I’ve been trying to ignore my birthday for years, but unfortunately, because I have a certain notoriety, I’m never allowed to forget that it’s Groundhog Day.
Do you actively have to tell people you tour with: “Please don’t bring a cake out on stage. Don’t have the audience sing happy birthday.”
Yes. They know I don’t like to make a fuss.
Are you going to be playing much material from This Path Tonight, or is that too far into the future to really dig into?
No, I’ll probably do three or four from there. I just love the songs. But it’s one of the things about getting older, I guess: I have an incredible catalog of music to be able to choose from, and therefore the setlist changes night after night.
It’s a good problem to have.
Are there nights where you’ll say, “You know, I feel like doing an extra Hollies tune tonight,” or, “I might play an extra CSN song tonight?”
Absolutely. I’m very much that way. And the audience loves that. I think the audience loves humanity. Even when you make a mistake, or you forget a word, or you sing the wrong chorus, they love it, because they’re part of it. That’s what I want to accomplish here. I don’t want my audience looking at me as some kind of rock legend. I understand that side of it. But this is me as a human being, going through my changes, and having the courage to do it front of you guys, in front of my audience. Come with me through the journey. That is basically the essence of what’s behind the new album, This Path Tonight. It’s a journey along this path that we call life, and we have to recognize that it goes through its very definite stages, from birth to teenagers to adults to old people to dying.
When someone releases a new album after this much time off, I guess the question is: Why? It’s been 14 years since Songs For Survivors.
And you think I’ve had 14 years of being off? (laughs) Are you kidding? I’ve never been off. That’s only one side of my life. You’ve gotta understand: In the last 10 years, I’ve done probably 15 CDs. I did Crosby’s box set, I did Steven’s Box set, I did my box set, I did the CSNY 1974 tour box set, I did the greatest hits of CSN, the demos of CSN. I’ve been a very busy boy. And you must understand that music is only a part of my life as a creative person. So yeah, I’m incredibly busy, and I’m incredibly grateful.
When you do your CSN tunes, those harmonies are so ingrained in people’s memories. How different do they sound when it’s just you solo?
What we’re doing is taking each song down to the essence of how it was created. Let’s take Teach Your Children, for instance. Yes, of course, people recognize that harmony. But my god, if I can’t play Teach Your Children on my guitar, naked in front of you, and not get my point across, I’ve failed as a communicator. When when you do strip a song down to its essence, you’ve either got a good song, or you don’t.
You have to have the bones of the song that you can play on a piano or acoustic guitar. That’s when you really know you’ve got something.
Absolutely. And no amount of technology, no amount of adding a multitude of strings and jungle-Cuban rhythm section, makes a bad song into a good song.
Did you know David Bowie or Glenn Frey very well? Did you spend much time around either of them?
I knew Glenn better than I knew Bowie. I only met Bowie on a couple of occasions. He had a very interesting energy, I must tell you. He had this — maybe “otherworldly” is not so far off — energy. And Glenn, I’ve known since way early, especially in California at that time, with Jackson (Browne) and everybody. Glenn and I lived on the same island for 30 years.
Everybody knew that he had been suffering, but his death still took the world by surprise.
It did, and especially to his friends. The last time I saw him was on the golf course, and he was healthy and fit and funny and calm. But it’s just all the more reason we have to take every second that we have and try and make the best of it.
As the years go on, it just seems like it happens more and more every day. More people that you know pass on.
I know. Trust me. I know.