GRAHAM NASH framing photographs in new book

GRAHAM NASH framing photographs in new book

by Norman Warwick

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As a member of Crosby, Still, Nash and Young, Graham Nash recorded a handful of tracks that were perhaps expansive enough yo sit comfortably on Steve´s weekly jazz show mentioned above. I´m not sure that Steve would agree that they would qualify as jazz, and I would bow to his judgement, but even the suggestion reflects on what an eclectic and musician and artist Graham Nash really is.

Nash joined The Hollies, a British pop rock group formed in 1962. One of the leading British groups of the sixties and seventies they were known for their distinctive three-part vocal harmony style. Allan Clarke and Graham Nash founded the band as a Merseybeat-type music group in Manchester, although some of the band members came from towns further north in East Lancashire.

They enjoyed considerable popularity in many countries (with at least 60 singles or EPs and 26 albums charting somewhere in the world, spanning over five decades), although they did not achieve major US chart success until Bus Stop was released in 1966. The Hollies (right with Graham back row, centre) had over 30 charting singles on the UK Singles Chart and 22 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The Hollies are one of the few UK groups of the early sixties, along with the Rolling Stones, who have never disbanded and continue to record and perform. In recognition of their achievements, the Hollies were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.

Graham Nash (left), however, abandoned the group in 1968 to form Crosby, Stills & Nash, (and Young)

Although he’ll forever be best known for his musical contributions (as a member of The Hollies, with Crosby Stills And Young, and his solo work), Graham Nash is also an extremely talented photographer who has been documenting his life and surrounding subjects for decades.

And with the arrival of the book A Life in Focus: The Photography Of Graham Nash, some of his best images have been collected. Many are faces music lovers will recognize: Jackson Browne, Mama Cass Elliot, Alice Cooper, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell…Joni Mitchell,….and lots more Joni Mitchell. But there are also shots of everyday people and places made extraordinary through his lens.

Nash spoke with Greg Prato for Songfacts shortly before the book’s release to discuss the stories behind some of the most striking photos.

One that stands out is Neil Young looking like he’s about to either write a brilliant song or smash his guitar over Nash’s head. As Nash explains, he later found out that Young was moonlighting on his After The Gold Rush solo album (right) at this time.

Along with a breakdown of the photos, Nash also tells the stories behind some of his classic songs, including “Teach Your Children” and “Wasted On The Way.” And, he gives a very candid account of how he felt when listening to Mitchell’s 1971 album, Blue, written soon after their breakup.

Greg Prato (Songfacts): You give a lot of visual detail in your songs – “Marrakesh Express” is a great example. Can you talk about how your eye for photography influences your songwriting?

Graham Nash: I want to capture moments in both music and in photography. I want to be invisible. I want people to smile when they’re listening, or looking at an image.

I want to bring joy to people. I am not interested in negativity and bad comments. I’m not interested in any of that. I’m almost 80 years old – in three months, I’ll be 80. And I always wanted to be curious about the world. I’ve always wanted to make people feel better about themselves, and I’ll do that until the day I die.

It took me a while to listen to Blue again after the first time because there’s two or three songs on there that I’m part of´.

What’s a song you wrote that was influenced by a photo?

´I had a show at a museum many, many years ago. I never have told any gallery owner how to hang my images. They know their space way better than me, and I’m always curious as to how they put images together. And in this particular show, two images had been put together. One by a woman named Diane Arbus of a boy in Central Park with a [toy] hand grenade. And the other next to it was an image of Krupp, who was the German arms manufacturer for both World War I and World War II, who were in a way responsible for millions of deaths.

And these two images together made me realize that if we didn’t teach our children a better way of dealing with our fellow human beings, we were fucked. Humanity was in great danger. So, I had just finished Teach Your Children. And when I saw how this gallery owner had placed these two images together, it made me realize that I was on the right track¨.

When Songfacts interviewed Bill Withers (left) , he talked about how you were in the studio offering support when he recorded “Ain’t No Sunshine.” What do you recall about that?

photo 4 ´I was in the studio where we cut the first CSN record – it’s on the corner of Selma and Cahuenga Boulevard in Los Angeles. I was taking a break, probably smoking a joint outside, and I heard this music coming from one of the other studios. I was curious, and I walked in. And there was this African American with a guitar, sitting on a chair, with his foot on a box. That was the rhythm he was creating.

He finished the song, and I said, “Who are you, man? That’s a fantastic song! What’s going on in your life?” And he says, “Well, I’m kind of giving up. I can’t seem to break through. Nobody seems interested. Maybe I’ll just give up.” And I said, “Wait a second. I don’t know who the fuck you are, but you cannot give up. What you have is an incredible gift. You should recognize that and get on with it.”

And he loved that. Twenty or 30 years later, I was filmed with Bill in my house in Encino talking about that moment. But yes, I did encourage Bill´.

As Nash recalls, the first time he sang with Stephen Stills and David Crosby was in Joni Mitchell’s living room (Stills places it in Mama Cass’s dining room). Mitchell and Crosby had dated, and he also produced her debut album. Soon after Crosby, Stills & Nash formed, Nash and Mitchell started dating. They moved in together in a house in Laurel Canyon, the setting for Nash’s CSN&Y song “Our House.”

Nash and Mitchell broke up on June 6, 1970. He remembers the date because he wrote a song about it right away and played it the next evening at the Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young show at the Fillmore East with Joni in the audience. That song, “Simple Man,” appeared on Nash’s first solo album, released in 1971.

photo 5 There’s a lot of Joni Mitchell (right) in the book. She’s a painter, and also a very visual songwriter. How do your songwriting styles compare?

´I would never, ever try to compare any of my work with any of Joni’s work. I think she’s a genius. I think in a hundred years’ time, when people are looking back at this century and what happened in music, they are probably going to remember The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and they’re definitely going to remember Joni Mitchell´.

What is Joni Mitchell’s greatest song?

Nash: There are so many brilliant songs. I tend to go towards a simple song, and one of my favorites is “A Case Of You.” I think it’s an unbelievably beautifully recorded, simple folk song. It’s beautiful.

Sidetracks And Detours would interject here to add that the favourite Joni Mitchell song here in our office is River, and that actually our favourite interpretation  of the song is a recording by Kirsty Almeada and The Troubadours, that included jazz pianist John Ellis and has been referenced many times on these pages, in articles that remain in our easy to negotiate music archives.

How did you feel when you heard her song River? I’ve heard that the song was influenced by you.

It took me a while to listen to Blue again after the first time because there’s two or three songs on there that I’m part of. And “River” is a beautiful, beautiful song: “I wish I had a river I could skate away on.”

When Joni and I were breaking up, we both knew it was going to be difficult. We both loved each other tremendously. We had spent a couple of years lighting up rooms when we walked in. It was painful. It took me a while before I could re-listen to Blue.

What was the lyrical inspiration behind the Crosby Still and Nash song,  Wasted On The Way?

How much time the three – sometimes the four – of us had wasted. We had wasted a lot of time arguing with each other and debating how we should do this or do that, and that’s what I wanted to say: We wasted a lot of time. CSN&Y only did what, three albums?2 We had wasted a lot time, and I just wanted to make my partners realise that.

Better Days. [From your 1971 debut solo album, Songs For Beginners.]

Better Days was written for Rita Coolidge (left). I first met Rita the night that me, David [Crosby], Rita, and a couple of other people put the vocals on Love The One You’re With. I asked Rita out and she said yes. Then Stephen [Stills] called her and said, ´That date that Graham made with you, he can’t do it because he’s sick. But I’ll take you´. . Better Days is about my relationship with Rita Coolidge and Stephen.

Wounded Bird? Also on Songs For Beginners.

Wounded Bird is a song I wrote for Stephen and Judy Collins. When Judy and Stephen were together, it made perfect sense to us all, but I wanted to just insert a word of caution that sometimes love goes in a different way than you think it does. And so it’s just a word of caution to my friend Stephen about his relationship with Judy.

Let’s discuss some specific photos from your book, starting with the self-portrait (right) of you at the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

That was taken in September of ’74. It was at the end of the Crosby Still Nash & Young tour of stadiums.3 We were about to go to London to do the final show at Wembley Stadium. I had been doing a lot of drawing and snorting a lot of cocaine – the same as everybody else. It was a tense time and a strange time.

I was drawing a picture of myself in the bathroom at my suite in the Plaza Hotel, and then I realized that what I was looking at would make a great picture. So my girlfriend, Calli Cerami – a beautiful woman – I asked her to bring my camera in, and I worked out the exposure and worked out the composition and said, “Would you do me a favor? Stand right here and just take that picture that I can see.”

So, she actually pressed the trigger. It’s my self-portrait because I set the whole thing up, but Calli actually took that picture. So, I’ve been plaguing myself with, “Is that a self-portrait? What is that exactly?” But it is my idea and my composition and my exposure settings, so I’m taking it as a self-portrait.

  That’s Cass (left) on the phone to Crosby. I was visiting her at a house just off of Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. You know, in a really strange way, Cass is the reason you and I are talking right now – she understood what David and Stephen were trying to do.

David had been thrown out of the Byrds, [Buffalo] Springfield had broken up, and she knew I was unhappy in The Hollies. And she knew what I sounded like. I believe in her mind, she knew what we would sound like if we sang together, and I have a feeling that is one of the reasons why she introduced me to Crosby, who introduced me to Stephen. And on every album since, we have given a special shout-out to Cass.

That’s her painting a portrait of me. Which, if I turn my chair around – which I just did – I am looking at that portrait of me. I have it.

The photos of Neil Young (right) rehearsing for the Déjà Vu album?

I’m a courageous photographer. I like to be invisible and I have courage. But I’m always a little apprehensive of shooting pictures of Neil. I know how private he is, I know how weird he is, I know how strange he can be. I know all that. But I wanted to take some pictures, and those pictures that you see were taken in five minutes. What I didn’t know was that Neil would rehearse with us for several hours on Déjà Vu, then leave, go to the studio, and start making After The Gold Rush. Fantastic. What a musician.

CSN seems to get credit for being one of the bands that set the stage for what is known as “yacht rock.” I wrote a book about it a while back, and some of the interviewees agreed. What do you think of that term? It’s a style of music that has very prominent vocal harmonies and has a lot of subject matter pertaining to boats and sailing. From CSN, it then led to such artists as Steely Dan, the Eagles, the Doobie Brothers, Christopher Cross – artists that had that similar approach and sound.

Well, we were only trying to do what we could do best. We knew that we had good songs, we knew that we could sing, we knew that we could make records, because The Byrds, Springfield, and The Hollies were good record makers. But I was very proud of the work that I’ve done with David and Stephen, and with Neil.

I’m obviously getting to the end of my life, but I’m very proud of what we did. I’m always trying to make music, make you feel how I felt when I very first heard The Everly Brothers (left) in 1957. When I first heard “Bye Bye Love,” my life changed instantly. I knew what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, and so did my friend, Hollies co-founder] Allan Clarke.

Nash will be discussing the book further at two appearances: December 5 at 92Y in New York City, and December 8 at Bookends Bookstore in New Jersey.

Meanwhile, you can order A Life In Focus: The Photography of Graham Nash at

There was a further insight into the thoughts of Graham Nash in an article posted at Paste on-line, written by Brad Wagner (right) , who is also a music video-film maker and editor.

When Graham Nash enters the bar at Berlin Under A in New York City’s East Village, the Paste team succeed for the most part in holding ourselves together, challenging as it may have been. I mean, that’s Order of the British Empire-receiving, tens of millions of records-selling, Joni Mitchell-dating Graham Nash standing right there! After a disarming handshake and a light chat, we are miked up and on our way into a delightful discussion about the role of artistic expression in keeping this Renaissance man moving forward. Watch the interview video embedded at the bottom of this article.

“I’m having a good time,” Nash says. “I think because I’m still having a good time that I’ll probably be able to live a little longer. I’m not giving up. I’m not retiring. I have no interest in retiring.” The energy and pleasure Graham gleans from this constant creative engagement is evident within a few seconds of meeting him, and it’s evident in the pages of A Life in Focus.

The early conversation between Wagner and Nash centres on Graham’s knack for capturing the natural expressions of his subjects, unaware they are being photographed more often than not. In his constant “quest to be invisible,” he has landed on a few strategies that help him hide his lens in plain sight. Most important among these strategies is to Always Be Carrying. No matter the make or model—whether he’s packing the fanciest Hasselblad or an outdated iPhone—as long as the camera is a constant presence, it tends to fade into the scenery and his images show some of the most photographed people on the planet, unguarded.

The book, writes Wagner,  is full of satisfyingly candid photos of the artists associated with Nash, including Mitchell, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and other characters from the early ’70s Laurel Canyon scene. It is also full of landscapes, cityscapes, still lifes and thoroughly unexpected candid pairings, like Alice Cooper and Philip Seymour Hoffman in the same frame at the Kentucky Derby.

For the journalist, the unpredictable nature of this collection is one of its biggest assets. As soon as he thinks he senses a theme to a few consecutive images, he turns the page to find surprises like an interestingly lit sewer-grate or a tangled heap of folding chairs. Of course, the book needn’t be enjoyed cover-to-cover—the way Wagner apparently chose to do on multiple occasions—but the dynamic shot selection is a pleasure regardless of how you navigate.

Graham’s ability to see beauty in ordinary settings is another key to the work. “Look at the composition of this microphone on this chair,” Graham says, pointing to my mediocre audio cabling work off-camera. ”I know that I could take a picture of that and show it to you, and you’d go, ‘How cool is that?!’ I see differently, and I hear differently.”

Which naturally brings up the topic of Nash’s near-synesthesia, a cousin of true synesthesia, notably experienced by Wassily Kandinsky. “When I look at the image and I look up at the full moon, and I look up into the whisky grey clouds, I can imagine violins playing! I’m not hearing a melody … But I can imagine—very clearly and very easily—music in photographs.”

As the two men wrap their discussion and prepare to go separate ways, Graham opens the neatly wrapped package he brought along with him. It is a gorgeous black-and-white print that Wagner initially thinks is a photo centered beneath the Eiffel Tower, looking straight up. Of course it is not that. It ends up being a close- up of an ordinary cardboard four-cup coffee tray, to everybody’s delight.

A Life in Focus: The Photography of Graham Nash is available in stores and on the internet now. Paste on line offers readers the opportunity to sit Sit in on their conversation with the artist  (featuring music by The Breaks Inc.) and to hear a 1979 Nash performance from the Paste archives.

The primary sources for this article include an interview conducted with Graham Nash by Greg Prato and published in Songfacts and a piece by Geoffrey Himes, a writer we have spoken of and quoted from several times on these pages.His article on Nash was published  in the always interesting Paste on-line magazine

Greg Prato (see right, illustration) writes along a cat-walk of styles, as a book formatter, editor and cover designer as well as the author almost thirty books on music and/or sports. As a freelance journalist he is also a press release writer and composer of many liner notes. His books on music include A Devil On One Shoulder And An Angel On The Other: The Story Of Shannon Hoon and Blind Melon, Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story, Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, No Schlock . . . Just Rock!, ‘The Eric Carr Story, MTV Ruled the World: The Early Years Of Music Video,  and Too High To Die: Meet The Meat Puppets,’

His profile on the Songfacts site, alongside this illustration say he is a journalist and published author from Long Island, New York, Greg takes his rock n’ roll very seriously.

Greg is at high risk for Metal Neck, but has thus far retained his cognition. Some of his interview subjects include 
Judas PriestScott Weiland of Stone Temple Pilots/Velvet Revolver and John Lydon of the Sex Pistols/PiL

Another major reference point was a conversation between Geoffrey Himes and the singer-writer-photographer published at paste On Line

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This article was collated by Norman Warwick, a weekly columnist with Lanzarote Information and owner and editor of this daily blog at Sidetracks And Detours.

Norman has also been a long serving broadcaster, co-presenting the weekly all across the arts programme on Crescent Community Radio for many years with Steve, and his own show on Sherwood Community Radio. He has been a regular guest on BBC Radio Manchester, BBC Radio Lancashire, BBC Radio Merseyside and BBC Radio 4.

As a published author and poet he was a founder member of Lendanear Music, with Colin Lever and Just Poets with Pam McKee, Touchstones Creative Writing Group (where he was creative writing facilitator for a number of years) with Val Chadwick and all across the arts with Robin Parker.

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