Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents If David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash
were to sustain the overwhelming acceptance of
their eponymous debut album, they needed to tour.
With the exception of drummer Dallas Taylor, Stills had
played most of the instruments on the album himself,
which left the band in need of additional personnel
if they were to emulate the album’s dynamic song
structures on stage.
Stills was keen to recruit Steve Winwood, who could
have contributed guitars and keyboards. Great idea,
bad timing, as Winwood was already occupied with the
launch of his new band Blind Faith.
Ahmet Ertegun, the founder of Atlantic Records,
suggested Neil Young who had played with Stills in
Buffalo Springfield. Fierce rivals, Stills and Young
were often at each other ’s throats throughout their
two years together in Buffalo Springfield which
may have contributed to their intense electric guitar
Young’s inclusion turned out to be a master stroke,
bringing a keener edge to the music and songs that
more than held their own.
To complete the rhythm section they brought in another
ex-Buffalo Springfield member bass guitarist Bruce
Palmer. However, Palmer was let go, possibly because
the band looked and sounded too much like Buffalo
Springfield. At the suggestion of Rick James, bassist
Greg Reeves was subsequently hired. The restructured
band played their first show on August 16, 1969 with
Joni Mitchell as their opening act.
The next day they left to play at Woodstock having
no idea what awaited them. Prior to starting their
set the intimidating prospect of performing in front
of half a million people prompted Stills to say, “This
is only the second time we’ve performed in front of
people. We’re scared shitless”.
Their appearance at Woodstock and in the
subsequent movie boosted the band’s visibility and
created enormous anticipation for the quartet’s first
album. With that in mind, the band paid meticulous
attention to detail once recording began.
Much was made of the fact that the foursome didn’t
appear together on every track, but there was nothing
unusual about that in rock music.
As each track was completed, the diversity of material
contributed by the four distinctive songwriters became
David Crosby’s love of unusual time signatures
was clearly evident on the title track. Graham Nash
remembered, “I’d never heard anything like this song.
I was used to writing in the standard pop format with
The Hollies and we were good at it, but ‘Déjà vu’ was
completely different, it was jazz oriented with no verses,
In complete contrast were the two Nash contributions.
‘Teach Your Children’, a mandate to parents, was
given a country feel enhanced by Jerry Garcia’s
pedal steel guitar recorded in one take.
To repay Garcia, CSNY agreed to coach the members
of The Grateful Dead how to sing harmonies on their
upcoming albums Workingman’s Dead and American
‘Our House’ was written when Nash was living with Joni
Mitchell, the lyrics depicting a particular day when she
bought a vase and put flowers in it while her boyfriend
lit a fire in the house they shared with two cats (in the
Young’s reflective ‘Helpless’ was a nostalgic vision of
Omemee, Ontario he recorded himself overdubbing
the vocal harmonies.
‘Country Girl’ was recorded at Young’s ranch prior to
adding the other three voices.
In common with ‘Long Time Gone’, from the CSN
album, ‘Almost Cut My Hair’ was written by Crosby
on the night that Robert Kennedy was assassinated.
His passionate, heartfelt vocal performance,
recorded in one take, has never been bettered.
Intended for inclusion on his first solo album, Stills’
intimate, autobiographical ‘4 + 20’ was so loved by the
band they insisted it be included on Déjà vu.
Joni Mitchell, who had not been at the festival,
wrote ‘Woodstock’ in a hotel room in New York
watching televised reports. David Crosby later
stated that she had captured the feeling and
importance of the Woodstock festival better than
anyone who had been there. The distinctive CSN&Y
guitar work gave the song, the album’s first single, a
strong separate identity from the more reflective version
Joni had recorded for her Ladies Of The Canyon album.
About three quarters of the way through the Deja
Vu sessions, Nash cornered Stephen Stills and said,
“We need a ‘Suite: Judy Blues Eyes’ to open this
album, an opening track that stuns you and keeps
Stills came up with the brilliant ‘Carry On’, full of spine
tingling vocal harmonies and an instrumental jam
that he and Dallas Taylor had been working on. The
“Questions” segment he borrowed from the Buffalo
Springfield song of the same name.
Two separate songs were fused together for the album’s
closing track ‘Everybody I Love You’: Stills’ ‘Know You
Got To Run’ and Young’s ‘Everybody I Love You’.
What emerged was a fast paced, vibrant finale for this
much loved album.
Unsurprisingly, CSN&Y soon came apart. It would be 18
years before their followup album American Dream was
CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG
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