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The beginning was auspicious. First formed in late 1968, Crosby, Stills & Nash emerged as one of the late-sixties super-groups. The three founders, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash, had distinguished themselves as front men or mainstays of various noteworthy line-ups. David Crosby, an original member of The Byrds (where he had worked with Jim McGuinn, Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons, among others), had also collaborated with Joni Mitchell, The Grateful Dead, and Jefferson Airplane ( go to biography of David Crosby). Stephen Stills had competed with Richie Furay and Neil Young for the lead of Buffalo Springfield, a pivotal, if short-lived, mid-sixties folk-rock formation, and had then taken part in the Super Sessions of Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield ( go to biography of Stephen Stills). Graham Nash had been the lead vocalist of the highly successful British boy group The Hollies ( go to biography of Graham Nash). The three musicians’ decision to team up was to redefine the music scene of their home base, Los Angeles — that fact is lampooned with considerable gusto by The New Riders of the Purple Sage, friends of at least three band members, when “High Rollers” (1977) quips about “High Rolling Studs from L.A.”: “You come here to make it, you come here to sing. / You come here to be big like Bing Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.” 

The band’s first record, entitled simply Crosby, Stills & Nash, appeared in June ’69. The ten songs of the album were mostly folk-rock tunes along the lines Stills had followed with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby had pursued with The Byrds. Some of the songs were truly inspired like Stills’ “Judy Blue Eyes” or Nash’s “Marrakesh Express,” some less so; but the conventionality and occasional thinness of the material—pop tunes dressed up with familiar sing-along harmonies—were compensated by a knack for perfection, and diligent application in the studio (Stills’ efforts) worked magic. The sound the band created as a unit was so much more than the sum of its parts; the music—one cause, three voices—excelled by far the summary potential of the three artists, whose precise vocal harmonies and polished instrumental arrangements  proved so enticing that more than two million copies of the record were sold in the first year. “Judy Blue Eyes” and “Marrakesh Express” each made a respectable showing in the single charts (rising to #18 and #17 respectively). Graham Nash declared his intention was to make “beautiful and meaningful music”; he wanted to be an activist whose political awareness should be manifest in his songs. And it was; the blend of hippie sentimentality and a naive optimism had one critic complain, “Nash’s songs were huge hits but are so sugary they may tend to cause a diabetic reaction in individuals with sensitive natures.” Rolling Stone back in ’69 opined, lacking its customary severity,  “The combination of talents creates a great sound, and it is a new sound, not merely music derived from the styles of previous groups. The vocals are warm and full, with a built-in kineticism produced by three good voices emerging asynchronously on the same phrase, with rich complementary harmonies . . .” Crosby, Stills & Nash received the Grammy for the best newcomer band of that year, and their album, the style of presentation and the material it contained, set a standard for many a band to come (America, Poco, Bread, The Eagles, &c, &c).

In July ’69, Neil Young was invited to join the formation as it was fast rising to stardom ( go to biography of Neil Young). The organizers of the Woodstock festival had the band billed as one of the major attractions, though the musicians had had little time to practice together and were apprehensive as they faced the crowd assembled that August evening in rural upstate New York. “This is the second time we’ve played in front of people together,” Stephen Stills confided to the audience. “We’re scared shitless.” The worries were unwarranted; the band’s performance became a highlight of the event. 


Successes and Failures