It all began in the summer of 1968, when Graham Nash encountered David Crosby and Stephen Stills at Joni Mitchell's house. Crosby had left The Byrds and Stills had only recently become unemployed with the demise of Buffalo Springfield, and when Nash joined in three-part harmony on a new Stills song it became apparent to Nash that what he was hearing would require his departure from The Hollies - and soon.
"I knew that my life had just changed in a major way," recalled Nash, speaking from his home in Hawaii. "I knew that I would have to go back to England and quit The Hollies, and leave my bank account and all my equipment and friends and family and start a new life, but that's how important, and that's how great, that moment was for me."
"I am a harmony singer. David Crosby is a harmony singer. Stephen Stills is a harmony singer. We know what we're doing. The Byrds and The Hollies and the (Buffalo) Springfield know what harmony singing is, but this was completely different. There was something about us singing together that was magic, and we all recognized it immediately."
The release of "Crosby, Stills & Nash" in May 1969 catapulted them to popularity that rivaled The Beatles at the time, driven by the hits "Marrakesh Express" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes." With Neil Young on board as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, they walked onstage that summer at Woodstock for what was only their second live performance. And with the singles "Teach Your Children," "Woodstock," and "Our House," their first album as a quartet, 1970's "Déjà Vu," was another major hit.
Over the following decades, the group has worked in various configurations. Crosby, Stills & Nash have always been at the core, with Crosby and Nash working together at times and Young occasionally reappearing while maintaining his successful solo career. Nash just completed work on a 3-CD/1-DVD box set of CSN&Y from their 1974 tour (due for release this July), and he's enthusiastic about those recordings finally reaching the public.
Nash's recent autobiography, "Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life," is a colorful and glaringly unstinting look at the band's evolution, detailing the drug use that threatened the group's existence. He managed to produce the book wholly from his own recollections, which can't have been easy for anyone calling rock & roll their vocation in the late '60s and '70s.
"I have a good brain. I've taken my share of drugs; everybody knows that. I was a little hazy on a couple of details, but nothing substantial. And the only two people that I worried about, frankly, were my wife, Susan, and my friend David (Crosby); Susan, because everybody wants to know what it's like to sleep with Joni Mitchell, and David, because I was pretty ruthless and brutal about how he affected me with what he was up to (regarding Crosby's drug use)."
After all these years, everything still comes down to those voices. And Nash seems to be as excited and mystified as ever by what happens when those sounds meet in the air.
"When we do ‘Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,' not only does it thrill us to still be able to sing it and harmonize like that, but the effect on the audience is thrilling for us."
"It's not supposed to work. I'm from England, Stephen was from Texas and Costa Rica, and David was from California, but there's something about the way that we sing. We have absolutely no claim on any of the notes that we sing, but no one in the world can sound like us when we're singing together."
Crosby, Stills & Nash
When: Tues., March 4, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Carpenter Theatre, 600 E. Grace St.
Details: 804-592-3400 or www.richmondcenterstage.com