Crosby, Stills & Nash fans already knew last summer that the group had an unusual new studio CD in the works — a collection of covers of songs from other artists.
The trio road tested a few songs last year under consideration for the disc, including the Rolling Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday,” the Allman Brothers Band’s “Midnight Rider,” Bob Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country” and the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band.”
But in talking with David Crosby, he sounds perhaps more excited about another project that could be finished and released in time for the holiday shopping season — a box set culled from the 1974 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tour.
“This CSNY thing is going to eclipse almost everything else,” Crosby says. “I think it’s going to be just pretty much beyond belief. What I’ve heard, I was just stunned.”
According to Crosby, Graham Nash has been working with long-time associates Joel Bernstein and Stanley Johnson on assembling the set, which will include three CDs and a DVD. He said the group has about eight full shows from that tour in the vaults, and the best tracks from the shows are being compiled for the release.
The shows on that 1974 tour were epic affairs, with an electric set, followed by an intermission, an acoustic set and then more electric full-band performances. Many of the shows clocked in at more than three hours.
Asked what he remembered from the 1974 tour, Crosby has a quick one-word answer.
“Nothing,” he quips. Crosby, of course, knew that remark would be interpreted as referring to his famous drug habits of decades past. But what he also meant was he was surprised at what he heard in listening back to the ’74 shows.
“When you really hear them now, it’s just astounding,” he says. “The stuff that they’ve played me, I can’t even believe how fucking good it is.”
Indeed, there’s nothing foggy about the amiable Crosby, 68, and his level of awareness these days. His heavy drug days ended in 1985 when he landed in jail on drug charges for a year. The singer/guitarist, who started his career in the Byrds before joining Nash and Stephen Stills to form Crosby, Stills & Nash (and shortly afterward, Neil Young to create Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), is one of rock’s alltime survivors.
Not only did he beat his decadelong addictions to heroin and cocaine, he survived a 1994 liver transplant and continues to prove he has some creative fuel left in the tank.
At the turn of the decade, he joined forces with his son, James Raymond (whom he had given up for adoption and didn’t meet until Raymond was a professional musician), to form a band CPR, which released four albums (two studio and two live). In 2004, he and Nash teamed up to release Crosby/Nash, a two-CD set of new songs that included some of the best material the pair had released in years. Crosby says he wants to get to work soon on a new solo album in the tradition of his 1971 solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name.
As for CSN and CSN&Y, both groups have been plenty active in recent years.
In 2006, CSN&Y toured essentially behind Young’s CD, Living With War, a biting attack on the war policies of then-president George W. Bush — a tour in which the group’s anti-war sentiments resulted in death threats toward the group members and some fans leaving the concerts in protest.
In addition to that tour, CSN has toured nearly every summer in recent years, and kept a steady stream of material coming from its vaults. Both Crosby and Nash have released career-spanning box sets. Nash is compiling a Stills box set as well, but given the mountain of unreleased material that is being considered for the set — covering Stills in Buffalo Springfield, CSN (and sometimes Y), the Stills/Young Band, Manassas and as a solo artist — it looks to be awhile before that set is finished.
Last year saw the release of Demos, which included the demo versions of 12 songs CSN later recorded for the trio’s 1969 self-titled debut, the 1970 CSN&Y debut, DéjÃ vu, and various solo and duo releases of the early ’70s. Nash chose the dozen songs from a stash of more than 50 early demos and plans to compile a second volume for future release.
Then there is the covers album, which is partially recorded, and is giving Crosby another reason to be enthused about life in CSN these days.
“It’s coming along,” Crosby says of the covers album, which is being produced by the legendary Rick Rubin.
“We deliberately aren’t trying to put any deadlines on it,” he says. “We’re just working through it, taking our time, picking stuff, we want it to be a really great record, and Rick [Rubin] wants it to be a really great record. We’re not in a hurry. We’re trying to be craftsmen about it.”
Crosby says he has been enjoying his work with Rubin, whose extensive production resume includes albums for the Beastie Boys, Johnny Cash and Slayer.
“He’s a very, very intelligent guy,” Crosby says of Rubin. “He’s a very, very experienced guy. He can hear extremely well, and he has a strong concept of what he wants. He has a very clear idea of what he wants, and he’s not shy. So he’s a very good focal point for an album to come together around. I have a pretty high expectation.”
In an overall sense, Crosby says life in CSN is quite smooth now — a stark contrast from certain periods in which the group had disputes and did not work together. (As groups, CSN and CSN&Y have released only eight studio albums of new material, the most recent of which 1999’s CSN&Y album, Looking Forward.)
Crosby cites a variety of reasons for the recent harmony among all four group members.
“[It’s] a lot of things, lack of drugs, patience with each other, more respect, more care about each other’s feelings,” he says. “You know, you get older, you get a little bit smarter hopefully.”
Crosby says even his frequently contentious relationship with Stills has evolved. As recently as in a 2007 interview in The Australian, Crosby said he didn’t really “get on” with Stills, noting they disagree on “just about everything about how to live your life.”
“You know, it’s gotten better since then,” Crosby says. “We used to butt heads a lot more than we do now. We’ve gotten to be friends again, and it’s really a great pleasure.”
That bodes well for the current CSN tour, which like last summer will find the group playing both acoustic and electric sets.
“It will be the same band, but some different material,” Crosby says. “Again, we’ll be trying out some new stuff that we think should go on this Rick Rubin record that we’ve been making. There will be several things you haven’t heard before, and a lot of stuff that you have heard before, and that you would feel kind of cheated if you came to a CSN concert and didn’t hear. But there are some new things that might be high points.”
On the Bill:
Crosby, Stills & Nash plays Red Rocks Amphitheatre on Wednesday, June 2. Doors at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $49.50.
18300 W. Alameda Pkwy., Morrison, 720-865-2494.