Four giants of music combined to form one of the very first supergroups: CSN&Y. Stuart Ryan delves into the their legendary acoustic sound.
Stuart Ryan looks at the acoustic playing of CSN&Y and, in particular, Graham Nash.
It’s rare in the history of rock that four such unique and individual songwriters, guitarists and vocalists join together to create music that somehow manages to transcend the sum of even its grand parts. CSNY are a treat for any guitar-playing fan of the rock sound of the 1960s and ’70s as they cover so many bases from ethereal acoustic fingerpicking to all-out electric rock and roll. David Crosby perhaps described the more commonly seen Crosby, Stills and Nash incarnation best at their 2009 appearance at the Glastonbury festival when he said: “In this band we each have a job – Stills writes fantastic rock and roll; Nash writes anthems and I write the weird stuff.”
The classic example of a supergroup, CSNY comprised American stars David Crosby and Stephen Stills, British songwriter Graham Nash and Canadian Neil Young. Crosby found fame with The Byrds, Nash was a member of The Hollies and Young and Stills had been part of Buffalo Springfield. The band was essentially formed at a party at Joni Mitchell’s house in 1968 when Nash, Stills and Crosby jammed together (Young would join the band later) and realised how special their sound was. This trio released their debut album, Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1969 and followed it the next year as the expanded CSNY with the Déjà Vu album. As with many of these outfits, there were numerous inter-band quarrels that saw them split up in 1970 only to reunite in 1974. It’s amazing to think that even during this period the four members released some stunning solo works (Neil Young’s Harvest!). After the departure of Young in the mid ’70s the band continued to release albums as a trio and continue to tour as this line-up.
Given the powerful musical personalities of such a group it’s no surprise to discover that there is no one ‘guitar sound’ herel; rather, it’s a melting pot of influences and approaches. There are polar opposites: the uptempo strumming British pop sound of Nash’s Marrakesh Express against Crosby’s otherworldly fingerpicked altered tuning opus Guinevere. As I covered Crosby’s imaginative fingerpicking style in GT several years ago this time I’ve elected for a more Nash-inspired, strumming-based track with some typical CSN chordal movement. We’ll look at Stills’ lovely acoustic picking in a future issue.
there are electric songs and acoustic songs. the test of an electric song is to play it on an acoustic Stephen Stills
NEXT MONTH Stuart looks at the acoustic style of modern acoustic superstar Ed Sheeran
Crosby and Nash: half of one the greatest harmony bands of all time
It’s mostly Martins for these guys (except for Stills’ famous use of the Gretsch White Falcon on the electric side of things). Any good acoustic will work for this style although I would veer to a largerbodied dreadnought to get that classic CSNY sound. I recorded this on a Gibson J-35 Collector’s edition through Telefunken and Brauner mics and Chandler TG 500 mic preamps.