Four decades going, David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash are still full of surprises.
Take, for example, "Demos," the trio s new disc of 12 unreleased home-recorded demos between 1968-71.
The album contains stripped-down versions of "Marrakesh Express," "Almost Cut My Hair," "Chicago," "Love the One You re With," and other radio classics that came of age with a generation.
Listening to the music in its infancy stage is like hearing the songs for the first time. Which is appropriate because, in many cases, the recordings on the album were the first time the songs were put to tape. And without CS&N s trademark three-part harmonies four, when you add Neil Young to the mix the spotlight is on the lyrics.
Meanwhile, Crosby, Stills and Nash are preparing material for an album of covers produced by uber producer Rick Rubin, who s known for remaking careers (Johnny Cash, Neil Diamond).
Before the trio heads into the studio to record the disc, they are on the road, including a stop at 7:30 Sunday night in the Toledo Zoo amphitheater as part of the zoo s summer concert series.
The Blade recently spoke with the 67-year-old singer-songwriter Nash.
Q: Talk about "Demos."
A: It was surprising to me, and I ll tell you why. It started when I was putting together the box set of Crosby, Stills and Nash that came out in 91. ... I found about 45 demos of our songs, most of them are our most famous songs. I put them aside and realized it might be very interesting for people to hear what, in most cases, was the very first time the song was put down on tape.
Because I had taken care of the tapes the last 40 years in terms of climate control and heat control, etc., the tapes sounded fantastic.
Q: Will there be more CSN demos?
A: Oh, I m already working on volume two. I just think it s fascinating for people to hear.
Q: Many artists are leery of having early versions of their songs released.
A: But we ve always been a brave band. We ve always gone out there as four human beings that have our weaknesses and have our strengths, and we ll probably [mess] up and we ll probably be magnificent at times. Our audience has always loved us for our humanity. They know that we are one of them.
Within the last 10 years we ve realized the arguing we did in the past and the silly decisions that we made in the past were all youthful indiscretions, and we re in love with each other more now, we support each other more now, we re more cognizant of our failings and we only want to amplify the good parts of our lives.
Q: Talk about the first time the three of you sang together.
A: I must tell you that I remember the moment insanely well. David and Stephen were at Joni [Mitchell s] house. I came over to see Joni and during the course of the evening David says to Stephen, "Hey, play Willy that song that we ve been doing." They sang a song of Stephen s called "You Don t Have to Cry" and they sang it in two-part harmony and it was great. And I said, "Man, that s a fabulous song. That s really good. Just do me a favor and sing it one more time." They looked at each other and shrugged and sang it one more time, and I went, "You know, this really hits the spot. Please just go with me and do it one more time." The third time they started to sing it I had my harmony down pat and the vocal sounds of Crosby, Stills and Nash happened within about 35 seconds. It was insane.
Q: You re working with producer Rick Rubin on a new album. How s that coming along?
A: I could not be happier. When we come off the road we re going back into the studio with Rick Rubin to complete this album. We re doing about 12 of other people s songs; people that we loved, songs that we wished we d recorded. So we re putting the CSN vocal sound on other people s songs.
Q: What are the songs?
A: Well, we have made a decision that we re not going to talk about it. I d like to keep our choice of songs as secret as possible until the record s done. Now, obviously, because we re going to do them on stage, people are going to known instantly what songs we re going to do. But until we hit our first show, I think I m going to keep it to myself.
Q: When will the record be released?
A: Hopefully we re going to record it after we come back off the road, which will be October. So we ll be in the studio at the end of October and November and the beginning of December, and [the studio wants] to bring it out for about March.
Q: In an interview with the New York Times, Woodstock co-founder Michael Lang said he found similarities to the mammoth concert festival and the inauguration of President Obama, and between the late 1960s and today. He said, "[Woodstock] was sort of an out-of-the-blue moment of hope when people saw a better path, and I think people are looking for something like that now." Do you believe that s true?
A: I went to the inauguration. I was invited there and I took my two sons. When I was standing about 80 yards from the President as he was accepting the presidency, I looked around at the other 2 million people and I went, "Will," the name of one of my sons, "this is incredible." He looked at me and said, "Dad, this is our Woodstock." And I thought, "Wow, that s an incredible thought."
Q: CSN and Woodstock are both celebrating 40th anniversaries this year. Would CSN be involved in a Woodstock celebration?
A: Let s get real here. It was 40 years ago. It was almost half a century ago. And I think it s appropriate to celebrate it. And I think it s appropriate to remember it. But I don t think it s appropriate to try and recreate it because the times are just not the same, the economy is not the same, the people don t feel the same. They have been bamboozled by the media for the past 40 years since the first Woodstock and they have blown Woodstock into this mythical thing that happened. And although it was a wonderful event and very important, I think it has grown mythically larger by the year. If all the people who have come up to me and told me they were at Woodstock were actually there, the planet would have tilted.
It was just a show for us. An important show, nonetheless, and we recognize that, but that was 40 years ago and we want to move forward and not backward.
Q: Do you have any memories of Toledo?
A: We always have a great time in Ohio. It s a true music state. One of the last great things I remember about Toledo is when we played there in, I think it was 92. I got a call in the hotel from Phil Everly. I go, "Phil, why are you calling me in Toledo, Ohio?" And he goes, "We re in the same hotel." Our show is tonight and your show is tomorrow. Do you want to come to the show?" I said absolutely, so me and my friend we get on the Everly Brothers bus and we re eating rubber chicken at 5 o clock like every rock band does, and Don [Everly] looks at me and goes, "So, what are you going to sing with us?" I m dying inside. It s been my life s dream to sing three-part with the Everly Brothers, so I m trying to be nonchalant and I go, That d be nice. How bout So Sad ? I love that song." So Phil says to me, "I ll change my part. I ll go underneath Don." And I go, "Why?" He goes, "Because you can t possibly sing on top of me because I m singing the high part." I said, "Who do you think you re talking to, Phil?" with a smile on my face. "Don t change a thing. You just do what you do and listen." With a 30-second rehearsal, I have a board tape of me singing "So Sad" by the Everly Brothers that thrills me to this day.
Also, I took a great photo of a hippopotamus [rear end] at the Toledo Zoo in my book. I m not kidding.
Q: You re playing the Toledo Zoo Amphitheater. Perhaps photographic history will repeat itself.
A: Yeah, I wonder if that hippo is still there.
Crosby, Stills and Nash will perform at 7:30 p.m. today at the Toledo Zoo Amphitheatre, 2700 Broadway. The concert is nearly sold out, but check with visitors services at the zoo or Ticketmaster outlets for ticket availability. Information: 419-385-5721.
Contact Kirk Baird at