CROSBY, STILLS & NASH
How was it working with Crosby, Stills, and Nash? What would you have changed about their career?
It was wonderful! Working with superstars is always an amazing experience. There are considerations that don't enter the picture with baby bands and emerging artists. Crosby, Stills & Nash have been residing in The Big Top since their inception. CSN was the act that the term "supergroup" was coined for. All three came from successful bands and they enjoyed instant success as a trio. David Crosby came from The Byrds, Stephen Stills from Buffalo Springfield and Graham Nash from The Hollies. All were seasoned and successful professionals when they met.
These three bands had totally different histories. And, they had enjoyed varying degrees of success. Regardless of their relative commercial viability, they had one major ingredient in common; each of these bands was highly regarded by its peers. In the mid to late sixties the "California Sound" was evolving rapidly into a form that was, in its essence, America's march toward ending the Viet Nam war. Social protest through music filled main stream FM radio.
Graham Nash was part of the British invasion that led by The Beatles, dominated popular music in the U.S.A. Stills and Crosby were part of the American folk music tradition fathered by Woody Guthrie and furthered by Pete Seeger. When Bob Dylan went electric he created a path that all the other "folkies" were free to follow. David, Stephen, and many of their contemporaries, led their seminal bands in the foot steps of Dylan's transition to what became known as "folk rock."
There are two versions of how the band was formed. One is described by Stills and another by Crosby & Nash. Stephen remembers there first meeting as having taken place at Mama Cass's house and at her beckoning. Graham and David insist it was at Joni Mitchell's house. This debate has been raging for over thirty years and will never be resolved. It will prevail as a double-edged story and I'm sure the memories will continue to fade. The legend will never over lap the truth.
In the latter sixties and early seventies most musicians embraced cannabis, cocaine and psychedelic drugs as part of the counter-culture movement. A romantic image built up around the drug experience. It became part of one's social obligation to "try" every new drug that came along. Drugs started out as a "tool" that enabled enlightenment and creativity. Unfortunately, they became the "fuel" that drove the anti-war movement at home and in the Nam. The kids were following the bands and most musicians, and their management structures, were drug driven, all the time. The prevailing expression is, "If you can remember those days, you probably weren't there."
The one thing they all do agree upon is that the first song, they sang together, was a Stills tune called "You Don't Have To Cry." David and Stephen had been rehearsing it for awhile and had a perfect two part harmony in play. After several hearings, Graham slipped in the high part and the sound was, undeniably, the best three part harmony anyone in the record business, had ever heard. Their first album was recorded at Wally Heider's studio in Los Angeles and was an instant smash hurling their career forward and instantly establishing them, once again, at The Big Top.
I had signed Buffalo Springfield to the William Morris Agency as an unknown act and knew Stephen from that experience. Being in business with him was always a challenge. He is a super perfectionist and demanded a high degree of quality service. Fortunately, I and my colleagues, Skip Taylor, Peter Golden, Jerry Brandt and the rest of the Morris office agents were up for the job. We performed absolute miracles on behalf of the band. We openly declared, "This band is America's answer to The Beatles," and we told that to everybody who would listen.
I had managed Crosby & Nash during my tenure at The Geffen Roberts Company and they joined my partner Harlan Goodman and me, after we formed Hartmann & Goodman, in the early seventies. We had been very successful in building sustainable carers for Poco and America and it was only natural that David & Graham would join our roster. As soon as we were officially their managers, I called Michael John Bowen, then Stills' manager, and said, "Guess what we've got!" "What?" he queried. To which I replied, "Crosby, Stills & Nash!" I could feel the instant excitement on the other end of the line, "You've got the guys?" he gasped. From that day forward my partner Harlan, Mike and I dedicated ourselves to what turned out to be the very successful reunion of CSN. Crosby & Nash remain a very viable duo and they continue to record and tour.
At first, Ahmet Ertigun refused our request to renegotiate the recording agreement. In an act of corporate defiance, we commenced recording the album at Criterion Studios in Miami, without a purchase order from Atlantic Records. Ahmet still refused to negotiate, "They already owe me more product than they can ever deliver," was his retort." When the album was mixed, we offered it to Walter Yetnikoff at Columbia Records which further irritated Ahmet. Walter had Stephen as a solo artist and was signing Crosby & Nash as a duo, so CBS was a natural home for CSN and Ahmet feared that we were just crazy enough to deliver the album to CBS. I told Walter, if they would indemnify us from an Atlantic law suit, we'd sign. Wisely, he never took the bait.
We leaked it out that we had flown to Miami with Yetnikoff and his right hand man, Bruce Lundval on the CBS jet. When Ahmet learned about that he was quite upset. His arch rival had heard his album first. He called up to complain, in his wonderfully elegant way. There was some screaming and yelling, as I pointed out some of the distinguishing characteristics between the contracts currently in force and the previous version of CSN's record deal . Ahmet was forced to the bargaining table. An intense negotiation followed. Over several days, Ahmet, his CFO, Sheldon Vogel, Atlantic Records president Jerry Greenberg and an army of lawyers duked it out.
Our lawyer, Greg Fishback, partnered with Stephen's attorney and we crafted a winning strategy for creating the best possible contract. We designed some theatrics for the conference room, and in the end, Crosby, Stills and Nash walked away with what was, at the time, the best record deal, ever. Although the contest had been brutal, Ahmet always the constant gentleman and treated us with warmth and respect. We squeezed him hard at the wire and got the new royalty rate for their entire catalog. Since our new deal guaranteed a fixed price per unit, as opposed to a royalty, this final deal point turned out to meaningful when catalog sales kicked in following the hit.
When dealing with iconic figures of this stature, there isn't much room to second guess what happened; all you can do is try to contain it at the time. CSN's career has spanned decades and they are still at the cutting edge of the big time concert business. Throughout their history, there have been several managers. We all got to ride the bucking bronco that boils at the passionate heart of this great band. My eight seconds were enormous fun and rich in thrills and excitement.
We made a brilliant album, co-produced by Ron and Howard Albert, that went to the top of the charts. We toured North America to sell out crowds and got a smash hit single on a Nash tune, called "Just A Song before I Go." The thing I would change, if I could do it all over again, would be to drop the hard drugs and make more music. These great artists are bigger than life characters in the history of our "Pop" culture. They created their own destiny. I was just lucky, once upon a time, to be in a position to serve and inspire them and to carry their flag up a couple of mountains. It was always an honor to work with Crosby, Stills & Nash. It was a wild, cowboy ride, but I made the buzzer with my hat on. They remain a legendary force in society, music and entertainment.