To use an expression from back in the day, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young never took it easy. Though they epitomized much of the kick-back-chill-out attitude of rock before and after Woodstock, the notoriously volatile CSNY were like four vials of nitroglycerin on a covered wagon, always threatening to explode from a combination of talent, ego, and excess. As CSNY wrap up the U.S. leg of their current reunion tour, it’s worth recalling it wasn’t always smiles and backslapping on stage and off. In this excerpt from Shakey: Neil Young’s Biography (Random House), written by Jimmy McDonough with the cooperation of Young and many of his associates, we get a peek inside the group’s 1974 reunion tour, a cross-country jaunt that set new standards for big-scale stadium tours—for better and often worse. Wasted on the way, indeed.
With On The Beach completed, Neil Young did exactly what he swore he’d never do again — a huge arena tour, this time with CSNY. Why? [Young’s manager] Elliot Roberts, no doubt. After enduring a succession of wacko records that threatened to flush Neil’s career down the toilet, Roberts had to be concerned, and he was the only one capable of nudging the superstar foursome into action.
Backing musicians were assembled: Russ Kunkel on drums, Joe Lala on percussion. Stills wanted Kenny Passarelli on bass, but Young held out for Tim Drummond.
Rehearsals were held at Young’s ranch on an outdoor redwood stage he’d had erected for the occasion. CSN came to Y. ”That’s the amazing thing about the hold that Neil has on these guys,” said Nash associate Mac Holbert. ”If Neil said, ‘Hey, how about rehearsing down at the ranch,’ that wasn’t a suggestion, that was the way it was gonna be. They never stood up against Neil.”
The quartet would play thirty-one concerts in twenty-four cities in a little over two months, mostly in outdoor stadiums before crowds that averaged fifty thousand. Various other superstars filled out the bill: Joni Mitchell, Santana, The Band and The Beach Boys. Although there had been stadium shows and festivals before, this was the biggest tour attempted in rock thus far, and what is most remembered is not the music, but the greed. As Stills told Cameron Crowe in an oft-repeated quote, ”We did one for the art and the music, one for the chicks. This one’s for the cash.”
Nash and Crosby were less callous. ”The Doom Tour,” Crosby would call it, while Nash would voice his displeasure years later in ”Take the Money and Run.” ”I feel strongly that the ’74 tour was pressure from management for us to get out there and for it to be a big scene,” said Nash. It suddenly became a much bigger scene when [promoter] Bill Graham entered the picture. All previous tours had been handled through Geffen-Roberts, but at the last minute tour manager Leo Makota was axed and this one was farmed out to Graham. ”Me and David wanted Leo, Neil and Stephen wanted Bill Graham,” said Nash. ”I made a great mistake at that meeting—I had taken a quaalude ’cause I’d been up all night, so I was persona non grata at this meeting and it was decided Bill Graham would do it. It cost us a fortune. A fortune.”