Even at the ripe old age of 77, rock ‘n’ roll legend Graham Nash still refuses to phone it in at a show.
“I want [the audience] to know that I want to be there making music for them,” Nash says. “I sing songs that I have sung a thousand times with the same passion I had when I wrote them.”
On Friday, March 22, Nash will come to town for a show at the Palladium, performing songs from his decades-old catalog. Beforehand, our Seth Johnson chatted with the Rock & Roll Hall of Famer over the phone, discussing Joe Biden, Elton John, climate change, and much more.
NUVO: Back in 1965, you started your own publishing company (Gralto Music Ltd.) with fellow members of the Hollies. I find this particularly interesting, considering how many independent record labels exist today. Why did you all choose to start the publishing company?
GRAHAM NASH: We realized that with every A-side of a single there was a B-side stuck on there, and the B-side was making money too. So, Allen [Clarke] and I decided that we would start to write songs, and we did. You sign with a publisher, like we did with Dick James, who had the Beatles’ publishing, Elton John’s publishing, and the Hollies’ publishing. That deal was basically 50/50.
In 1968, when I decided I was going to leave the Hollies, I went to Dick, and I said, “When we signed with you all those years ago in ’65, you said if there was any problem that I could come to you, and we’d work it out.” He said, “Right. What’s going on?” I said, “Well, I’m leaving the Hollies, and I’m going to live in America. I have these new friends, David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and we’ve been making music together. I want to leave.” So he said, “OK,” and he picked up the phone. He dialed his secretary, and he told her to come in with my contract. She came in about a few minutes later. And, in front of me, he tore it up, and he said, “You’re free.”
NUVO: You signed Elton John to Gralto Music Ltd. before anyone knew him by that name. (Elton’s birth name is Reg Dwight.) How did you first cross paths with him?
NASH: I first knew Elton when I was helping the Everly Brothers record an album in England called Two Yanks in England. They decided that they would sing seven Hollies songs, and we were helping them make the tracks. A couple of the session musicians there were Reg Dwight, Jimmy Page, and John Paul Jones. That was 1966. I went to see Elton recently, and he was really fantastic. He did a three-hour show with no break, and it was great.
NUVO: I know you’ve been passionate about politics for a long time. When would you say that passion was initially sparked? And, what was it that prompted that?
NASH: When I was in the Hollies, we had written a song about the population explosion called “Too Many People,” and that was late ’64 or maybe early ’65. I saw all the Aldermaston marches that went from Aldermaston to London. But, it was basically when I came to America and realized what David, Stephen, and Neil were writing about. I realized I could write a melody that you can’t forget, but the words needed to be better. They needed to be about real life things, and that’s when my songwriting changed immediately.
NUVO: You recently released an animated video for “Teach Your Children.” How does the current state of America parallel the state America was in when that song originally was recorded in 1969?
NASH: In the first part of my song, “Teach Your Children,” I, of course, speak about teaching your children. But in the second half of the song, I talk about teaching your parents. When I saw what had happened from the school shooting in Florida, where 17 kids didn’t go home from school that day … the surviving members have got a real political entity together, where they’re going around America registering people to vote and talking about politicians that take money from the NRA or the pharmaceutical industry. They’re doing great. I began to realize that the passion I was recognizing in those kids needed to be talked about.
I asked my manager Mark Spector what I should do, and he said, “Well, I have this friend Jeff Scher, who did some work for Joan Baez.” I love the fact that it [Nash’s video] starts with the two athletes at the Olympic games, putting their hand up with a glove. It’s all in black and white until it gets to the Parkland shooting, where it turns to color.
NUVO: Along those same lines, you endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016. What about his politics are you a fan of?
NASH: I certainly think he’s a man of the people, and he’s very cognizant of the corruption that goes on in politics today. If I was going to choose a president, I would choose someone with experience, and I would certainly choose someone with foreign experience because of the state of our world today. In my mind, a great bill would be Biden and Kamala Harris or Biden and Beto O’Rourke. I think we need the experience of somebody like Joe Biden, who has been around this world many, many times.
NUVO: Related, you co-founded Musicians United for Safe Energy in 1979. Is safe energy something you’re still passionate about?
NASH: I’m not only passionate, but I recognize it as the greatest threat to humanity that we face. I know all about the nuclear problem, and I know all about bacteria. But climate change is the biggest threat facing humanity. Within 20 to 25 years, I think you’ll find most of Miami gone. I think you’ll see all of the Marshall Islands gone, lots of Bangladesh, and even pieces of New York. Look at Hurricane Sandy for instance. The streets in East Village and West Village were flooded, and that was only because of a hurricane. What happens when the ocean level rises by a couple of feet?
It’s just insane. And to have somebody in charge of the EPA that doesn’t believe in climate change is madness. It’s not only madness, but it’s criminal. Not believing 99 percent of the scientists who say global warming is happening and that human beings are causing it … not to believe them in this day in age is criminal.
NUVO: Are there causes you’re excited about right now? Is there work that others are doing that you’re following closely?
NASH: Did you know that 50 percent of people on the planet don’t have access to the internet? 50 percent. If we’ve got 7 billion people on this planet, that means 3.5 billion people are not connected and are falling further and further behind both economically and information-wise.
I’ve recently become involved with this company called Imcon, which stands for Immediate Connectivity. What they’re doing is providing a backpack that will give you access to the internet anywhere in the world. Lots of places throughout the world have no access to the internet, and it’s incredibly important in these economic times. They’re falling further and further behind. So that’s one of the causes that I’m trying to put energy into.
NUVO: Getting back to your music, 2016’s This Path Tonight was your latest solo record. You’d gone several years without doing a solo record, so what was it that got you back in gear for this one?
NASH: In those 14 years, I made 16 CDs. I was not just sitting on my ass watching the television. We did the CSNY box set of four CDs. We did Stephen’s box set of four CDs. We did mine of three CDs. We did Crosby’s of three CDs. I was a busy boy, and then my life changed. I realized I was not in love with my wife. We divorced, and I moved to New York. And here I am at 77 trying to make the most of every day.
NUVO: With your show at the Palladium, you’ll be accompanied by longtime collaborator Shane Fontayne. Tell me about the relationship you two share.
NASH: I’ll actually be bringing two people with me. Not only Shane, who’s a brilliant lead guitar player, but Todd Caldwell on keyboards from the Crosby, Stills & Nash band. What it is about Shane that I love so much is … even though he’s an incredible guitar player and could shine on every solo, he wants to support the song. He wants to frame the song and bring the song to life, and that’s what he does so brilliantly.