The Origin Story Of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young

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The hippie era had many notable musical groups, but Crosby, Stills & Nash (later Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) stood out as pioneers of folk rock and one of the first supergroups. Their harmonious blend of voices and talents was a shift in rock music towards more thoughtful expression. However, their personal relationships were often strained by drug use, conflicting goals, and egos. The group came together and separated multiple times, but with the death of David Crosby in 2023, the divide between members became permanent. The story of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is complex.


Crosby, Stills, and Nash members had previous bands before coming together.

Crosby, Stills, and Nash all came from different successful bands. David Crosby was a founding member of the Byrds, a popular rock band in the US, but tensions led to its breakup by 1967. Stephen Stills was a member of Buffalo Springfield, an American band formed in 1966 that became known for their hit song “For What It’s Worth.” Graham Nash was a member of the Hollies, a musical group from Manchester, UK. Despite his close friendship with the members of the Hollies, Nash left the group to join Crosby and Stills after realizing he wanted to sing their songs.


They have different recollections of their first musical performance together

The story of how Crosby, Stills, and Nash first played together is remembered differently by each member. According to their authorized biography, David Crosby and Stephen Stills became friends after the breakup of Stills’ band and spent their days jamming and getting high. They were later introduced to Graham Nash, who remembered meeting Crosby and Stills through mutual friends. The trio first played together in the late 1960s, but there is disagreement on whose house it was. While Stills claims it was at Cass Elliot’s house, Crosby and Nash insist it was at Joni Mitchell’s, who supports their claim.


The initial attempt by Crosby, Stills & Nash to get signed by a record label was not successful

According to the authorized biography “Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Authorized Biography” by Dave Zimmer and Henry Diltz, they approached the label associated with the Beatles but were rejected.


The name “Crosby, Stills & Nash” was intentional and meaningful in multiple ways

The name “Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young” was carefully chosen as it simply refers to the four members of the band, who are David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young. The three original members wanted to have their own names in the band name as they wanted to make it clear that the music they created was a result of their own individual talents. The order of the names was decided based on the rhythm and cadence of the names, not on egos. The trio wanted to have a straightforward name so that they wouldn’t get lost behind a complicated or less meaningful name.


Crosby, Stills, and Nash lineup had mixed feelings about adding Neil Young to the group

Before accepting Neil Young as the fourth member of the band, Crosby, Stills, and Nash had concerns about his commitment and reliability. Stephen Stills had previously been in a band with Young and was familiar with his tendency to cancel performances at the last minute. He also approached other musicians, including Eric Clapton and George Harrison, before considering Young. Crosby and Nash also had reservations about Young, and Crosby stated that they all had egos and were difficult to get along with. However, Young was eventually accepted and the band became known as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Nash described the addition of Young as tossing a hand grenade into the mix.


The supporting members of the band did not stay for a long time

Over the years, there were additional musicians who played a role in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, but not all of them were long-lasting members. Bruce Palmer, a former bandmate of Stephen Stills in Buffalo Springfield, was one such member. However, his drug use and erratic behavior resulted in his departure from the band. Another bassist, Greg Reeves, was also fired due to drug use and odd behavior. He had also requested to sing some of his own songs during the CSN&Y show, which was not well received by the other members. His dismissal resulted in the last-minute hiring of another associate of Stills, which increased tensions within the band.

The first split of the band was caused by cocaine use and strong egos

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were known for their confidence in their musical abilities, and their strong personalities often caused conflicts within the band. David Crosby admitted to having frequent arguments with Stephen Stills, while Graham Nash accused Stills of pushing his and Crosby’s songs off the band’s playlist. Stills’ excessive drinking and drug use also contributed to the tensions. Nash acknowledged that cocaine use was a factor in the band’s first breakup, and admitted to being “coked out of [his] mind” during the recording of the album “Déjà Vu.”


The reunion of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in 1974 was not without its problems

The 1974 reunion tour of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young was marked by excessive drug use, especially cocaine. According to sources, the members of the band had a large supply of drugs, including cocaine, which they carried to avoid customs agents. Despite Neil Young’s efforts to maintain a distance from drugs, Crosby, Nash, and Stills indulged excessively. The tour was marked by a lack of rehearsals, as the musicians wrote new songs and tried them out on the road, which led to creative stimulation but also technical issues that affected the quality of their performance. Additionally, the tour’s financial management was lax, leading to a significant portion of its profits being spent or taken by others. A feud between Young, Crosby, and Nash also resulted in the cancellation of plans for a live album.


For almost a decade, Crosby, Stills, and Nash came back together as a trio

After the end of the 1974 tour, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young went their separate ways and had trouble reuniting. In 1976, an attempt was made by Neil Young reunited the group, but it resulted in a project between just himself and Stephen Stills, which upset David Crosby. However, the following year, Crosby and Stills mended their relationship and formed the trio Crosby, Stills & Nash. The group performed and recorded together for several years and, looking back, Graham Nash said that he preferred their work as CSN compared to when they were CSNY. Despite this, tensions still existed between the members, particularly due to an earlier love triangle involving Nash and Stills competing for the affection of Rita Coolidge. Tension was still present after the reunion, but it was overshadowed by Crosby’s increasing drug use, and the other two were willing to continue without him.


Young agreed to return to the band if Crosby got clean from drugs

David Crosby’s drug problem affected Crosby, Stills & Nash during the late 1970s and early 1980s. In 1983, Crosby was arrested for drug and weapon charges and sentenced to five years in prison, but he only served five months before being granted parole. After declaring himself drug-free, he worked on reuniting with his bandmates, including Neil Young who had been absent from the group. Before Crosby’s incarceration, Young had made a promise to Crosby that if he sobered up, he would rejoin the group.

The reunion of CSNY had limited success. By this time, all the members were part of an aging generation, and their album “American Dream” after Young’s return didn’t receive much attention. Young’s return to the group was only temporary, and by 1990 it was back to being just Crosby, Stills & Nash. Young would periodically join the group for tours and records during the decade.


In the early 2010s, David Crosby and Neil Young had a falling out

Tensions continued to exist between members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young into the 21st century. In 2014, Neil Young stated during a concert that the band will never tour again. The reason for this may have been due to comments made by David Crosby about Young’s girlfriend, which he later apologized for. However, in a 2021 interview, Crosby expressed negative views about Young and referred to him as selfish and self-centered.


David Crosby and Graham Nash had a falling out in the latter part of the 2010s

David Crosby and Graham Nash had a falling out in the late 2010s. Crosby stated in an interview with The Guardian that Stephen Stills was the only member of CSNY he was still in contact with, and that Nash had changed from his best friend to his enemy. Nash responded in a later interview with The Guardian, saying that Crosby’s comments on social media, such as claiming that their friendship was only about money, hurt him deeply. Nash was firm that reconciliation was not possible. Crosby also had strained relationships with his former bandmates from the Byrds. Despite this, many of Crosby’s Twitter followers continued to ask about a reunion of CSNY until his death, but he never fully shut the door on the possibility.


Even after David Crosby passed away, Stills, Nash, & Young continued to pay tribute to him

After the death of David Crosby, the remaining members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young paid tribute to him despite their past disagreements. Graham Nash, who had a publicly acrimonious relationship with Crosby, remembered their joyful music-making and deep friendship. Stephen Stills offered condolences and stated that he and Crosby had reconciled. Neil Young praised Crosby’s contributions to the band and vowed to remember only the good times they shared.