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CSNY’s 1974 Reunion: The Full Story Of The “Doom Tour”
Gijsbert Hanekroot / Alamy Stock Photo
In Depth

CSNY’s 1974 Reunion: The Full Story Of The “Doom Tour”

Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s 1974 reunion tour had it all: marathon sets, raging egos and unbridled hedonism.

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There had never been a rock’n’roll tour quite like Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young’s 1974 reunion tour of North America. After the enormous success of 1970’s Déjà Vu album the four-piece supergroup had split at the top of their game, and each member had tasted solo success since, particularly Neil Young, with 1972’s huge-selling Harvest. All four members of CSNY had sung on that record, and with their stock rising with each passing year, the group eventually agreed to get back together for a string of shows that would later be dubbed the “Doom Tour”.

Listen to the best of Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young here.

The reunion: Testing the waters

There had been stirrings of a reunion in 1973, when the CSNY bandmates met at a studio in Hawaii to test the waters for a Déjà Vu follow-up. The sessions might have fallen by the wayside, but the news that the golden boys of harmony pop had been in a room together led managers Elliot Roberts and David Geffen to consider the size of the windfall a tour might bring.

Promoter Bill Graham proved how lucrative such reunion shows could be, when he had Bob Dylan and The Band sell out 40 arena dates across the US in January and February 1974. He pitched a tour of outdoor stadiums to CSNY, originally envisioning only ten performances before quickly upping the number to 31. This was rock touring on an unprecedented scale, as Graham Nash told Rolling Stone in 2014: “The Beatles had done Shea Stadium and the Stones had done a couple of Hyde Park gigs where there were 100,000-plus [people], but these [shows] was the first tour of this magnitude.”

While money was undoubtably a contributing factor to the CSNY 1974 reunion tour, there was also a feeling among some of the four bandmates that together they were greater than the sum of their parts. “I think that some of my records have suffered for lack of their influences and some of theirs have suffered for lack of mine,” Stephen Stills told journalist Barbara Charone at the time. “And we all kind of agree with that… The hardest part is going to be for everyone to remember how to sit and take orders – and me too.”

The rehearsals: “I said, ‘Neil, we’re coming to your ranch and we’re going to build a stage’”

That last comment was telling. Stills had not lost the controlling tendencies that caused friction in the group the first time around. The guitarist also took charge when it came to rehearsals: at his suggestion, a crew assembled a full-size concert stage at Neil Young’s ranch in late May. As Stills later put it, “I said, ‘Neil, we’re coming to your ranch and we’re going to build a stage across the road from your studio because we’ve got to learn how to play outdoors.’ He didn’t want all those people in his house, but it actually worked.”

When it came to personnel, though, a compromise was reached between the members. Stills was keen to recruit from his band, making the case for Kenny Passarrelli (bass), Russ Kunkel (drums) and Joe Lala (conga) as a backing group. However, Crosby and Nash dug their heels in and successfully insisted that Tim Drummond – who had played bass on Young’s Harvest, Time Fades Away and the yet to be released On The Beach albums, along with Nash’s Wild Tales – took care of the low-end.

The excess: “We didn’t realise we were paying for all of it”

A no-expense-spared largesse pervaded every aspect of the CSNY 1974 tour. Six trucks, a travel agency, carpenters, bus drivers, personal chefs, drug dealers and more were on the band’s payroll – a common enough sight on large rock tours in years to come, but a whole new level of excess in 1974. Though Young travelled in a relatively austere fashion – in a converted bus with his son Zeke – his bandmates enjoyed lavish hotels, fine dining and substance-fuelled decadence. “There were private jets and helicopters,” Nash later told Rolling Stone. “We didn’t realise we were paying for all of it.”

The attention to detail and wilful ignorance of expense were astonishing, as roadie Glenn Goodwin recalled in David Browne’s 2019 book, Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young: The Wild, Definitive Saga Of Rock’s Greatest Supergroup. “Our luggage tags were leather embossed with Joni [Mitchell]’s art. I don’t know if ‘decadence’ is the right word, but it was so over the top.” Mitchell, whose paintings adorn many of her own album covers, had provided the portrait for CSNY’s 1974 compilation album, So Far, and the illustration was also used on hotel pillowcases and the wooden plates used by catering. The opening acts also spoke of the tour’s ambition, with Mitchell herself, along with Santana, The Band and The Beach Boys, providing support across the 31 performances.

The shows: “When you play a stadium you almost have to do a Mick Jagger”

CSNY’s 1974 reunion tour kicked off on 9 July, at Seattle Coliseum. In keeping with the more-is-more ethos, and perhaps as a result of four men with large egos unwilling to cede ground to one another’s material, the show ran to over three hours and over 40 songs. According to legend, the group were still playing at a curfew-busting 2am. And it was so much more than a run-through the hits. As well as many of the best Crosby, Stills And Nash Songs, such as Ohio, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, Wooden Ships, Carry On and Long Time Gone, there was also room for full-band versions of highlights from each member’s solo catalogue.

On the tour’s opening night alone, the group started with a full-pelt run through Stills’ Love The One You’re With, before going on to blast through Young’s Cowgirl In The Sand and Crosby And Nash’s Immigration Man. An acoustic set included stripped-back takes on Nash’s Another Sleep Song, plus covers of The Beatles (Blackbird) and Joni Mitchell (For Free), and a solo piano rendition of Young’s Harvest favourite A Man Needs A Maid. A closing set saw the group crank up the amps for rowdy versions of Young’s Revolution Blues and Crosby’s What Are Their Names, among many more songs.

By the end of the show, CSNY’s voices were gone, and during the following evening, in Vancouver, Crosby’s completely gave out. It was all part of a steep learning curve, as photographer Joel Bernstein later remembered. “There was this weird troglodyte notion, and this wasn’t just a CSNY problem, that you’ve got to turn it up to 11,” he later told Rolling Stone. “That’s not the case at all. You need to trust your PA mixer. When the volume did come down they were playing wonderfully. They didn’t need to make it that loud.”

Crosby would reflect on how the sheer volume affected the band’s performance. “We had good monitors, but Stephen and Neil were punching well over 100 [decibels] from their half stacks. Graham and I simply couldn’t do the harmonies when we couldn’t hear ourselves. Also, when you play a stadium you almost have to do a Mick Jagger where you wave a sash around and prance about. I can’t quite do that. We did what we could, but I don’t know how many people in the audience really got it. A lot of them were there for the tunes. When we’d start them, they’d hear the records.”

The fights: “They were very explosive. There was a lot of competition”

Old habits die hard, and as CSNY’s 1974 tour went on, the group split into factions, not least as Young – keen to avoid conflict – insisted on doing his own thing. “Neil travelled separately and kept himself separate,” Crosby later told David Browne. “That was him being honest about how he felt. Neil is a very pragmatic guy when he’s dealing with us. He knows what he’s dealing with… And he uses us when it suits his purpose. I wish he wanted to be our buddy. But the music was good and that’s what counted.”

As a songwriter, Young was going through an astonishing purple patch, spurring the rest of the group on to greatness and ever-changing setlists. Nash later reflected, “He hit a writing spell that was unbelievable. He wrote On The Beach, Don’t Be Denied, Pushed It Over the End, Hawaiian Sunrise. He’d hit it.”

Drummer Russ Kunkel told Rolling Stone, “Sometimes there was a setlist, but it changed a lot. There weren’t many soundchecks. What you have to remember about these guys is that they’re magicians and music is magic. We had arrangements for songs and we knew how they went, but when it came to solos there was no telling how long Neil would play. He would turn around to me while soloing and I’d see his eyes over the top of his mirrored sunglasses. It was like he was saying, ‘I could die doing this solo. I’m going to give it everything I have, so you’d better go with me.’ It was an incredible experience.”

The tour rampaged across the US against a backdrop of upheaval: Watergate (Nash, in particular, became obsessed with following the proceedings); the death of the group’s longtime friend “Mama” Cass Elliot; and increasing bickering among the bandmates. And as CSNY’s demands became more outrageous, their behaviour followed in kind.

“They were very explosive,” crew member Guillermo Giachetti told David Browne. “There was a lot of competition. There are many ways to light a stage, and they would disagree about that. They would get angry and start fighting if a song ended in a black-out or white-out or spotlight. If one had sex with twins, the other guy had to have sex with twins.”

The legacy: “These guys were really kicking it here and pushing the envelope”

Despite the internal friction and the knife-edge atmosphere surrounding the group, CSNY’s 1974 reunion tour ended in triumph. At Young’s insistence, they booked only one European date – at London’s Wembley Stadium, on 14 September 1974. Even by CSNY’s standards, it was huge: “Oh God, it was like being in a hurricane,” Kunkel later said. “I’d never experienced anything like that before.”

The Wembley show was recorded with an eye for use as a US TV special, but the performance didn’t meet the band’s standards. “We were just too wrecked,” Crosby later said. “We knew it and watched the video after and said, ‘Aw fuck.’” Despite any misgivings, the 40th-anniversary live album that eventually surfaced was astonishing. Released in July 2014, CSNY 1974 was compiled from highlights of nine of the reunion tour’s shows. Spanning three CDs and one DVD, it was a remarkable showcase of the raw talent and incredible back catalogue at the band’s disposal.

Over half a century on, it’s the music that remains. “A lot of what we remember is stuff that went on around the tour, not what happened onstage,” Crosby told Rolling Stone. “But when you’re confronted with the tapes and with the video you have to say, ‘Jesus, these guys were really kicking it here and pushing the envelope.’ I love that we had all these great songs. I love that we treasured them and treated them respectfully.”

Check out the best Crosby, Stills And Nash Songs.

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