Originally published in 1984, Crosby Stills & Nash: The Biography is the story of how three (and occasionally four) quite talented musicians in their own right came together to form the first true American "supergroup," and how they eventually went on to become one of America's most beloved musical institutions.
When the Byrds' David Crosby, Buffalo Springfield's Stephen Stills, and the Hollies' Graham Nash came together as Crosby Stills and Nash the result was undeniably magical. Together the trio — occasionally joined by fourth band member Neil Young — would establish a blueprint for multiple-part harmonies in rock music that would directly impact a generation of latter-day practitioners like the Eagles.
They also would craft a body of work, that although small in comparison to the catalogs of people like Dylan and the Beatles, would leave no less an impact on the sixties rock generation, including such timeless songs as "Suite Judy Blue Eyes," "Teach Your Children," and "Ohio."
In the just published 40th Anniversary Edition (Crosby Stills & Nash first sang together in a 1968 Laurel Canyon meeting that has long since become the stuff of rock and roll legend), author Dave Zimmer picks the story up where he last left off in 1984.
The newly revised version brings things up to the present day with 2006's Freedom Of Speech reunion tour with on-and-off-again bandmate Neil Young, and this year's Deja Vu documentary film from that same tour. The book also features hundreds of never-before-published photographs by Henry Diltz.
Although it is immediately clear in Zimmer's narrative that he is not only a confidant, but a fan as well, none of the details — including many that the band members themselves would probably rather forget — are left out.
The stories of how band members swapped famous girlfriends like Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Rita Coolidge are told in full detail, as are the tales of excesses that landed David Crosby in jail — and in fact, nearly killed him. No stone is unturned here, regardless of the muck which might lie underneath. Still, and to Zimmer's credit, Crosby Stills & Nash: The Biography never reads in the sort of lurid fashion which often characterizes other rock bios from the same era.
The various squabbles and ego-clashes between the members of this notoriously volatile band are also explored in particular detail, including the reunion attempts — both successful and unsuccessful — over the years with Neil Young. What becomes clear when reading these accounts however is that the sometime friction between them actually was an ultimate factor in what gave the band its unique chemistry.
The competitive nature between Young and guitarist Stephen Stills is paid particular mind, revealing how the clashing egos of the two guitarists would urge them on towards greater musical heights, particularly on the concert stage. What also becomes clear in reading this very personal glimpse into the lives of these musicians, is that ultimately their friendship binds them together in a way that borders on brotherhood.
What fans of this band will probably find most interesting here however, is the way that Zimmer breaks down the various incarnations of the band — including both solo projects and combinations like Crosby/Nash and the Stills Young Band — down into the most minute details.
A passage about the strange solo tour Stephen Stills did with the Memphis Horns after the release of his second solo album was one I found of particular interest, as I was actually present at the opening night show in Seattle. Stills played the show, despite clearly being drunk out of his mind. To this day I remember when Stills announced that "I'm so drunk I couldn't hit Kate Smith in the ass with a bag of rice" to the crowd of about 3000. Zimmer tells this story, and so many more, in an engaging and easy-to-read, matter-of-fact style that literally puts the reader right there.
For both CSN&Y fans and students of American music history, Crosby Stills & Nash: The Biography (Updated 40th Anniversary Edition) is an essential read.