Graham Nash was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Crosby, Stills & Nash, and then, a few years later, he was inducted as a member of the Hollies. He’s penned over 200 songs, many of which are considered classics, including “Teach Your Children,” “Marrakesh Express” and “Our House.” And his New York Times best-seller Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life has been touted as one of the great rock autobiographies of the last decade. There are also the hoards of Grammy noms and wins and other accolades. However, the highlight of Nash’s career, maybe of his life—close behind the birth of his children and marriage—was his appointment as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for his music and charity services.
“[The Queen] meant a great deal to me,” Nash says less than a week after she passed. “Her Majesty was very much alive, and she had a twinkle in her eye—she looked beautiful.”
Though Nash hasn’t lived in England for over 55 years, his admiration for the Queen has never dissipated, even as a young anti-establishment rocker who performed for a half-million heads at Woodstock in 1969.
“[The Queen] was talking to me about the Hollies, which kind of amazed me,” he recounts. “I had no idea that the Queen of England knew anything about the Hollies. I told her, ‘The truth is, Your Majesty, I’ve lived in America since 1968, and I didn’t know you were watching.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Now you know.’”
In a few months, Nash will turn 81. It’s not lost on him that he’s been fortunate in life. There are many talented people out there, but he’s been able to pursue all of his creative endeavors with lucrative success since he was a kid.
“This is an incredibly difficult world to live in,” he says. “But I have to remain optimistic. Humanity is this incredible combination of total brilliance and total shit. I just have to deal with my life, and I’ve tried my best to feel as good as possible and write stuff that I hoped people would like.”
While Crosby, Stills & Nash—sometimes with Young—is the outlet that many fans know and love, Nash’s solo material is arguably the most brilliant work of his career, highlighted by his 1971 debut Songs for Beginners, and 1974 follow-up Wild Tales. Both records are personal and straightforward, recorded quickly without time to linger and tinker with anything. Pretty much every tune of Beginners was inspired by the love of Nash’s life, Joni Mitchell, with whom he had recently broken up.
“There was nobody like Joni in my life,” he says. “I never met a woman as talented.”
On “Simple Man,” Nash croons, “I’ve never been so much in love and never hurt so bad at the same time.”
“As a songwriter, I don’t want you to wait for the last verse before you know what the hell I’m singing about,” Nash explains. “I want you to know right from the very beginning.”
As brilliant as Nash’s first two solo records are, several tunes, including “Simple Man” and Wild Tales’ “Another Sleep Song,” have rarely been performed live. That’s not the case anymore. The 2022 concert album Graham Nash: Live: Songs for Beginners / Wild Tales features Nash performing both records in their entirety, accompanied by a band featuring longtime collaborators Shane Fontayne (guitar) and Todd Caldwell (keys).
“I do love both of those albums,” Nash says. “My wife, Amy Grantham, gently pushed me towards it. She said, ‘I’d like to see that show. I’m a fan of your music, so come on, get on with it!’”
Graham Nash performs Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 8pm. Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $48; $68. riotheatre.com.