The double-Hall-of-Fame rocker comes to Wilmington Aug. 9 ready to play from the heart
Even during the final moment of time itself—when the multitude of galaxies collide and the universe collapses into oblivion—music fans will continue to debate exactly who should and should not be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
While hundreds of musicians can claim that achievement, only 21 performers to date have been fortunate enough to be inducted twice for being in multiple noteworthy bands or having successful solo careers.
Of all the bands showcased in the Hall, only the Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash hold the distinction of having members who are all double-inductees. And in a manner of speaking, CSN’s Graham Nash will be featured a third time in November when the museum presents an exhibit about his life.
“It’s such an honor,” says Nash, calling from California. “I’ve been gathering all of my original lyrics, and the handwritten stuff, and the things that influenced my life and sending it all to Cleveland.”
A self-described archivist, Nash is looking back on a musical career that spans five decades. Over the phone his voice sounds vibrant, his Lancashire accent giving color to his more passionate comments. At times modest (when speaking about his accomplishments), at other times feisty and fired-up (when talking about protest songs), there isn’t a moment where it feels as if he is holding anything back.
“When getting into music and rock and roll in the early days, you didn’t get into it to make money,” Nash says. “You did it to meet women and to express yourself.”
“I’m an incredibly lucky person, and I’m very fortunate to be an American citizen. This country has treated me greatly, and I want to pay it back.”
One way that Nash looks to give back is through his current tour, which includes an Aug. 9 performance at The Grand in Wilmington. Starting in Vancouver and ending in New York City, the 31-date road trip will be an opportunity for him to raise tens of thousands of dollars for The Guacamole Fund, a charity organization that he supports.
Here’s what the legendary artist had to say about the fund and what he finds vital about music and performing:
1. You are donating proceeds from this tour to The Guacamole Fund. What exactly is that?
It’s a foundation here in California. Tom Campbell, who runs it with his staff, has probably been responsible for a least 85 percent of any of the benefits that me or David [Crosby] and Stephen [Stills], or the three of us, or Jackson Browne, or Bonnie Raitt, have ever done.
They are dedicated to making the world a better place. They are dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons. They are working to make the environment as sustainable as possible. We’ve loved them, and they’ve been our heroes for more than 45 years now.
2. Using music as activism is nothing new to your career. With musicians today, do you see the same type of enthusiasm to make that kind of impact through song?
I do, actually. And the reason that you are asking that questions is that the media – which controls us all to this day – doesn’t want protest music on their airwaves. They don’t want it on the radio; they don’t want it on their TV programs. They have learned since Vietnam that you don’t face the American public with the amount of American soldiers that were killed during war night after night on the six o’clock news with Walter Cronkite. That’s why you never saw any footage about Grenada or the war in Panama. You couldn’t even photograph the flag-covered coffins of the soldiers that died in Iraq, for God’s sake.
The media has learned to control us, so that’s why you don’t hear it. But, for instance, if you go to Neil Young’s Living With War Today website, you can find 3,000 protest songs.
3. Your first solo album, Songs For Beginners, was a really big hit. Is there any aspect of music or the music industry where you still feel like a beginner?
Every day. Every single day of my life I feel like a baby. I’m excited. I love life. I want to communicate. I want to create, and I’m lucky enough to have been in the position of doing that for the past 50 years.
4. As a singer-songwriter, do you feel like there are distinct fundamentals to songwriting, and if so, which is the most important to you?
The ones that come straight from my heart. Those are the songs that are the important songs for me. I’ve written songs you’ll never hear because I, personally, don’t think they’re good enough. But if I can create a song that makes it past my filters, I feel pretty sure you’re going to enjoy it, too. So I like to be creative and I have to create every single day in one form or another or I find it very difficult to sleep.
5. When you are out there on the road, touring solo, how does that compare to some of the bigger shows?
When you’re out there by yourself—or in my case, I’ll be with Shane Fontayne, our second guitar player in the CSN band—you strip the songs down to their very essence. And that’s when you know if it’s a good song or not. If I can sing a song to you on an acoustic guitar and touch your heart and move your mind, I’ve done my job. And that’s what I want to do night after night.
Graham Nash appears at The Grand on Sunday, Aug. 9, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets were still available at press time at tickets.thegrandwilmington.org. For more stories about his career, check out Nash’s most recent book, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. To read more about his adventures in photography, check out the rest of the story at outandaboutnow.com.
The synth pioneer takes to the road with just one keyboard and a career’s worth of songs
At the dawn of the 1980s, Howard Jones was making a living “rounding” plastic wrap in a factory in High Wycombe, England. By mid-decade he had scored nine Top 40 hits in the UK along with five in the U.S. and was playing to sold-out theaters around the world.
It was a journey that would see him push the boundaries of music technology during his shows, where he typically performed an upbeat brand of music between multiple racks of keyboards.
Yet the transformation from blue-collar employee to limelight synth-pop superstar was rooted as much in belief as it was technology or music, Jones said during a recent phone interview from England to promote his upcoming U.S. tour.
“I set out to write lyrics that were very positive and that people could use to get through a bad time—that, indeed, they would overcome,” Jones says. “It was a conscious thing right from the very first song.”
This outlook and approach also were evident in his new-wave-meets-funk hit “Things Can Always Get Better,” released in February, 1985. It was his first single that punched through to the Top 10 in America. Five months after that song hit the charts, the keyboard whiz participated in Live Aid at Wembley Stadium, where he opted to perform solo on a grand piano.
“I did it in a way people weren’t expecting,” says Jones, adding with a laugh, “I don’t think many of [the audience members] even knew I played piano.”
In a similar stripped-down fashion, Jones’ current tour features just him and a single keyboard, standing in for a grand piano.
There will be one exception to that format during the tour—when he plays the Gramercy Theatre in New York City on Aug. 19—the night before his appearance at World Cafe Live at The Queen. In a major shift in gears, he will perform his most recent recorded work, Engage, a project he describes as a multi-media, interactive event that celebrates art, philosophy and the concept of participation.
“When you change things up and mix things up, I think each thing rejuvenates the other,” Jones says in comparing the two shows. “It’s good for me as an artist to deliver my work in lots of different ways.”
Here’s what else Jones had to say about the tour, the Engage project, and taking risks:
1. What can fans expect from these solo shows?
It’s focusing on the songs, and I get a chance to talk about why I wrote the songs and how I feel about them. It’s really about me getting back to being a songwriter. And I really enjoy doing that because for me it’s a really pure performance and communication. It’s just me and my work and the audience.
2. When it comes to music and technology, it seems that you are constantly pushing the envelope. Is that fair to say?
I like to do that. I’ve never been interested in recreating what other people have done. I think you should be influenced by what other people have done and take all the best inspiration from that, but [then] try to do something new. And that’s always been my driving force. It’s actually fighting the influence of conservatism, really. Because people always want to do something that sounds like something else. I don’t. I want to do something that you never heard before, do things in a way that you’ve never even thought of. That’s what constantly keeps me going.
3. What inspired you to become a musician?
Well, I don’t know if I was inspired to become a musician. I was born into a musical family where music was very prevalent. My parents used to sing and the broader family all had connections to music. So it was really part of my family concept.
4. What can you tell us about the Engage project? How did it come about?
I wanted to challenge myself in doing something that I really hadn’t done before and not base it around a new studio recording, to think of it [instead] as a live show, a live event. So it was a very different piece of thinking. I felt liberated by that. I was able to think in a different way about people being at a show and what they would like to see, thinking very visually and also thinking about audience involvement.
5. From a technology standpoint, in relation to your shows, did it ever get too daunting? Did you every worry that all the technology wasn’t going to work – that there would be flubs?
If you try to do things in a different way, one of the things that always happens is that things go wrong. And you just have to build that into your thinking. It is a fact that if you want to be safe, then don’t do new things. So I’ve gotten used to the fact that things go wrong sometimes and you just have to get through it somehow.
Howard Jones will be playing a selection of hits from the past 30-plus years, including one or two new songs from Engage, at World Cafe Live at The Queen on Thursday, Aug. 20. Tickets can be purchased at queen.worldcafelive.com.