I first met Graham Nash when he and Allan Clarke came up to Cash Box to promote their 1983 reunion album What Goes Around… and its tour stop at The Bottom Line. Both events were unforgettable, as I’d been a huge Hollies fan from the beginning.
My luck continued intermittently over the next decades, as I was able to talk to Graham several times, and Allan once. I remember one time, probably in 1989, needing Graham for comments on the U.S. prospects of Boris Grebenshikov, the Russian rock pioneer, for whose U.S. debut album Radio Silence (also 1989) I wrote the liner notes.
I was with Billboard, then, but also writing for the then Soviet news service Novosti. I was given Graham’s number, and called him, not terribly early in the morning, but when he answered I realized it was too early not to wake him up. No matter, Graham couldn’t have been more gracious, and helpful as ever.
Another memorable Graham Nash encounter came in October, 1999, when he was in New York with Crosby, Stills and Young to announce a forthcoming CSN&Y tour, their first in a quarter-century, at a ritzy Manhattan hotel, The Plaza, maybe. I didn’t know that Graham had just endured a horrible boating accident near his home in Hawaii, where he had broken both legs.
Young wheeled him out at the press conference, and as luck would have it, I had a gig in Nashville in March, 2000, the day of their CSNY2K tour stop at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. This time Graham wasn’t wheeled out by anyone. Rather, he stood up through the entire show, in what I always thought had to be excruciating pain.
I reminded him of this last week when Graham was in town to promote the paperback publication of his memoir Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. Graham, who still has a pin in one leg and an ankle plate in the other, credited his doctor for returning him to concert stage shape and said it was really no big deal.
But that’s Graham. Always honest, humble. Real. Inspiring musically, of course, but also with his antiwar and anti-global warming stances, to cite but two of his right-on political values.
The last time I had seen him was a couple months ago, when he was doing a signing at Barnes & Noble. I snuck in with the photographers but didn’t get a chance to say much before they moved me out with the rest, other than to shout out, “Graham!” He looked up and I yelled, “It’s me! Jim Bessman!”
“I see you’re still alive,” he said. Brief but reassuring.
I was no less alive when I recounted this interaction last week. Among many other things I mentioned, too, was my delight in speaking with Allan Clarke three years ago for a piece on the release of the 22-song DVD The Hollies–Look Through Any Window 1963-1975 DVD—a must-have, if you don’t already have it.
So talk inevitably turned to The Hollies, and the Bottom Line show. So many years later now, it still ranks among my greatest concert thrills. Most memorable moment, probably, was when they did their 1967 hit “Carrie Anne”: All three singers—frontman Clarke, who generally sang lead, Nash and lead guitarist Tony Hicks, took a lead vocal verse, Hicks taking the middle after Clarke.
I’ve always felt Hicks is arguably the most under-recognized guitarist in rock ‘n’ roll history. Go to any Hollies hit and appreciate how his foundational licks and strums (the banjo on “Stop Stop Stop”) set up the songs. At The Bottom Line, clearly, I wasn’t alone, because when he began singing his verse (“You were always something special to me, quite independent, never caring…”), the room erupted in applause, expressing a pent-up desire to show its awe and appreciation for Hicks’ playing.
“It was a good show,” said Graham.
The next day, still basking in the glow of being alive in Graham’s presence, I went to YouTube to find a “Carrie Anne” video to share—but most of them had Terry Sylvester, who replaced Graham when he left for Los Angeles and Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1968. But I finally found one from The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and what’s really great is, when it got to the end of the final chorus, I shot my right hand and arm straight up at the finish—a second or two before the guys did the exact same thing!
See if you don’t do it, too.
And dig this much later clip featuring Tony Hicks on “Stop Stop Stop”: