Backstage: Hanging With Mr. Nash and Mr. John
Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman shares stories of memorable rock 'n' roll encounters that took place in our local environs. This week, a twist on a name and a photo foible.
It doesn't take much to spark one of my musical memories. The recent visit by the venerable Crosby, Stills & Nash brought to
mind my meeting with the aforementioned Mr. Nash in 1980, when he was
signed as a solo artist to Capitol Records, my employer at the time.
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Nash was as unassuming as he could be, even though he could rightfully
boast a lengthy trajectory that included a legendary stint in the '60s
British band the Hollies; his role in America's first true supergroup,
Crosby, Stills & Nash; and an impressive solo career that was often
overshadowed in favor of his group efforts.
At the time, Nash was promoting his first individual album in a number of years, Earth & Sky, which boasted an ecological anthem called "In the '80s." With a date scheduled at the old Sunrise Musical Theater, he took advantage of his South Florida visit to do an extensive series of radio and press interviews, amiably recounting his career and giving extra time to those who declared themselves true devotees. It was fascinating to hear him describing the role he played at critical junctures in rock 'n' roll history, but to his credit, he never bragged about it or placed himself on a pedestal. That was also the case in concert when he performed solo on guitar and piano, delivering his best-known songs to an enthusiastic audience.
It took a visit from my regional promotional manager from Atlanta, Bill Bartlett, to discover how easygoing and nonchalant Nash could be. I had known Bartlett for ages, when he was a radio program director up in Jacksonville, well before he joined our ranks at Capitol Records. Bill was always a joker and always gave off-the-cuff names to the folks he worked with. His own nickname was "Buddy Bear," a title he bestowed on himself that practically assured endearment. However, his name for Nash was politically incorrect, even back in that freewheeling era. "Graham Nash" became "Gram of Hash," a clear allusion to an illegal substance that was particularly popular at the time. I didn't flinch when Bill used it around me, laughing it off as just another example of his irreverent humor. Still, I had to gasp when Bill addressed Nash that way to his face. Arriving backstage, he yelled out, "Gram of Hash, how the hell are you?" To my surprise, Nash didn't flinch and didn't miss a beat. Bill continued to call him that the entire evening, and Nash accepted it as if it were his given name. Perhaps he was humoring him and really thought it was funny, even though the joke came at his own expense.
Later I found out that there was reason that wacky reference rang true. Suffice it to say, a gram of hash always broke the ice, and Buddy Bear's ability to make the said substance readily available obviously endeared him all the more.
Elton John was also doing a solo show at the Sunrise as well when I met him a decade later. I was working for a local PR agency on behalf of Hard Rock Café, and Elton was doing a concert for an AIDS initiative that both he and Hard Rock embraced. As a result, I had the great fortune to be able to go backstage and hang out with him prior to his performance. It was an especially welcome opportunity considering the fact that many years before, I had met his band while they were in town for a show at the old Sportatorium. On that occasion, I went to their Miami Beach hotel and interviewed his guitarist, Davey Johnstone, who was promoting his first solo album at the time, Smiling Face. His compatriots -- late bassist Dee Murray and longtime drummer Nigel Olsson -- were along as well, but Elton was out shopping, taking advantage of Ocean Drive's ample array of boutiques. Consequently, I hadn't met him previously.
Elton was a gregarious sort who took great joy in holding court backstage and joking with friends and fans alike. We presented him with a plaque in appreciation of his efforts, and I duly instructed the photographer we had hired to take plenty of photos of Elton for posterity. Naturally, I was looking forward to getting my very own "me with Elton" picture as well.
Unfortunately, the fact that I wanted these photos quickly seemed to irritate the photographer, even though he had been warned that we needed the pictures for the press the next day. Things got heated during our phone conversation, and it was several days before the goods were duly delivered. And unfortunately, as retribution, he conveniently neglected to provide the photo I had taken with Elton backstage. In fact, I never did get it. Still, the show was great, and Elton himself professed that this was one of the most memorable concerts he had ever performed.
A week or so later, my mother told me she had seen him -- shopping as always -- and had managed to secure an autograph for me. It might have been inappropriate for me to ask on my own behalf, but at least I could claim an indirect memento of that visit in lieu of the photo the photographer "forgot."
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