Casually mention the “L” word to Graham Nash and he laughs softly.
“I don’t see myself as a legend,” he says.
He might be the only one who doesn’t.
Nash, 76, is part of one of the most revered folk-rock outfits in history along with David Crosby and Stephen Stills (and later, Neil Young).
Having written such indelible hits as “Just a Song Before I Go,” “Wasted on the Way” and “Teach Your Children” would almost have been enough to elevate him on the pedestal of greatness.
But let’s not forget that Nash was also part of the Hollies and conquered the British and U.S. charts in the late-‘60s with hits including “Stop Stop Stop,” “Carrie Ann” and “On a Carousel.”
Nash, as he points out in a recent phone call from a tour stop in Annapolis, Md., is still writing and performing and touring for a simple reason – because he wants to.
His current tour will bring him to City Winery on Tuesday with a couple of faces familiar to CSN fans – guitarist Shane Fontayne and keyboardist Todd Caldwell.
During our chat, the thoughtful and candid Nash talked about his affinity for playing small venues, his still-robust political voice and his plans for a new solo album.
Q: You’ve been to Atlanta regularly in recent years, either with CSN, CSNY or on your own. How has the city been good back to you?
A: Atlanta loves music. Going to the jazz section and blues section in downtown Atlanta, there was always incredible music pouring out of every doorway. What I want to do at City Winery is I want to make sure the audience knows that I want to be there. I’m not interested in performers who don’t include the audience. I like to talk to the people who pay good money to come see me and tell them why I wrote “Our House” or “Teach Your Children.” I want to give them as much hard-earned value as I can. You have to reflect the times in which we live. In a way that’s how history writes itself. And I like the City Wineries. They treat people with respect and it’s a very intimate room.
Q: You do a pre-show soundcheck and a post-show meet and greet, which you certainly don’t have to do. Do you truly enjoy meeting the fans?
A: I don’t have to do any of this, but I’m a musician, and when you write a new song , you want to share it with fans and friends and family, I’m still incredibly passionate about what I do. If people want to come watch me plug in a guitar before a show, great!
Q: Do you still enjoy the road life?
A: I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t want to do it. (But when you’re touring ) you go to galleries and flea markets and museums. There’s lots to do.
Q: You were playing a couple of Beatles songs in your shows last year – are you still?
A: Maybe. Lately I’ve been singing “A Day in the Life” and people are really loving it. CSN did a version of “Blackbird” very early on in our career and we always loved it, so everybody knows “Blackbird.” Everybody knows every Beatles song.
Q: You are a very passionate guy and are very outspoken about your political beliefs and causes. Do you talk about that in your show?
A: Absolutely. It’s a full experience. I’ll be playing songs and from the Hollies to CSNY. I wanted to play these smaller places so I can see your eyes. It’s very different than playing to 500,000 people. I like these small places, because it’s really real, and when you strip the songs down to the way they’re written, you find out very quickly if you’ve got a good song. There’s nowhere to hide.”
Q: Does it bother you when people say – not knowing you’ve been an American citizen for 30-something years – that you shouldn’t have an opinion on American politics because you’re British OR that you’re “just a musician” and should shut up and sing?
A: (Laughs) Not at all. Remember our show with CSNY in Atlanta and half the crowd walked out (in 2006, when Neil Young was booed by a Philips Arena crowd after singing “Let’s Impeach the President”)? We’re gonna do what the (expletive) we’re gonna do anyway and the truth is, if you buy a ticket to a CSNY show, what the hell do you expect? And if people walk out they have every right to walk out, but it doesn’t mean I’m going to stop talking.
Q: You said last year that you’d still be up for a CSNY reunion because collectively you could do some good to combat this administration from a musical standpoint. Do you still feel that way and have you talked to Stephen or Neil about it?
A: I do feel that way, but the truth is that none of us are talking to Crosby. He’s out there and God bless him. He doesn’t look good, I must tell you. And if this is the end (of CSNY), so be it.
Q: Have you seen Stephen’s show with Judy Collins?
A: I have not. I’ve been talking to him lately and he’s certainly enjoying playing with her. He’s loving. He wrote some incredible songs for that woman.
Q: Are there any acts out there who you think are carrying the torch of having something to say in their music?
A: I’m sure there are. But with all of those CDs (16 in the past 14 years including a CSNY box set and two solo albums) I made and delving into the archives of all my stuff, my head is full right now. The truth is, the people who own the media world, you can count on two hands and they don’t want protest songs.
Q: You’re going to Europe this summer and then what’s the plan for the rest of the year?
A: I’ll probably be finishing up a new record at some point this year. When I’m on the road is when I tend to write a lot, because I’m on my own. When you have family and friends around it’s hard to get the space to write. After a show our energy doesn’t stop because we’re not onstage; we’re still high from the concert.
8 p.m. Tuesday. Regular tickets sold out (waitlist available). Tickets to benefit Musicians United for Safe Energy (M.U.S.E.), $250. Suite tickets also available. City Winery Atlanta, 650 North Ave., Ponce City Market, Atlanta. 404-946-3791, www.citywinery.com/atlanta/.