The year was 1969, when David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash performed at a pig farm in upstate New York. Maybe you’ve heard of that three-day ground-breaking, career-making music festival called Woodstock?
While some of those bands never got paid for their time, the American music landscape was forever changed. People felt for themselves the positive and powerful effects live music has on the soul, and they never forgot those compelling feelings.
Crosby, Stills & Nash embraced their own folk-rock style, accented with intense vocal harmonies, well-crafted, thought-provoking lyrics and skilled musicianship, often while navigating some of music’s most tumultuous interpersonal labyrinths. Whatever their differences, the conflicts were never as important as the music.
Their lasting influence on the American music scene made a huge impact then and is still doing so today with the new CSN Express tribute band.
Based out of Las Vegas, group leader Bill DeLoach found out during his ’60s-themed music shows that audiences responded more freely and enthusiastically to CSN music. So, he launched this relatively new show and it is striking the right chord with fans.
We talked with him about the group, the music and the show they bring to the Riverside Resort for the first time. Here’s his take…
Talk a little bit about your background and how this group came to be.
DeLoach: I used to have a show in Las Vegas. It was called “Echoes of the ’60s,” and the last 25 minutes of the show was dedicated to Woodstock. We did a lot of the Woodstock artists — Santana, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Janis Joplin, Sly & The Family Stone — and was kind of funny, but the Crosby, Stills & Nash segment always went over great. We were there about a year at Planet Hollywood, and when the show finally closed, we were trying to figure out which part of the show to take on the road. The first one I picked, obviously, was the one that was getting such a great response. So we started doing (CSN). In the meantime, I worked other shows. Remember Danny Gans? I was his piano player for nine years, up until he passed away. We were going to put the Crosby, Stills & Nash thing after the ’60s show but that sort of got put on the side because I started touring with Frankie Valli, who I’d worked with three other times before that. That put Crosby, Stills & Nash not completely on the side, because we’d still do shows every once in a while. I got off the road with Frankie recently, so now we have a chance to really start getting serious about getting this show going now.
Talk about your approach to the show.
DeLoach: If we are doing a 15-minute spot, and there’s other tribute acts there, we’re a little more of an impersonation-type group. But when we do a 90-minute show, we don’t pretend to be them. It’s more like we tell their story. But we do like to resemble them because people seem to like that. It kind of puts them more in the spirit of being at a concert. But we tell the story more third person, I don’t come out and say, “Hi, I’m Graham Nash,” and speak with an English accent. It’s more like we come out and tell their stories. So that’s the difference—we’re more emulators than we are impersonators, I guess is the right way to put it.
Some tribute artists take exception to the term “impersonator” when they are performing honest recreations of the originals. Your thoughts?
DeLoach: I think it’s moving more that way now with tribute acts and it’s a lot more comfortable. It’s so much easier to pay honor to them when were talking about them as opposed to trying to be them.
Who are the guys?
DeLoach: There is myself, and I’m covering Graham Nash; Keith Neal covers Stephen Stills, and Larry Esparza covers David Crosby. Also we have a Neil Young that comes out, and his name is Jamie Townsend. We have a surprise guest tribute artist and it’s one of the highlights because no one expects it.
What about CSN and their music do you guys really like?
DeLoach: Well, they have so many tunes that we can occasionally interject a different tune, we can change the show up a little bit, and also the Neil Young can change his songs. We really enjoy the ensemble singing, which is what attracted me to the group in the first place. When I first heard, for instance, the Déja Vu album, it was very “Beatle-esque,” —that three-part real buzz harmony that’s great to hear. And it’s really fun to sing like that with other people and just harmonize. It always feels great because of all the other voices that are involved. Plus there’s the fact they’re all great solo singers, but what really attracted me was the harmony.
Do you do any of Neil Young’s and Stephen Stills’ solo stuff?
DeLoach: Yes, we do. As a matter of fact that’s part of what goes on in the show, we feature each one of them individually, and Neil Young gets a really good shot when he comes out. He comes out with “Cinnamon Girl,” and then he sits down and does an acoustic song by himself, just as if Neil was in concert. Then we all join him again, then we move on from there. Neil Young gets a nice little spot and so does our surprise guest. We try to keep it as interesting as possible.
Were there any challenges in putting this show together?
DeLoach: Well, with this particular show — since I had the ’60s show up prior to this one — I kind of knew how to mount a show as far as directing goes, so it almost wrote itself. This was not a real huge challenge.
Adding a bit of your own history to the show?
DeLoach: I should probably mention, I went to Woodstock in 1969, so I kind of add that information. We also try to keep the show humorous at times and people also seem to appreciate that a lot. I tell a couple of Woodstock stories and add a little humor to it. We’ll throw in or I’ll sing a little piece of a commercial from the ’60s to see how many baby boomers we have in the audience, just little things like that, little show bits. People seem to enjoy that, too.
What do you think it is that sets your show apart?
DeLoach: I think that the way it flows is different. We try to color it up with the way we tell the stories as opposed to coming out and just playing a lot of great tunes. We keep it somewhat chronological — not strictly chronological, but basically chronological so it’s easier to tell the history of them.
Is there a crowd favorite?
DeLoach: Well, there are two songs that seem to go over very well. The one song that kind of turns into a sing-along, is “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” People always seem to really enjoy the song, “Woodstock.” We do that as well.