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Chronicling the disaster of CSNY's 1974 'Doom Tour'


In 1974, few acts had attempted to stage large scale stadium tours. Big name acts like The Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead, the rare breed who could actually fill out these venues, realised that a band would have to haul a ludicrous amount of equipment to play these places. PA’s, amps, scaffolding, and even whole stages themselves would be required, and almost none of the arenas were structured to hold these kinds of events — and we only need to refer to the awful sound quality from the stands of The Beatles’ Shea Stadium concert as proof.

But the truth of the matter was that rock music was just too big to contain to ballrooms like Winterland. One person who recognised this was Winterland owner Bill Graham, who was forced to turn away hordes of people from his concerts night after night. Graham began imagining the viability of staging large scale arena shows at the same time that manager Elliot Roberts began to ponder the same thing.

Roberts, whose clients included Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, was sitting on a gold mine – he was the manager for all four members of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Roberts knew the appeal that came from all four acts separately, but it was dwarfed by the fervour that would erupt when they came together. There was just one problem: CSNY had broken up after the release of Deja Vu in 1970.

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There were signs of life, however. Nash and Crosby toured as an acoustic duo, while Young got the other three members to contribute vocals to his 1972 album Harvest. The four even briefly considered a reunion in 1973 by convening at a studio in Hawaii to record songs for a potential follow up to Deja Vu, but the proceedings quickly fell apart. It would take more than just desire and cooperation to get CSNY back together.

Don’t take my word for it; take Stephen Stills’: “We did one for the art and the music, and one for the chicks. This one’s for the cash,” Stills told Cameron Crowe before the launch of the tour. Graham had provided a proof of concept when he orchestrated Bob Dylan’s return to the live sphere in large sporting venues, and with a combination of faltering solo careers and an irresistible paycheck at their feet, the four members agreed to stage a reunion tour. They went big, bringing in Mitchell, The Band, The Beach Boys, Santana and Joe Walsh to support them at various dates.

Things went off the rails almost immediately. One of the biggest motivators for the tour, outside of money, were the large quantities of cocaine that the band members were consuming. According to Rolling Stone‘s oral history, on tour, the members invented a ten-second rule for cocaine after dropping a substantial amount on a carpet before going to their hands and knees to snort up the contents. Crosby brought along two different girlfriends, and his hotel room was often a hazard for visitors who might have walked in and witnessed something they wish they hadn’t.

The tales of debauchery and poor judgment from the tour are endless. There was the time that Bob Dylan showed up backstage and played the entirety of Blood on the Tracks to Stills. Coked out of his mind, Stills informed Dylan that the songs weren’t any good. There was the time touring bassist Tim Drummond appeared at a show with a T-shirt that read “NO HEAD, NO BACKSTAGE PASS”. Stills began insisting he had run missions with the US Marines in Vietnam and was singing autographs “Stephen Stills, US Marine Corps”. By the time everyone arrived in London for a final show at Wembley Stadium, the band members had nosebleeds as they approached the stage from excessive drug use, according to Mitchell.

The excesses got to Young, who began travelling in his own trailer cross country with his young son in order to escape the madness. Members began to fight and rarely got along, and as the shows progressed, performances began to get more bloated and less organised. Whether it was by Nash, who commonly gets attributed with the quote, or by Crosby, whom Nash credits, the massive jaunt was notoriously dubbed the ‘Doom Tour’.

While relationships were tumultuous backstage, the response from audiences was rapturous. The tour easily surpassed box office records in most of the cities they played in, and a total gross of around $11 million (roughly $62 million dollars in today’s money) was collected, although Crosby has stated that the high number of employees and various indulgences while on the road meant that the four members themselves saw very little of that money.

Another monetary issue cropped up when the band’s record company, Atlantic, realised that they had no new product to sell during the summer’s biggest tour. This was quickly remedied with a compilation, So Far, which was produced without the band’s approval. The fact that the album consisted of all old material hardly hurt its commercial prospects: it rose to number one on the Billboard Album Charts and went gold before the band were even off the tour.

Throughout the major spectacle of the ‘Doom Tour’, relationships between band members soured. Two months after the tour’s conclusion, the band once again attempted to craft a proper studio follow up to Deja Vu, but the tensions became insurmountable, and the foursome once again failed to come out with a complete album. Crosby and Nash resumed their career as a duo, while Young and Stills briefly attempted the same with the album Long May You Run. That LP was originally the third attempt at a reunion, but Young and Stills wiped the vocals of Crosby and Nash from the final mix.

The strain between him and his bandmates meant that Young declined to participate when Crosby, Stills, and Nash reunited in 1977. Various permutations of CSN kicked around for another decade while Crosby dealt with his increasingly debilitating drug addictions. Young told Crosby that he would only reunite with his estranged bandmates if Crosby managed to get clean. After Crosby’s arrest in 1986 led to successful rehabilitation, the foursome would reunite to record American Dream. By that point, the official follow-up to Deja Vu came nearly 20 years after the original.

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