Blackbird by The Beatles – CSN started performing that at Woodstock.
“We rehearsed it in London in late ‘68. It was very interesting to find out that it was actually a civil rights song, because ‘bird’ is how you relate to ladies occasionally – like ‘chicks’ here. Both words are horrible, really. But Paul McCartney had seen three African-American ladies singing We Shall Overcome, I think, and he wrote Blackbird. Not only that, but what an incredible melody – and what a vehicle for three voices.”
Was that one of the Beatles songs CSN wanted to do on the aborted covers album with Rick Rubin?
“Yep, that’s one of the ones we did with Rick. But he wanted to do it differently. ‘Don’t use the guitar – just sing it.’ That’s what he said. It was interesting, an a cappella version. The unfortunate thing with Rick was his relationship with Crosby. Because we’re so full of piss and vinegar, you can’t tell us what to do. You can suggest any fucking thing you want, but don’t tell us what to do.”
You wanted to do two Beatles songs on the album.
“Blackbird and Norwegian Wood. But Rick said, ‘No, no, there’ll only be one Beatles song.’ And, of course, David said, ‘There’ll only be one if we say there’s only one.’ That’s when Rick said, ‘I’m the producer. There’ll only be one.’ From that moment, it was over.”
Are there any other CSN or CSNY retrospective projects you’re working on?
“There is. I’m working on our 1970 shows at the Fillmore East, which were filmed. Not only was the stage show filmed, but a lot of the stuff off stage was, too. It’s an incredible project, but you know, it took me years to do this. Not because I was in the studio constantly – I’ve been busy touring, doing photo shows, painting and all of those other things. My book took a lot of time, too.
“It’s a big undertaking, the collections. I’ll tell you a story about this set: You know the photo on the cover? That was originally black and white.”
You colorized it? Wow, you sure fooled me!
“Hand colored. But here’s the thing: When I talked to Neil about it and told him about the shot I wanted to use, he said, ‘I don’t think so. We’re aggrandizing ourselves. We’re making ourselves look too important.’ And I said, ‘Neil, we didn’t do that 31 times in a row? We didn’t do that in front of many thousands of people each night?’ So he thought about it and went, ‘Yeahhhh, you’ve got a point.’” [Laughs]