While designing my album’s cover, I’ve taken a closer look at the covers that have supplied me with years of pondering, consideration, study and entertainment. By this I mean that I still really look at a cover whenever I pick it up. In the 1960s and ’70s a lot of covers had secrets or in-jokes embedded on them and we’d spend a lot of time trying to analyze them. This was taken to ridiculous lengths with the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover on which some obsessed fans found meanings that didn’t even exist. One of my favorite covers in this regard is that of the Crosby, Stills & Nash eponymous debut album, a cover that perfectly typifies the era as it was in southern California. Laid back, unconcerned with material possessions and down home in a rock and roll sort of way. There weren’t any heavy secrets in the photo, but there was a bit to see.
I remember the first time I heard this album. I’d driven to Topanga Canyon to visit some friends who lived in a quasi-commune and, as we sat smoking a little grass, talking and having fun, one of the guys who lived there put the album on the stereo. I was blown away. This group blew everyone away when they appeared out of seeming nowhere. Looking the cover over in my grass addled state I wondered, Who’s who? The guy on the far right is David Crosby, but who are the other two? What are their first names? Where was this photo taken? Why such ratty furniture, who’s the guy looking out the door and why is he on the back cover? I knew that Crosby was David Crosby of the Byrds fame, but I didn’t know that Stills was Steven Stills of Buffalo Springfield and Nash was Graham Nash of the Hollies. And I had absolutely no clue about the guy in the door. Since the music was obviously sung by a vocal trio, I figured he must be a friend or a session musician. It was only later that all these things came to light.
This is the front of the album’s now iconic front cover as we all know it. At the time of the photo shoot, which was done by the incomparable Henry Diltz, the trio hadn’t settled on a name so they didn’t consider in what order to sit on the couch, which is, from left to right: Nash, Stills and Crosby. A few days later they decided on Crosby, Stills & Nash as their official name, but when they went back to reshoot the photo, sitting in that order to avoid record buyers’ confusion, the old railroad workers house had been torn. Oh, and the guy peering out the door on the back cover was the group’s drummer, Dallas Taylor.
In 2007 this out take was made the cover of a European compilation CD. I wish I could see Henry Diltz’s originals of this photo session, but alI I have are what I could find on the web. Still, It’s interesting to see the photos that were rejected.
Their label, Atlantic Records, asked the team of photographer Diltz and art director Gary Burden to create the cover. On the day before the shoot, Gary and Graham drove through Hollywood and West Hollywood looking for a suitable location that would convey what the group wanted to say about themselves as well as match their music, a site that was, according to David Crosby, “down home and comfortable”.
They decided on a little abandoned house with a couch outside.
It was on Palm Avenue, a small side street near an Orange Julius stand
on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood.
No Dallas Taylor in these shots.
This is the location as it is today and below is a map.