Tin soldiers and Nixon’s coming

Sarah Steimer

David Crosby handed Neil Young a copy of Life magazine back in the spring of 1970. On the cover was a black-and-white photo of a wounded Kent State student, freshly shot by a member of the Ohio National Guard.

Kent State University would never have made a nationwide statement the way it unintentionally did on May 4, 1970. The school wasn’t and still isn’t ready for such attention. David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, on the other hand, were the prime candidates to make such a statement, and probably could do it better than anyone.

“They became, for lack of a better way to describe this, spokesmen for their generation,” says David Zimmer, author of “Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography.” “They were able to take events and translate them into songs and music that really got right to the heart of some very critical turning points in the evolution of parts of the country.”

Bill Halverson recorded the band’s “Déjà Vu” album, which was released in March of that same year, and was working with Stills on a solo project in Los Angeles where the full band was rehearsing for its tour. A member of the band’s entourage called Halverson one day and informed him that the band needed to record a song that evening. He obliged, readying his recording equipment.

“I don’t think they played the tune all the way through. They just sort of played a bit and said, ‘Billy, you ready?’ And I was ready,” Halverson recalls. “So I just rolled the tape and away we went. I think it took us two or three takes, but it is live guitar, live vocals, live background vocals.”

If you listen carefully to the song, toward the end Crosby shouts, “Why? How many more?” This was merely the result of emotional ad-libbing, says Halverson. Immediately following the final take of the song, Crosby burst into tears.

“This was the emotion of a band that had something to say,” Halverson says. “And there’s something about more than one person — whether it’s a choir or a band or a bunch of musicians — when they get together on a mission to play something together, there’s an energy that is just amazing. … It’s a sight to behold when they are really driven to do something like that.”

There wasn’t an upcoming album to attach this song to, and in any case, they knew this track had to be released immediately to affect a still-shocked country. “They felt that the message was more important than the medium,” says Zimmer.

In less than a week, “Ohio” was on the radio. In 10 days, the single was pressed and the record hit store shelves.

Sarah Steimer is a senior

magazine journalism major

and editor of The Burr.