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David Crosby

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Known as much for his dalliance with heavy drugs than his impact on soft-rock music, larger-than-life character DAVID CROSBY could at least lay claim to having helped form two of the greatest West Coast folk-rock acts, The BYRDS and CROSBY, STILLS & NASH. A prolific singer-songwriter when he wanted to be, not many musicians could perform as a solo artist, in a duo (with GRAHAM NASH), in a trio (in CS&N), in a quartet (CS&N with the addition of NEIL YOUNG), and in a quintet in his time as one of the high-flyers in The BYRDS.
Born David Van Cortlandt Crosby, August 14, 1941, Los Angeles, California (the son of an Oscar award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby), his academic prowess was sacrificed when he opted for a career in music. Switching digs to the East Coast and Greenwich Village in particular, the drama school dropout joined the illustrious ranks of the Les Baxter Balladeers; no records surfaced during his time there, although acetates of a solo session with producer/manager Jim Dickson, were cut in 1963.
At a time when harmony-fuelled pop was in vogue, and The BEACH BOYS were all the rage, the aforementioned Dickson took rhythm guitarist David and some other BYRDS (namely Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman and Michael Clarke) under his wing. Their meteoric rise to fame was down to a jingle-jangle, 12-string version of BOB DYLAN’s “Mr. Tambourine Man”, and the rest (or indeed unrest) was history. Friction between the politically-verbal CROSBY and core members McGuinn and Hillman, resulted in his ultimate sacking in October ’67, after he’d laid down some tracks for the group’s “The Notorious Byrd Brothers” album; one of his more risque ones, `Triad’ (an ode to a menage-a-trois), was given over to JEFFERSON AIRPLANE after Roger left it in the proverbial can.
As unlikely as it seemed at the time, David would get together at the odd party with STEPHEN STILLS (whom he’d guested for while in BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD) and a former Brit-invasion pop star, GRAHAM NASH (who’d abandoned The HOLLIES for pastures new). A performance at Woodstock in ’69 – said to be only their second ever! – promoted songs from their glorious eponymous debut, which, in turn, led to FM airplay and hit singles.
Adding a fourth dimension NEIL YOUNG to the equation propelled the outfit even further into the musical stratosphere; the No.1 album “Déjà vu” marking a halcyon period for the band. It’s success was all the more poignant as tragedy had struck David’s long-time girlfriend, Christine Hinton, when she was killed in an automobile accident just days after they moved into an apartment together. The distress caused by the incident led CROSBY deeper into the world of drugs; he only surfaced on occasion to perform with David And The Dorks (aka Garcia, Lesh and Hart from the GRATEFUL DEAD) and for a tour which resulted in a double-live, CSNY set, “Four Way Street” – released in April ’71 when the original CSN triumvirate were in the throws of cutting albums.
DAVID CROSBY’s solo debut was issued second in line, IF I COULD ONLY REMEMBER MY NAME (1971) {*8}, a record that blended spiritual, acoustic folk with singer-songwriter panache. Almost mantra and transcendental in its laid-back rambling and cosmic chord interplay, the man with the ‘tasche (with the aid of GRATEFUL DEAD, NEIL YOUNG, former girlfriend JONI MITCHELL, et al) shimmied and shook his way into the listener’s subconscious through the 8-minute `Cowboy Movie’, minor hit `Music Is Love’, the CSN-esque `Tamalpais High’, `Laughing’ and `Song With No Words’. The fact that he took 18 years to do another solo album was testament to its grace and splendour.
In between times there was a short-lived BYRDS reunion in ’73 and a handful of CROSBY, STILLS & NASH reunion sets, namely “CSN” (1977), “Daylight Again” (1982) and “Allies” (1983), although his jointly-billed partnership alongside GRAHAM NASH took precedence. From 1972 to 1977, albums such as “Graham Nash / David Crosby” (1972), “Wind On The Water” (1975), “Whistling Down The Wire” (1976) and “Live” (1977), had some fine moments and stretched out DC’s CV even further.
Hot on the heels of a CSN&Y reunification record, “American Dream” (1988), there were songs left in the can for a long-awaited DAVID CROSBY sophomore set, OH YES I CAN (1989) {*6}. Augmented by a stellar cast of singers and musicians from JAMES TAYLOR, BONNIE RAITT, J.D. SOUTHER, GRAHAM NASH and JACKSON BROWNE to David Lindley, Larry Carlton, Steve Lukather and stalwart co-songsmith Craig Doerge, the album is soft and sophisticated rather than rough and rebellious. While there was nothing to compare with past greats like `Almost Cut My Hair’ and `Guinnevere’, one could feel at ease with `Drive My Car’, `Tracks In The Dust’ and `Distances’.
With an autobiography (Long Time Gone) doing the rounds and another CSN set (“Live It Up”) hitting the shops in 1990, things looked bright for the enigmatic singer-songwriter. But as always, misfortune was always around the corner for CROSBY, as a motorcycle accident (in which he suffered a few injuries), curtailed his ongoing musical and acting aspirations for a while; he’d played bit parts in the movies: Hook, Backdraft and Thunderheart, respectively, and appeared on the Roseanne show, Ellen (Degeneres) and The Simpsons.
Another solo set to just miss out on a Top 100 place, THOUSAND ROADS (1993) {*5} saw the man collaborate with PHIL COLLINS on minor hit, `Hero’ – all schmaltz and very cinematic. Session-friendly to the point of over saturation, song craftsmen MARC COHN, JIMMY WEBB, JOHN HIATT, STEPHEN BISHOP, PAUL BRADY, JONI MITCHELL, and others, were behind this searching sojourn to redefine the soul – or something like that.
Probably in a further attempt to pay for the destruction of his L.A. house by way of a Richter-bouncing earthquake, and on the back of another CSN set, “After The Storm”, IT’S ALL COMING BACK TO ME NOW… (1995) {*5}, caught him performing (in December ’93) recent solo exercises and retro nuggets. Extending and over-stretching songs beyond their sell-by-date (guests included NASH, lead guitarist Jeff Pevar and the BLACK CROWES’ Chris Robinson), the set’s best 40-plus minutes came through final-half tracks, `Cowboy Movie’, `Almost Cut My Hair’, `Déjà vu’, `Long Time Gone’ and `Wooden Ships’.
Subsequently beset by a bout of hepatitis C and in danger of losing his life to liver failure, David underwent an organ transplant, funded in part by his buddy PHIL COLLINS. It was during his long recovery that his long-lost son, James Raymond (a budding pro musician/keyboard player given up for adoption over 30 years ago), got in touch, with the result being that CROSBY, the aforementioned Pevar and his new-found progeny formed the rather aptly-monickered CPR.
For the ensuing couple of years or so, Crosby and Co worked meticulously to get the project to a respectful standard, returning a couple of studio sets in the eponymous CPR (1998) {*5} and JUST LIKE GRAVITY (2001) {*6}. Ever so AOR and conventional (think RUNDGREN, HALL & OATES or STEELY DAN), the mini-supergroup trio produced some good tracks, including `Map To Buried Treasure’, `Eyes Too Blue’ and `Katie Did’. In the interim, CSN&Y completed their third studio album, “Looking Forward” (1999).
While reeling from unwelcome tabloid exposure from his successful, double “artificial inseminations” to singer MELISSA ETHERIDGE and her then life partner, Julie Cypher, CROSBY also published a second book, entitled “Stand And Be Counted”. “Crosby & Nash” – the name of the duo’s 2004 set – were back in the saddle again, augmented by both Pevar and Raymond. But yet again, charges of unlawful weapon/ammunition possession (next to just an ounce of ganja) blighted another CROSBY comeback trail, although he was discharged on condition he wasn’t arrested in the future.
While one could go on for days about the life and lifestyle of DC, his subsequent record output still attracted the odd, ageing hippy or curious retrospective teenager hoping to open a can of psychedelic nuggets. 2008’s CSN&Y soundtrack reunion, “Déjà Vu Live” and the CD/DVD package of “CSN 2012” (recorded during a recent tour), supplemented the fix full circle.
At 72 years young, soft-rock kingpin DAVID CROSBY was back in circulation – and the Top 50 – for his first solo album in two decades. Kicking off 2014, CROZ {*7} was just what the doctor ordered, a well-balanced set of 11 songs that bordered on folk-rock and light jazz, complemented as it was by guests MARK KNOPFLER and WYNTON MARSALIS. In opener `What’s Broken’ and the reflective follow-on, `Time I Have’, there were shades of several singer-songwriters (among them JOSE GONZALEZ), geezers who’d once cloned DC’s own horizontal timber. Music for romantic couples relaxing on a Sunday morning, “Croz” oozed class with every shifting whisper of the man’s pastel vocal tones. Recalling the upbeat spirit of CSN&Y, `Set That Baggage Down’ comes close to classic-rock form, while the LOFGREN-esque `Dangerous Night’, was like opening the curtains on a gloriously sunny day.
It’d taken a dozen years or so for DAVID CROSBY to again find his feet when “Croz” emerged from nowhere, but when producer/co-scribe Michael League (of jam-sters Snarky Puppy) came on board, the former CSN man felt at ease rolling off solemn songs as if turning back the clock to 1971’s “If I Could Only Remember My Name”. A massive fan of this classic-era CROSBY, for LIGHTHOUSE (2016) {*7}, League matched the 75-year-old singer-songwriter with Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis on a handful of cues that they could also take on tour. Organist Cory Henry and pianist Bill Laurance were an added attraction on a few tracks each (the latter for `By The Light Of Common Day’), whilst it was indeed inspiring to see him work with 90s Grammy-winner MARC COHN on `Paint You A Picture’. While it was mostly a bit foggy and horizontal (the dreamy `Things We Do For Love’ and `Look In Their Eyes’ prime examples), the complexity of the uplifting `What Makes It So?’ was genuinely poetic and infinite.
Prolific as old mucker STILLS in these days of never-say-die/bop-til-ya-drop manifestos, DAVID CROSBY unveiled yet another LP by way of 2017’s SKY TRAILS {*7}. Produced/co-penned (mostly) this time around by his multi-instrumentalist son, James Raymond, one can’t help feeling they’d been ransacking their old STEELY DAN catalogue. A soft, jazz-folk set that brandished something akin to JONI MITCHELL’s “Hejira” (here he covered that album’s beautiful `Amelia’), or a torch-like CHRISTOPHER CROSS, David C shone out like a diamond in the rough for father/son pieces `Capitol’, `Curved Air’ and `Home Free’; the prize piece, though, went to the title track duet with Becca Stevens.
Fully crediting the latter, along with Michelle Willis and the aforementioned Michael League, the fluid light jazz collaboration of HERE IF YOU LISTEN {*7} did not disappoint. David was in his element by way of a meditative melancholy. Possibly taking his mantle from close friend JONI MITCHELL (who survived a brain aneurysm in May 2015), Croz and Co chalked up some cosmic cloud-surfers like `Glory’, `1974’, `Your Own Ride’ and a harmony-addled finale re-tread of `Woodstock’ to further soften the mood.
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2013-Nov2018

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