If you stick around to the end of this one, I’ve got a couple of surprises near the end that inspired this post. (Photo by Anna Webber.)
A little history courtesy of Wikipedia: “David Van Cortlandt Crosby was born in Los Angeles, California, second son of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, and Aliph Van Cortlandt Whitehead, a salesperson at Macy’s department store.
Crosby briefly studied drama at Santa Barbara City College before dropping out to pursue a career in music. With the help of producer Jim Dickson, Crosby recorded his first solo session in 1963. Hanging out in Chicago, he met singer Miriam Makeba who knew Jim (later Roger) McGuinn. They started playing together and gradually they brought in other members of what became the highly influential folk-rock ensemble, The Byrds.”
Through connections that Jim Dickson (now the Byrds’ manager) had with Bob Dylan’s publisher, the band obtained a demo acetate disc of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and recorded a version of the song, featuring McGuinn’s 12-string guitar as well as McGuinn, Crosby, and Clark’s vocal harmonizing.. When Gene Clark left the band, Crosby got more involved in songwriting.
If you’ve seen the Crosby documentary Remember My Name or know anything about him, alas he was somewhat of an asshole. He pissed the other guys off with his on-stage political diatribes. And then by 1968, the usual “creative differences” bullshit set in with Crosby only wanting to do original material. The band sacked him.
I will here quote myself from my post on the Crosby, Stills and Nash debut album: “Stills and Crosby – part of the infamous Laurel Canyon crowd -met at a July 1968 party at Mama Cass Elliott’s house and started jamming together. (Cass sings on “Pre-Road Downs.”)
Graham Nash had met the two guys before on Hollies tours. He’d pretty much had it with that band and was looking for a new gig. Stories differ on whose house they first sang together in, but apparently everyone there was blown away by their impromptu rendition of Stills’ “You Don’t Have to Cry.” (General consensus is that it was Joni Mitchell’s house.)”
I’ll spare you all the detail but as we know CSN – and later Neil Young – were a massive hit, playing one of their earliest gigs “scared shitless, man” at Woodstock. Unfortunately, just a month or so after Woodstock, Crosby’s girlfriend was killed in a car accident. He already had a bad drug problem and this did not help. The group went on hiatus in early 1971.
Right around that time, Crosby released his first solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name. Of this album, Allmusic says, “it is a shambolic masterpiece, meandering but transcendentally so, full of frayed threads. Not only is it among the finest splinter albums out of the CSNY diaspora, it is one of the defining moments of hungover spirituality from the era.” It is also the last solo album Crosby would release for 18 fucking years.
A lot of great guests on this album: – Graham Nash, Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Jorma Kaukonen, Gregg Rolie, Phil Lesh, Jack Casady, Bill Kreutzmann, Michael Shrieve, Mickey Hart, Joni Mitchell, David Freiberg, Paul Kantner, Grace Slick.
This is “Traction in the Rain,” with Graham Nash.
After that, various iterations of CNSY worked, toured and/or recorded together amidst much petty bickering. (I don’t know exactly when it was from but there’s a memorable scene in the Crosby documentary where Stills leans into a reclining Crosby and calls him an asshole. So, good times.)
Crosby did a lot of backup singing during this time including working with James Taylor, Jackson Browne, David Gilmous, Elton John, and Phil Collins.
By 1985, it all caught up with Crosby and he spent nine months in a Texas prison for possession of heroin and cocaine. The drug charges were related to possession of heroin and cocaine. He was also arrested for drunken driving, concealed weapons, and well, you name it he probably did it.
Eventually, by 1989, he got his shit together and released his second solo album, Oh Yes I Can. This one had the usual assortment of guests, everybody from Danny Kortchmar to Steve Lukather and Larry Carlton to Bonnie Raitt and James Taylor.
The opening track is called “Drive My Car” and no it’s not the Beatles tune. Danny Kortchmar and David Lindley do the guitar honors. This tune sounds weirdly to me more like what Glenn Frey might have done. It’s a rocker:
I’m limited in what I can use here as not all of Crosby’s albums are up on Spotify. But lately, he’s had a bit of career renaissance. According to Allmusic, “his set was produced by Snarky Puppy boss Michael League, who co-wrote five of these nine tunes with Crosby.
The producer, a lifelong fan of the 1971 album, approached Crosby about recording something quick and dirty over a couple of weeks. He was met with incredulousness. The artist was used to working on albums for months, even years. After three days, they completed three new songs, and Crosby was all in.”
“The Us Below” is a nice tune, back in that acoustic groove:
Now when you hear the tune “She’s Got to Be Somewhere” you’re gonna say, Is that the great, lost Steely Dan tune? “We didn’t consciously do that,” Crosby says. “We just naturally go to a place where Donald [Fagen] goes. I loved Steely Dan right from the first notes I heard.”
Now here’s where it gets interesting. According to Rolling Stone, “Another breakthrough was finally convincing Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen, one of Crosby’s all-time musical heroes, to write a song with him.
They’d vaguely known each other for years, but they didn’t collaborate until September 2019, when Crosby got onstage at a Santa Barbara Steely Dan show to sing “Home at Last” from Aja. Days later, Fagen asked him to fly out to New York to play “Wooden Ships” with them at the Beacon Theatre.
“I get there and they’ve learned it really well and they’ve written horn parts,” Crosby says. “It’s just smoking. I walk out and the whole audience goes absolutely batshit crazy. We practically did structural damage to the building. It was really good. After that, I really cultivated a relationship with Donald. He doesn’t wear his heart on his sleeve, but he’s a brilliant guy. I admire him beyond belief.”
Here’s the Dan/Crosby “Wooden Ships.” It does not suck. (No Spotify).
And the song they wrote together? Not long after the Beacon performance, Fagen sent over a new set of lyrics for a song called “Rodriguez for a Night.” Crosby and his son James Raymond then composed music to go along with the words. “We Steely Dan’d them right into the fucking ground,” says Crosby. ” It’s a story song and it’s really fun.”
If you’re waiting for a CSNY reunion, don’t hold your breath. Crosby insulted Neil Young’s wife Daryl Hannah a few years back. And Graham Nash said this a while back: “I don’t like David Crosby right now. He’s been awful for me the last two years, just fucking awful.”
Nash continued, “I’ve been there and saved his fucking ass for 45 years, and he treated me like shit. You can’t do that to me. You can do it for a day or so until I think you’re going to come around. When it goes on longer, and I keep getting nasty emails from him, I’m done. Fuck you. David has ripped the heart out of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young.”
You’ll recall that Crosby was a sperm donor for Melissa Etheridge and her then-partner. Sadly, one of the kids – Beckett Cypher – died of an opioid overdose last year.
But on a happier note, his “delight in working with his son, whom Crosby met when Raymond was 30 after being given up for adoption, is palpable. “The relationship that’s developed with my son is absolutely uncanny and wonderful,” he says.