David Crosby Biography

14 August 1941, Los Angeles, California, USA. Hailing from a high society family in Hollywood, Crosby dropped out of acting school in the early 60s to sing in coffeehouses in New York and California. Along the way he played informally with a number of influential musicians including Travis Edmunson, Fred Neil, Dino Valenti, Paul Kantner and David Freiberg. After a short-lived stint in the commercialized folk unit the Les Baxter Balladeers he returned to Los Angeles and became the protégé of producer/manager Jim Dickson. Towards the end of 1963, Crosby demoed several songs for a projected solo album including covers of Ray Charles’ ‘Come Back Baby’ and Hoyt Axton’s ‘Willie Gene’, which later surfaced on the archive compilation Early LA.

After failing to secure a record contract with Warner Brothers Records, Crosby stumbled upon two like-minded rock ‘n’ roll enthusiasts at Hollywood’s Troubadour club. Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark were folk musicians with a strong interest in the Beatles and after joining forces with Crosby in the Jet Set, they systematically refined their unusual style for mass consumption. With the arrival of bass player Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke, the Jet Set became the Byrds, one of the most important and influential American groups of the 60s. Crosby remained with them for three years, and his rhythm guitar work, arranging skills and superb harmonic ability greatly contributed to their international success. By 1966, he was emerging as their spokesman onstage and during the succeeding two years contributed a significant number of songs to their repertoire including ‘What’s Happening?!?!’, ‘Renaissance Fair’, ‘Why’ and ‘Everybody’s Been Burned’. However, his outspokenness and domineering tendencies eventually resulted in his dismissal in 1967.

After a sabbatical in which he produced Joni Mitchell’s debut album, Crosby resurfaced as part of rock’s celebrated ‘supergroup’ Crosby, Stills And Nash. With the addition of singer/guitarist Neil Young, they became one of the most critically acclaimed and commercially successful albums artists of their era. Crosby wrote some of their most enduring songs including ‘Guinnevere’, ‘Long Time Gone’ and ‘Déjà Vu’. During their peak period he finally recorded his solo album, 1971’s If I Could Only Remember My Name. An extraordinary work by any standard, the album featured guest appearances from his various confederates including several members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. The work was essentially a mood piece with Crosby using guitar and vocal lines to superb effect. On ‘Music Is Love’ and ‘What Are Their Names?’ the songs were built from single riffs and developed towards a startling crescendo of instrumentation and vocal interplay. Crosby’s lyrical skill was in evidence on the electric ‘Cowboy Movie’ (a western allegory of the CSN&Y saga with Rita Coolidge cast as a manipulative Indian girl), plus the moving ‘Traction In The Rain’ (with Laura Allan on autoharp) and the poignant ‘Laughing’ (inspired by the beatific and controversial Maharishi Mahesh Yogi). Finally, there were a number of choral experiments, culminating in the eerie almost Gregorian chanting of ‘I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here’.

Crosby continued to work with Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and Neil Young in various permutations but by the end of the decade he was alone, playing before small audiences and severely dependent upon heroin. In 1980, a completed album was rejected by Capitol Records and during the next few years Crosby became one of the most notorious drug abusers in popular music history. A series of arrests for firearm offences and cocaine possession forced him into a drug rehabilitation centre but he absconded, only to be arrested again. Finally, he was imprisoned in 1985, long after many of his friends had declared that his death was imminent. Jail provided his salvation, however, and when he emerged a year later, corpulent and clean, he engaged in a flurry of recording activity with his former colleagues. The decade ended with the release of his long-awaited second solo album, Oh Yes I Can, and a strong selling autobiography, Long Time Gone, which documented the highs and excesses of his singular career.

Following further activity in the 90s with Stills and Nash, Crosby worked with Phil Collins, following their meeting on the set of the movieHook, in which they both appeared. The result was Thousand Roads, an accessible if overtly slick album, which produced a Crosby/Collins minor UK hit with ‘Hero’, which fared much better in the USA. Crosby has additionally been playing more acting roles and was seen in the television series Rosanne. In the mid-90s with his drug-taking days well behind him, Crosby suffered complications with his diabetes and was seriously ill awaiting a kidney donor. The man who had courted death so many times was given his ninth life with a new kidney. A worthy live album was issued during his convalescence in 1995 and he further celebrated being alive with the birth of a child in May that year and reuniting with his long-lost son James Raymond. He reunited with Crosby, Stills and Young in 1999 to record a new studio album.

In August 2001 Crosby, now singing better than at any stage in his career, together with his new band CPR, celebrated his 60th birthday. This landmark was one that few would have expected him to reach but he was clearly enjoying himself musically. In this democratic unit vocal, compositional, and instrumental chores are shared with keyboardist James Raymond (Crosby’s son) and session guitarist Jeff Pevar. He teamed up with his old sparring partner Graham Nash in 2004 to record a new Crosby/Nash album.

A beautifully packaged box set was released in 2006 containing a complete CD of alternative versions from Crosby’s post-Byrds career. As time rolls on Crosby’s masterpiece If I Could Only Remember My Name is at last being recognised by a wider audience of writers and critics beyond the original triad support and freak-flag flying of Rogan, Doggett and Larkin. Crosby is a cantankerous, opinionated, loveable genius, some say with a voice like an angel.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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