By Jay Luster
Of Love: “It rings a bell inside of us that elevates us as human beings, and I treasure that. I think it’s one of the few great things about human beings.” David Crosby
When Neil Young decided it was time to begin his solo career just ahead of Buffalo Springfield’s appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pops Festival, Stephen Stills asked David Crosby, of the Byrds, to fill in. When he accepted, though it complicated things with his current band, he placed himself on a musical adventure which would see him part with one Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame band, while landing with another. Only a few musicians have been inducted into the R&R HOF, and even fewer are in there twice. David Crosby, along with his CSN band mates Stephen Stills, and Graham Nash are members of that elite club.
Earlier that summer, after a drug bust which landed three members of Buffalo Springfield in the county lockup, it was decided they couldn’t continue as a band. Upon their breakup, Jim Messina, and Richie Furay started the band Poco, and Stephen Stills got together with David Crosby with the idea of beginning a band driven by harmony, and contemporary ideals.
In the meantime, Graham Nash had hit an impasse with his band The Hollies, over their creative direction. Nash and Crosby knew each other because their bands had crossed paths in England, and the US. One day, when Nash went to visit his girlfriend, Joni Mitchell, he found David Crosby, and Stephen Stills already there. The three of them worked out a three-part harmony for Stills song “You Don’t Have To Cry,” and the band Crosby Stills and Nash were born. While there are differing reports about where they first played live, the second time they appeared together it announced to the world, in no uncertain terms, that a new super-group had landed. That performance occurred at 3am, on August 17, 1969, in front of a half a million people in Woodstock, New York.
They had released their first album, Crosby, Stills, and Nash in May of ’69, and that summer, already touted as a super group, they became national icons with their performance of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” That album also featured the hit single “Marrakesh Express,” and the classic-rock staples “Wooden Ships,” and “Helplessly Hoping.” Their next album, released 10 months later, entitled Déjà Vu, more than doubled the sales of their debut album, and went to number one.
By then, they’d already picked up a Grammy for Best New Artist, and their second album cemented their place as future entrants into the R&R HOF. Neil Young, was a member of the band for Déjà Vu, but soon left to continue his solo career. While the CSN collaboration with Young only lasted for one album, what a record it was! The singles “Teach Your Children,” “Woodstock,” “Our House, ” and “Carry On,” guaranteed its sales success, but it also had Young’s song “Helpless,” and Crosby’s, “I Almost Cut My Hair.” James Taylor said of CSN, “They were the quintessential vocal group. They’re harmonies were so complex, and so sophisticated, and yet so soulful.”
David Crosby once said, “I think music is a lifting force, I think love is the lifting force in the human condition.” As a collaborator, and singer, his deft touch with harmony, and vocal arrangements, are what lifted songs like The Byrds “Eight Miles High,” and CSN’s “Wooden Ships,” from being great album songs into concert staples. It’s that vocal perfection that Stephen Stills was referring to when he said Crosby could always be counted on to bring that “one perfect note.” It also stands in stark contrast to whom the man was away from music.
Throughout his life, Crosby fought with addiction, and other health issues. In 1985, he spent nine months in a Texas jail for drug and weapon charges. That bust would be followed by arrests in both California, and New York for various weapons, and drug charges, as well as a drunk driving, and a hit-and-run conviction. In 1994, after a long fight with Hepatitis C, he received a liver transplant. With his well-known addiction problems, a few voices in the press cruelly wondered aloud if he should have even been given that opportunity? At CSN’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction, perhaps as an answer to those voices he quipped, “For a guy who was supposed to be dead a couple of years ago, I’m doing pretty well.” In 2008, after a massive 55-pound weight loss, he revealed he was an insulin-dependent diabetic, and then in 2014, he underwent emergency heart catheterization.
That year, Crosby also released the album Croz. It was his fourth studio album, and his first in more than twenty years. At the time, he told Rolling Stone Magazine, “I wanted to challenge myself. Most guys my age would have done a cover’s record or duets on old material. This won’t be a huge hit. It’ll probably sell nineteen copies. I don’t think kids are gonna dig it, but I’m not making it for them. I’m making it for myself.” The album peaked at 36 on the charts, and was his best charting album since his 1971 release, If I Could Only Remember My Name. After that, Crosby released four more records before his death on January 18, 2023.
Throughout his career he had a reputation for irascibility, and his perfectionism could be downright maddening, but as Stephen Stills said in a statement released upon his passing, “(David) was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius. The glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun.”
Crosby once said, “Music is magic. Music bridges the gap between human beings. That each man is an island stuff is true, but music bridges that gap.” The irony is that someone who could be as difficult as David Crosby sang some of the most beautiful music about peace and love in his or any other era. No matter what people may have thought of him, or how controversial he could be, his voice always bridged the gap between him and his fellow musicians creating beautiful and complex harmonies in some of the most socially relevant songs about America, and the times he lived in.