Music Interview: David Crosby

In A Wooden Ship With David Crosby

August March
8 min read
TalkinÕ About Very Free and Easy
(Anne Webber)
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Last week I read with interest an article in the local daily about two-time rocanrol hall of famer and longtime rock god David Crosby. From the tone of the piece—clearly designed to grab traction with an aging audience—from the very lede itself, it seemed safe to assume that Crosby was in his dotage, enjoying lotsa times off and his dogs, too.

Of course that’s all bullshit. The dude who founded The Byrds and then brought Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young together to form one of the grandest folk rock ensembles of them all isn’t really sitting around waiting for an inevitable sunset—complete with tons of well-wishers and remembrances. Crosby was so busy that he had to personally reschedule his interview with
Weekly Alibi three times.

Each time his management would call and say that the rock icon had so much going on, whether interviews, appearances or a nascent tour with his post-millennial millennial band, that he had to find another time to talk.

That’s okay, I’ve heard Crosby can be difficult, that his brain moves at warp speed. But it was damn encouraging to hear that I was probably right about the
Journal article. It was like propaganda in reverse, I reckoned as I waited a fourth time to get on the horn with Crosby.

As I waited, I thought about his music past and present. That first Byrds album was damn good. CSN and CSN and Y were staples growing up in my upper middle class hippie household. I first saw Crosby Stills and Nash at Tingley Coliseum in 1984, when dude was still dangerously drug-damaged and looking forward to a much-needed liver transplant.

Now, more than 30 years on, he was hitting it with the Lighthouse Band, a trio of twentysomethings who had moved him back toward relevance as he informed their work with harmonic hijinks to beat the band. The result was an album with enough rock-steady cred to require a feature in
Rolling Stone. I knew that talking with Crosby would be interesting to readers who might happen by his show in Burque on Thursday, Nov. 15 at the National Hispanic Cultural Center; if only I could get him on the phone.

Then, like magic sometimes happens, unannounced and mostly unexpected, my telephone rang on Friday afternoon. It was a California number calling in. It was David Crosby, rightly rushed but brightly brilliant, clear and confident about his evolving place in the rocanrol pantheon.

Weekly Alibi: Hello.

David Crosby: Hey it’s Crosby.

Wow, David Crosby! How are you man?

I’m fine, thanks.

It’s a real honor to talk to you, needless to say. Of course people are talking about your new album, Here If You Listen, which is what I’d like to discuss today—keeping in mind that you are widely regarded as a cultural icon and political activist as well. So I wanna roll with that and see where we end up in a few minutes.

That sounds excellent.

The new album, I’m told, is a collaborative effort. What has making that new album and touring it been like?

Well, it’s been wonderful. I’m a very lucky guy. I met Michael League recently, he’s the bandleader and composer for a jazz band called Snarky Puppy. He’s very talented and he introduced me to Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. They’re two singer-songwriters who are extremely gifted. We made this as a group record. The first one, the first Lighthouse record was a David Crosby record; League co-produced with me and the two ladies came and sang a little bit. I wrote one song with them. But for this one, I was impressed with them that I decided to make a group record. I wanted to write it together and sing it together. They said, “Are you sure?” and I said, “Yes, there is some chemistry there and I can feel it.” So they jumped in and the record is the result. We thought this album up together and it’s outstanding. I can’t tell you how fun it has been.

You spoke about one of your new collaborators having a jazz background, which is something you seem to go back to, occasionally. I know you did a jazz band with your son, and also jammed with Phil Collins, who has also demonstrated an affinity for jazz with his Brand X project. How did that proclivity play into your songwriting this time around?

They worked out, heavily. I always liked jazz and I’m a natural for the more complex chords; I really like the more intricate chord changes found in jazz music. Always have.

I’ve also noticed over the years, that your tunings reflect that complexity. In the history of American popular music, you seem like the source as far as that method of expression goes.

I like ’em. I really love those tunings! I started out doing them because I was listening to jazz piano players who use these big, thick, dense chords. I really liked listening to that and I wanted to play those chords. My peers let me do that. We started doing inversions of the chords you don’t hear otherwise. They’re kinda wonderful that way. The people who really took that technique to its end are Joni Mitchell, who taught me a great deal about jazz and the guitarist Michael Hedges.

Do you think about those influences as you proceed through rocanrol-landia?

I mention those essential influences all the time and I listen all of the time. I listen to everybody. I listen to brand new people you probably haven’t heard yet!

That’s interesting because your name keeps coming up as an influence, whether through The Byrds or Crosby, Stills and Nash. Then there’s the jazz thing. And now you’re gigging with these up-and-coming musicians. How do you keep going at the tender age of 77?

I just play the music, man. I’m a very lucky guy. I have bunch of friends that are really, really good to me. I have two very excellent bands. The Lighthouse Band is acoustic, then I have the other band, the electric band, the Sky Trails band with jazzer Jeff Pevar and my son James Raymond. Between the two, I’m able to work almost all of the time. I like that. A lot.

So, what does a day look like for David Crosby?

We wake up in our hotel and try to find something for breakfast, but usually, nobody’s serving breakfast [by that time of day]. We go, and eventually get to the theater. We do a sound check. We do a show. And then we get some pizza, roll down the road and do it all over again. It’s a hard existence for somebody my age. It was a lot easier when I was younger. But the time that is spent playing, the time we spend on stage singing, is pure joy.

So you’ve been doing this for 50 years, that’s amazing. If you could go back to the autumn of 1968 and tell your younger self something essential about the future, from your vantage point, now on tour, what would it be?

I’d tell him not to do any hard drugs. That’s a waste of time.

So, all that psychedelia …

No just hard drugs, coke and heroin. That doesn’t include LSD and it certainly doesn’t include pot. Marijuana doesn’t do any harm at all, it’s fine stuff. But hard drugs are a complete waste of time and very destructive too. That’s what I would tell my younger self. Don’t do that.

Did those indulgences affect your work in a way you’re not happy about?

Sure. Of course. I wasted time. You only get a certain amount of time in this life, man. If you waste any of it, you are being stupid.

At the same time, you created some of the most memorable music of the 20th century …

Uh, I made some songs. Let’s move on from the past. I don’t really think of the past stuff. I’m proud of the work and everything; The Byrds, CSN and CSNY. We did some good work and I’m proud of it, but I don’t think about it at all. I think about what I have got to do today and want to do tomorrow; what I would like to do next year. That’s where my head is now.

An Evening with David Crosby and Friends

Thursday, Nov. 15 • 7:30pm

National Hispanic Cultural Center • Journal Theater

1701 Fourth Street SW • $58 to $78

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