Singer, songwriter, guitarist
David Crosby’s musical career has been a long and productive one, despite repeated interruptions due to his much-publicized troubles with drugs and the law. Crosby first sang professionally with his brother, Ethan, in a folksinging duo. They played small clubs and coffeehouses around Los Angeles for a time before David hit the road as a solo act. For a few years he led a vagabond existence, barely eking out a living. Things changed drastically after he joined forces with another folkie, Roger McGuinn, and began experimenting with electronic amplification. By the summer of 1964, they had induced Gene Clarke, Chris Hillman, and Mike Clark to join them in a new group called the Byrds.
After several months of rehearsing, the Byrds released their first single in May 1965. “Mr. Tambourine Man” (a remake of the Bob Dylan song) went straight to the top of the pop charts. The group followed it up with another Dylan composition, “All I Really Want to Do,” and Pete Seeger’s adaptation of Ecclesiastes, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” In one year the Byrds became so popular that they were considered a serious threat to the Beatles, whose appearance they sought to imitate. Their success in blending folk music with an electric sound gave rise to a host of imitators and created a new category of popular music known as “folk rock.” Crosby’s fine harmony singing, rhythm guitar playing, and songwriting were crucial to the Byrds’ first four albums, but in 1968 he was thrown out of the group after losing a power struggle within it.
Crosby used his settlement money from the Byrds to buy a yacht and spent several months relaxing in Florida. There he met Joni Mitchell, who had not yet recorded her first album. Crosby took a deep interest in her career, introducing her to key figures in the industry and helping her to produce her first record. The two were working on that project when Mitchell introduced Crosby to Neil Young and Stephen Stills of Buffalo Springfield. That group was about to break up, and the three men toyed with the idea of playing together professionally. Young had other commitments to see to first, but Crosby and Stills recruited former Hollies member Graham Nash and in 1969 recorded Crosby, Stills and Nash, which was a top seller for more than two years. Phil Hardy wrote in his Encyclopedia of Rock: “[The album] featured Stills’ desperate love songs, Nash’s gentler celebrations of ‘peace and love’ consciousness, and Crosby’s mixture of romanticism and angry politics—all smoothed into a soft electric/acoustic music topped off by dazzling virtuoso singing.”
Soon Neil Young had joined the trio, and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young played their second live performance before 500, 000 people at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. Young’s presence added a harder edge
Full name, David Van Cortlandt Crosby; born August 14, 1941, in Los Angeles, Calif.; son of Floyd Delafield (a cinematographer) and Aliph (Whitehead) Van Cortlandt; married Jan Dance, May 16, 1987; children: (with Debbie Donovan) Anne Donovan. Education: Attended Santa Barbara City College.
Folk singer in coffeehouses and small clubs, early 1960s; founding member, with Roger McGuinn, Gene Clarke, Chris Hillman, and Mike Clark, of the Byrds, 1964–68; Formed Crosby, Stills and Nash, 1969, which became Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, 1970; has recorded solo and with other members of CSNY.
Awards: Grammy Award for Best New Artist, 1969, for album, Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Addresses: Record company —A&M Records, P.O. Box 118, Hollywood, Calif. 90028.
to their sound that boosted their popularity still further. By the time the first CSNY album, Deja Vu, had been released, two million advance orders had accumulated for it. Hardy commented: “The level of musicianship displayed on the album was reflected in their stage shows through late 1969 and 1970. The concerts contained an acoustic half in which the four of them sang solo and together, and an electric half of rock-n-roll in which…Crosby’s rhythm guitar laid down the base for Stills and Young to engage in ferocious electric guitar duelling.”
CSNY was short-lived, however. In 1970 they broke up, in part because each wanted to pursue directions of his own, and also because personal differences were constantly flaring up between them. They reunited briefly in 1974 for a United States tour, but Young insisted on traveling separately and the reunion was cut short. Crosby, Stills and Nash regrouped in various combinations for the next few years. They released CSN in 1977 and Daylight Again in 1982. Crosby also recorded four albums with Nash. His career was beginning to suffer from his escalating drug abuse, however, and he performed less and less frequently. By the mid-1980s he was freebasing cocaine daily, was addicted to heroin, and had been arrested repeatedly on drug and weapons charges. After several probations violations, he was sentenced to serve time in Texas State Penitentiary, where he underwent a complete detoxification. He was granted an early release in 1986. Since then, he has performed in concert as a solo artist, in duet with Graham Nash, and with CSN and CSNY.
Discussing his addictions in People, Crosby stated: “Most people who go as far as I did with drugs are dead. Hard drugs will hook anyone. I don’t care who you are. It’s not a matter of personality. Do them and it’s a matter of time before you are addicted. You can give me any rationalization you want. I know better. I have a Ph.D. in drugs. Fool with them and you’ll get strung out. Then there are about four ways it can go: You can go crazy; you can go to prison; you can die; or you can kick. That’s it. Anything else anybody says is bull.”
LPs; with the Byrds
Mr. Tambourine Man, Columbia, 1965.
Turn! Turn! Turn!, Columbia, 1966.
Fifth Dimension, Columbia, 1966.
Younger than Yesterday, Columbia, 1967.
Greatest Hits, Columbia, 1967.
The Byrds, Asylum, 1973.
History of the Byrds, Columbia, 1973.
The Byrds Play Dylan, Columbia, 1980.
Never Before, Re-Flyte, 1988.
LPs; with Graham Nash
Crosby and Nash, Atlantic, 1972.
Wind on the Water, ABC, 1975.
Whistle Down the Wire, ABC, 1976.
Live, ABC, 1977.
Best of Crosby and Nash, ABC, 1977.
LPs; with Crosby, Stills and Nash
Crosby, Stills and Nash, Atlantic, 1969.
CSN, Atlantic, 1977.
Replay, Atlantic, 1980.
Daylight Again, Atlantic, 1982.
Allies, Atlantic, 1983.
LPs; with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young
Deja Vu, Atlantic, 1970.
Four-Way Street, Atlantic, 1972.
So Far, Atlantic, 1974.
American Dream, Atlantic, 1989.
If I Could Only Remember My Name, Atlantic, 1971.
Oh Yes I Can, A&M, 1988.
Crosby, David and Carl Gottlieb, Long Time Gone, Doubleday, 1988.
Jahn, Mike, Rock: From Elvis Presley to Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1976.
Laing, Dave, and Phil Hardy, Encyclopedia of Rock, McDonald, 1987.
Miller, Jim, ed., Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock and Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1983.
People, September 8, 1986; April 27, 1987.
Rolling Stone, January 12, 1989.
Stereo Review, June, 1988.
Time, March 11, 1985; November 4, 1985; August 11, 1986.
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