Sunday, February 14, 2021

Poster Child for the Woodstock Nation - David Crosby

The consensus is that David Crosby should be dead by now. David came of age in the 1960s, a decade that was either a new golden age or a descent into a self-indulgent one. Crosby tried just about every drug available, because it seemed the hip, countercultural thing to do. He was known to have the best dope around, particularly pot and psychedelics, and his home in L.A. became a mecca of Southern California hedonism and experimentation in alternative lifestyles. Who would have thought he'd make it through the 80s, let alone become rock's curmudgeonly old man/walrus (I am the eggman), with two new LPs in the past couple years!

Crosby was born in Los Angeles on August 14, 1941; the son of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby (High Noon), he dropped out of drama school to pursue a career in music, touring the folk club circuit and recording as a member of the Les Baxter Balladeers. Crosby cut his first solo session in late 1963 and early in '64 he formed The Jet Set with Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark.  With the addition of bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke, the group was rechristened the Byrds.



(Rewind a bit; when The Jet Set released a single in 1964 with Elektra Records, the label's Jac Holzman tried cashing in on the British Invasion pop craze by renaming the band, at least temporarily, The Beefeaters.)

Although McGuinn pioneered the Byrds' trademark 12-string guitar sound, Crosby was the architect of their unique harmonies, The Beach Boys with grit; his interest in jazz and Indian music also influenced the band's venure into psychedelia. They became the premiere folk-rock group when their version of Bob Dylan's song "Mr Tambourine Man" became the summer hit of 1965. Creative differences plagued the group throughout its career, and in 1967 Crosby, based on his bandmates' refusal to release his ménage à trois opus "Triad," quit/was fired from The Byrds after their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival.

While AM usually dismisses Greatest Hits LPs, The Byrds Greatest Hits is the best history of the original lineup one can find. It dismisses Sweetheart of the Rodeo and the post Crosby country thang completely and offers up America’s so-called Beatles. It was Crosby who created the persona that was The Byrds, acted more like their leader than McGuinn, despite the unmistakable jangly guitar. Chris Hillman of The Byrds said, "David came from a whole other place with his harmony parts. He obviously listened to the Four Freshmen and things like that, as did, I guess, Brian Wilson, but David did harmony parts that I wasn't really used to. I was coming from the old Southern gospel, straight third part harmony, and David was doing these really interesting things. Nobody in The Byrds really shared a common musical background, if you think about it. Everybody came from a different place, musically.




Towards the end of David's sojourn with The Byrd's, according to Hillman, "David's heart wasn't in it. He was hanging out more with the other groups, and the funny thing is that I'm the guy who took him to see the Springfield when they played at the Whiskey. I said, 'Come with me and watch this band.' And he didn't think they were very good. The other thing that tickles me to this day is that when we would be riding about with the Byrds, he'd be raving about the sitar. I said, "You wanna hear an instrument that has a sliding scale? Here: steel guitar!" and I'd punch a country station and he hated it. Of course, he was playing it on 'Teach Your Children, and he did a good job, actually. He wasn't a steel player, but he did a good job on that song." Crosby had that same focus as Neil Young; while it was all about the music, Crosby had to follow his own beat.

Following his sojourn with The Byrds, the disillusioned Crosby found himself In Coconut Grove, Florida's equivalent to Laurel Canyon. It was there that he heard Joni Mitchell for the first time at a Coffee House called The Gaslight South. Those who heard Joni Mitchell sing in those early years were typically blown away and David was one of those smitten by her sound — and her good looks.



A brief physical romance saw Joni move in with David Crosby when they returned to southern California in 1967.  Crosby would later say of Joni: "It was very easy to love her, but turbulent. Loving Joni is a little like falling into a cement mixer."

We came back to L.A. together," Crosby said, "and yeah, I did bring her around to everyone I knew. My favorite trick at the time was to invite everyone over, get a joint of dope that was stronger than they could possibly smoke and get her to play and they would walk out stupefied. They'd never heard anything like her and it was a lot of fun. It only stopped being fun when I started producing her first record. Joni is not a person that you stay in a relationship with. It always goes awry, no matter who you are. It's an inevitable thing. We were starting to have friction and at the same time I was starting to produce her record and I didn't really know how."



Reprise Records signed Joni but wanted her album produced by someone who would give her the folk-rock sound all the rage at that time. David and Joni instead were intent on presenting her music as it was performed - simply: guitar, vocal, atmosphere. David told Reprise that he would take the reins and the company agreed, who better to get at the helm than than a former member of the group that started it? By the time the company heard the session tapes, it was too late to go back and re-record. 



It was through Joni, and of course the coordination of Laurel Canyon's Gertrude Stein, Cass Elliot, that Crosby would connect with Stills and Graham Nash.


From Jay and the Americans:

More than once we went to the Trip.  Laura and I weren't allowed in, 21 and up, so we'd sit in the back and listen and I'd color and Laura and I would play Ouija.  I liked the Ouija.  It pointed to the moon a lot.  It spelled my name.  

David Crosby played with us.  I didn't really know who he was, but I liked him because he looked like a walrus.  He asked a question and it pointed to the no.  That's when he colored with me.  I don't think he liked the Ouija’s answer, but he colored real nice.

The Trip was a club on Sunset.  It was kind of funny that it was under one of the big Foster and Kleiser billboards that my father painted.  The Trip was little and dirty, but there was always good music.  There were fights and people were odd at times, and the police would come or an ambulance, but that was just a part of it.  The Byrds were there a lot.  That's who we went to see.  Lots of songs about change and freedom and how things were supposed to be, all in pretty harmonies. 

Laura and I never actually saw the bands play, we just heard them. "My Back Pages" was my favorite.  Laura and I would sing, "I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now." I was little, but that really made perfect sense to me.

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