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Feature Story: David Crosby

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Call Him Croz

The photograph of David Crosby’s face that graces the cover of his new solo album, Croz, doesn’t lie. It features the legendary rock icon peering off to what appears to be an unknown future, peppered with equal levels of wonderment and apprehension. For David Crosby, it has been a long time gone.

Twenty years after the release of his last solo studio album (1993’s Thousand Roads), Crosby rebounds with what is arguably his strongest effort outside of the CSNY family of recordings. Mostly co-written and produced by James Raymond (Crosby’s long lost son who he re-connected with in the 1990s), Croz serves up a more experimental, jazzier side of David Crosby, effectively blending haunting acoustic ballads with meatier band-driven rock tracks. Croz, with all its different musical sides, is both ethereal and in your face.
Now, with a short window of time available before he returns to the road with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, David Crosby is taking the music of Croz, and a musical retrospective of his entire career, on the road. He stops in Chicago for two nights at City Winery, February 8th and 9th.

Accompanying Crosby on the road are James Raymond (keyboards), Shane Fontayne (guitar), Kevin McCormick (bass), Steve DiStanislao (drums, percussion), and Marcus Eaton (guitar). They all appear on Croz, along with guests Wynton Marsalis (“Holding On To Nothing”), Mark Knopfler (“What’s Broken”), Leland Sklar (“Find A Heart”) and Steve Tavaglione (“Morning Falling,” “Find A Heart”).
David Crosby sat down recently to talk about the new album and tour, and the five decades that shaped the life and times of this music legend. As he sang in the 1965 Byrds classic: “So you want to be a rock’n’roll star; now listen then, to what I say…”

IE: Croz is undeniably a David Crosby solo album, but it is also a testament to talent of your son, James Raymond…
David Crosby: He’s enormously talented; a far better musician than me. And the stuff we write together is just a joy. He’s wonderful. He also produced, engineered, he played on it, – he did everything on the record

IE: In the past the various CSNY solo albums had each of the other members helping out, and those songs could fit into CSNY shows even though they had been solo tracks. With Croz, it is a departure having no involvement from Stephen, Graham or Neil, but I still feel these could fit in a CSN or a CSNY show…
C: I’m not so sure about that. I am not really sure if this is CSNY kind of stuff. These songs are a little jazzy, but some of them I think would work very well. You know, if we did “Set That Baggage Down,” or some of the more rock n roll ones. We did “Radio,” and “A Slice Of Time.” We did those and they worked really well with Crosby Stills and Nash or CSNY.

IE: How have the rehearsals with the band been? What makes working with the band so much different than working with CSN?
DC: Well, first of all, there is a lot of new music. That’s the first thing, and the second thing is: I have not had a chance to put together a band that was strictly my band, for a very long time. The Crosby/Nash band is pretty much the same band, but I am adding one guy, Marcus Eaton, to it. He co-wrote some of the stuff and is a fantastic singer and player. In a Crosby Stills & Nash show I get to sing maybe 6 or 8 songs, in this show, I get to do the whole show, maybe 20 songs.

IE: This show promises to be a full retrospective of your career. Obviously there is plenty for you to sing from the early CSNY albums, like “Almost Cut My Hair” and “Long Time Gone,” but what do you have planned from your years in The Byrds?
DC:As from The Byrds I am pretty sure I am going to do a version of “Eight Miles High,” which we have done before and it was a lot of fun. Whether there is anything else from that far back, I don’t know. I have got all those songs from CPR and all those songs from CSN, Crosby Nash, and CSNY. I am also looking at modifying some of those songs. Like, for instance, I have about a 20-minute version of Deja Vu that goes a bunch of places where that song has never gone before.

IE: How about “He Was A Friend Of Mine,” from your days with The Byrds? With the 50th Anniversary of the JFK assassination, that would be very timely.
DC: Yeah, that might be a really good one. That’s a good suggestion. That’s a good suggestion! You know what, just let me write that down. Thank you very much that may very well make it into the set!
IE: When did you really know that you had the makings of a great solo album? When did these songs tell you it was time?
DC: I think we knew as soon as I did “Radio.” When we wrote that song, we thought, “Hmmm… this is pretty good.” Then, we started getting songs like James’ “Dangerous Night,” which both of us wrote, actually. When we started getting songs like that, then heads started turning. It was: “Oh, wait a minute! We are into pay dirt here; this shit is smokin’.” Then, when we started getting some of the songs by James, and one of his more recent ones was “What’s Broken,” I knew it. I just thought that was one of the most incredible songs I had ever heard. I pretty much sang the spots off it, and then we got that very kind offer from Mark Knopfler to play on it, which he did magnificently. It was really a long shot because we didn’t have any money to make it; we did it all on the generosity of friends. And of course, a great deal of work by James, who not only produced the record, he played it; sang it; engineered it. He did everything he could. He made this record possible. It took us two to three years to do it, but once we had a couple of songs under our belt, we knew we were going to make a really great record. We just had to be patient.

IE: I recently listened to your 1971 solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, and it sounds great. But it sounded like David in a lot of different directions. This album sounds like David, focused like a laser beam. I am not sure if that is you, or if that is because of David…
DC: It’s both of us. We are a team. It’s a very good team, because he’s a much better musician than I am and at least as good a poet as I am. The two of us go hand in hand. It’s chemistry. Music is always chemistry, but it was a really good one, this time.

IE: Just like Stephen and Graham, you have a lot of stuff going on at once. There is this solo project, CPR, CSN, CSNY, Crosby Nash; writing books; personal appearances; and on and on. Don’t you think this is simply a lot to be doing for one artist?
DC: Yeah, but it keeps it fresh. I balance it just by following the songs. When I hear a song I pretty much know where I want to go with it. I also have a very healthy and very good life. I just did 25 dives in Fiji. I was there diving with my family. I go sailing probably once a week. I am just a very happy guy. My life is wonderful. I have a wonderful wife, we’ve been together 36 years. I’ve got another wonderful son, Django, who happens to be a little smarter than me, which is tough!

IE: How’s your health?
DC: My health is really good. I have been through a tremendous amount of stuff, but my health is quite good. I lost about 40 pounds, and I have been working out steadily, three days a week. I have been trying to eat right. I’m pretty healthy, knock on wood.

IE: There have always been concerns since you had the liver transplant. The average transplant they say can last about 10 years; yours is over 18 years old…
DC: Yes, everything is holding up. It is kind of like Science Fiction, having someone else’s body part in me but it works, and I am extremely grateful.

IE: What else is there left for you to do? You once called Crosby Stills & Nash your day job and that you wouldn’t dare quit your day job….
DC: Yeah, I like working with them. Hey, I get to sing Stephen Stills’ songs and Graham Nash songs, come on! It’s fun! I love to do CSNY, if and when Neil would like to do it. I have been listening to this CSNY ’74 live album that is coming out. The stuff on it is ridiculous man! No one is going to believe how good it is. We may never re-group again, then again, we might. I just know that this record is going to knock your socks off.

IE: Are you still as politically active as you had been in the ’60s and ’70s, or have you mellowed?
DC: No, not at all. I am still very much inclined to speak up for what I believe in. I think that is the way it should be and I am proud of it, and I am not going to change.

IE: What are you upset about now?
DC: How long a list do you want to go through? Am I upset about Fukushima poisoning the Pacific Ocean? …yeah. Am I upset about Tepco and the Japanese government lying through their teeth?…yeah. Am I upset about us sending another 35,000 troops to the Middle East where we have no place being?…yeah. Am I upset about politicians not having read a history book that would tell them NO ONE ever won in Afghanistan, ever, including Alexander The Great, The Russians, The British?…yeah. Am I upset that you can buy a Congressman for the cost of a Mercedes?…yeah. Am I upset that corporations run the United States rather than the people running the U.S.A.?…yeah. Am I upset that we are poisoning our planet, our earth, and our water?…yeah. Do I want fracking?…no. Am I happy that we are dumbing down the schools?…really not! It’s kind of a long list…

IE: Has President Obama’s presidency been a disappointment to yourself and other liberals?
DC: Yes, because he has done an awful lot of stuff that I personally don’t think is smart. We need to get the hell out of the Middle East. We have no right being there and should not be there. We’re losing young people and having their limbs blown off and their lives ruined every day. We’ve done it for absolutely no gain at all, and all we have done is convince these people that the Crusades are still going on. And those people don’t ever forget. Yes, I am disappointed. I like Barack Obama. He is a brilliant guy and a beautiful speaker. I think he loves this country and I think he loves his family. I would like him to be the guy that we elected. He has done a number of things – and I won’t even get into drone strikes. One of the songs on my new album is about drone strikes. In general, I really disagree with him not getting us out of the Middle East.

IE: What does David Crosby do on his day off? We know you like to go sailing and we know you like to go diving. But what else do you do? What music are you listening to? What are you watching on TV? Are you a fan of Homeland?
DC: Homeland is my favorite current show. Before that, of course, it was Breaking Bad. I spend a lot of time with my family. We’re very happy together, so we do spend a lot of time together. I really like that. I spend time reading constantly. All the time. And every day I pick up the guitar and try to write a song.

IE: You actually do try writing songs every day?
DC: Oh yeah, I just finished one last night; and a really good one, too.

IE: Is there an advantage to working with just Graham than there is working as CSN?
DC: Yeah, there is. We can get into a lot more subtle stuff, and nuances vocally, that we can’t get into with Stephen and the band. We have an entire body of material from the Crosby/Nash albums that really doesn’t crossover into CSN. We do a lot of our solo stuff in that show, too.

IE: There was a period between late 1968 and mid-1970 when CSN and CSNY were always working together, and then in the early 1970s, you all started to splinter and do solo projects and duo projects. Was that because you wanted to try things on your own or because you weren’t getting along back then?
DC: Both. The reason we used our own names is because we had known that we were all going to be doing solo projects, at the same time we were going to work together. That was always the plan. Of course, every time we would do a solo project everyone would say we broke up, and every time we’d go back to work together again, they’d shout, “Reunion!” We just laugh our heads off, because we always told them we were going to do this, but no one bothered to listen.

IE: When you left the Byrds, or they decided you should leave the Byrds, were you planning a solo career or did you know you would be working with Graham and Stephen?
DC: I was looking around to see what to do next. Stills and I have always had a musical attraction towards each other’s work. I’ve always loved his music and he’s always loved my music, it was a natural falling together. Graham came about because of Cass Elliott of the Mamas & the Papas. She introduced him to us and we then realized he was the guy who sang the high part on the Hollies song, “King Midas In Reverse” and he said, ‘Hmmm…’ And so, he sang with us, and when that happened, that was all we needed to hear…

IE: Is it true you auditioned for The Beatles album label (Apple Records) in 1968 and they turned you down?
D.C: Yeah. Silly boys, they were. (laughs). George Harrison and Peter Asher (who was their A&R head) came over and listened to us perform the whole first album, live. We sang that whole first album, and they said, (in an English accent) “No, it’s just not what we’re looking for…”. Boy, did they make a big mistake.

IE: Did you ever run into George Harrison, and did he ever admit he made a mistake?
D.C. Yeah, I did. And, yeah, he admitted that later on. He (was) a great guy.

David Crosby appears at City Winery, Chicago, on February 8 & 9.

As of February 6th – the David Crosby show has been rescheduled to July 21 and 22. Details are avaialable at City Winery website HERE

-Bruce Pilato

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