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David Crosby the Opinionated Octogenarian in Full Voice

Updated: Aug 19, 2021

This portrait of David Crosby by Joan Baez serves as the cover for Crosby's new album

When it comes to “colourful characters” in modern music, few can match David Crosby. And on the occasion of his 80th birthday, the superstar musician can feel especially proud of one thing – sheer survival!

For while he found fame as an original member of The Byrds – who pioneered country-rock – and as the lead name in super-group Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, there have been the downers. Battling drug addiction, a period in prison, weapon-possession charges and a liver transplant - to name a few.

So was the big birthday on August 14 a time for celebration?

“No, no, no, birthdays are not happy when you get old,” he told The Bluegrass Situation in true Crosby fashion.

That response was somewhat mild compared with what he recently blurted in an interview with The Daily Beast.

On Donald Trump: “He’s an evil bastard.”

On Fox News: “The people on Fox News are doing great harm to the human race. What can I say. They’re lying for money.”

On Rupert Murdoch, the founder of Fox News: “Rupert Murdoch should be taken out and shot!”

On the state of the nation, especially after the January 6 insurrection: “There’s a fairly good chance that the United States of America will come unglued.”

He expanded: “There’s about a third of the country that are actually too dumb to understand what a democracy is and how it works. There’s about another third that are not too stupid, but they’re misinformed, because they’re uneducated. Ignorant.”

As an “advice columnist” for Rolling Stone, he gets really personal.

On drugs: “Don’t do hard drugs. I wasted time. Time is the final currency. Not money. Not power. I wasted probably 10 years, more, just on being stoned. And not happy stoned like a pothead. Desperate stoned like a junkie. It was enormously hard to feel that bad about myself for that long. It’s an enormous relief to feel good about myself now.”

On how a 30-year-old should treat his wife in bed: “Do you know where the fun button is? Follow the legs. They lead right to it.”

But at least Crosby is still matching his rhetoric with good music.

For on the eve of his octogenarian status, he released For Free – his fifth album in seven years. It is largely a collaborative effort, not surprising for a man who found fame mixing with some of the big names in modern music.

Leading the collaborations is his son, James Raymond, who not only served as producer and keyboardist on For Free but wrote seven out of the 10 tracks. Their musical association goes back to the mid-nineties, a few years after Raymond discovered Crosby was his biological father. Raymond has been a regular member of whatever musical assortment – jazz or otherwise - Crosby has concocted in recent years.

But the best partnership comes with him teaming up with Americana star Sarah Jarosz on the title track “For Free” which was written by Crosby’s one-time girlfriend Joni Mitchell. (He also produced her debut album.) It has been on a Crosby playlist since his days with The Byrds.

Jarosz, who has lifted her profile by being part of the female-trio I’m With Her, is at her harmonising best with Crosby and the pair deliver a beautiful constant-duet on this timeless tale of a nobody street-musician - But that one-man band by the quick-lunch stand/He was playing real good, for free. A nice piano arrangement from Raymond provides a perfect condiment.

His other big-name duet is with Michael McDonald – of The Doobie Brothers and a lifelong friend - on the impressive opening track “River Rise.” Once again, Crosby’s harmonizing is near-perfect and his voice shows no sign of the wear and tear from 80 years of hard-travelled living.

There is a somewhat sad ending to the album with the tearful ballad “I Won’t Stay for Long,” one of the songs penned by Raymond. Did he write this for his father? I’m asking perfect strangers if I look to be alright/I feel like I lost an anchor in the ocean of my night.

Crosby believes it is the best song on For Free. “It makes me cry. I don’t even know what part affects me so emotionally, but I just break down. It’s such a beautiful fuckin’ song,” he told Rolling Stone.

He has recently developed tendonitis and is having trouble playing guitar and so doubts if he will ever tour again. And cross-country tours are certainly out of the question.

This saddens Crosby as singing live is the love of his life.

“I can still sing. That’s why we’re doing the records, because we love making music. Right? They obviously don’t pay us for them, so that’s the only reason there could be.,” Crosby told The Bluegrass Situation. “ We’re not trying to win the ratings war or something. We’re just singing exactly the music that really rings our bell and makes our heart sing. And there you go. And if people like it, great. And if they don’t like it, great, we don’t care.”

His problem with working live was a key factor in his decision this year to sell his recorded music and publishing rights – including his CSNY and Byrds catalogue – to Irving Azoff’s venture Iconic Artists Group. It was one of several such deals involving big-name artists.

Crosby has not disclosed any financial details. But he told Rolling Stone: “That wasn’t a thing I wanted to do, but doing that deal with Irving made it possible for me to not worry about the money. I paid off my house. That was really scary. We were really worried we were going to lose it. I couldn’t work live and I couldn’t make any money doing records. That deal made a difference for us. It really helped a lot.”

Footnote: There is another big name-in-music to the fore in Crosby’s latest release. But you won’t find it on record. The stunning album-cover portrait of Crosby is by none other than Joan Baez, whose art is (almost) as good her ageless voice!

Paul Cutler


Crossroads – Americana Music Appreciation


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