Why David Crosby isn't looking back ...
LENOX — Going solo has fueled a creative resurrection for 76-year-old David Crosby.
Following a hard-partying past that landed him jail time and ultimately necessitated a liver transplant in 1994, the founding member of folk rock pioneers The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) has churned out three albums in the past four years by ditching the drama associated with band life.
"I think I should've done it sooner," Crosby said of working as a solo artist during a telephone interview with The Eagle on Wednesday. "I hung in there with CSN a lot longer than I thought I should have because it was easy. It was the easiest task, and the money was good, and I could put up with the other guys, although we weren't friends — we were not happy with each other. I think I should've gotten out 10 years sooner than I did."
The singer-songwriter and guitarist performed at Tanglewood with the band in 2010, where he'll return on Saturday, June 16 for a show at the Koussevitzky Music Shed.
"It's one of the four prettiest venues in the country," Crosby said of the Lenox institution before listing the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Santa Barbara Bowl and Red Rocks as the others.
This time, Crosby won't be taking the stage with Graham Nash or Stephen Stills, who's scheduled to play at the Shed the following evening with Judy Collins.
"I don't think that we're buddies," Crosby said of him and Stills, laughing. "I haven't spoken to him in about a year."
The group that announced its presence with a self-titled debut album in 1969 and "D j Vu" (with Neil Young) in 1970 unofficially dissolved in 2016, with Nash admonishing Crosby for treating him poorly. But that split was before Donald Trump's election. A mutual disdain for the president might reunite the group that played Woodstock and remained at the fore of the counter-culture movement. Crosby wouldn't rule it out.
"Never say never," he said.
Don't bet on it, though.
"I don't think it's likely. It's up to Neil," Crosby said, alluding to on-again-off-again fourth member Young. (Crosby later mentioned that he didn't want to speak for Nash or Stills, either.)
Crosby, who was calling before his show at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in Virginia, has been touring to back his 2017 album, "Sky Trails." Unlike other stops thus far, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Chris Hillman and Herb Pedersen will join Crosby on Saturday. Anything is fair game for the set list, according to Crosby.
"I obviously really like Chris and Herb. I think they're fantastic, and I like Mary Chapin Carpenter, too," he said of the singer-songwriter who played with Joan Baez and the Indigo Girls at Tanglewood last year. "So, I hope that we do more [together]."
Like Crosby, Hillman was a member of The Byrds. Founded in 1964, the folk rock group was extremely influential in bringing the genre into the cultural mainstream. In 1965, they released an electric cover of Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambourine Man" that reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. Yet, the band didn't have as much staying power as Dylan or other peers. In 1967, Crosby was kicked out of the group. He and Hillman get along today, according to Crosby.
"We're, politically, completely opposites from each other, and we're friends anyway," he said.
Crosby hasn't been one to step away from a political conversation. To the contrary, he has been to known start many of them at his shows. "Capitol," a song off of "Sky Trails," rails against those holding seats in Washington.
"Money to burn, filling up their pockets / where no one can see, and no one can hear," part of the refrain goes.
"It is a really strong indictment of our Congress, which is probably the worst Congress we've ever had," Crosby said.
The musician said he won't be focusing on politics on Saturday.
"I've been much more of a rabble-rouser in the past than I am right now because people now, man, are freakin' tired of it," he said. "They're so disgusted with our Congress and our president, who's an imbecile, that they don't want to hear about it. They really don't."
Instead, Crosby will give them some of his bands' old hits and tunes off of "Sky Trails." The 10-track record features harmonies that critics have called Steely Dan-esque and a jazz fusion sound generated by a full backing band.
Crosby's creative revival hasn't been a solitary realization. His son, James Raymond, has played a vital role on the album, serving as a producer, co-writer and keyboardist. After his birth in 1962, Raymond was subsequently put up for adoption. He reconnected with his father after Crosby's liver transplant.
"It was a miracle, absolutely a wonderful thing," Crosby said. "Those kind of reconnections usually go very badly: One or the other person brings too much baggage. He didn't do that to me. He came and gave me a clean slate and let me earn my way into his life, and it was an incredible gift that he gave me by doing that."
Music provided a path forward.
"As soon as I realized he was a musician — and I suspected that he was really good — I gave him a set of words. We wrote the first song, 'Morrison' [when they were in the band CPR together], about Jim Morrison, right away. As soon as we did that, I realized that he was, like, a better musician than I was, and that he was a stunning, incredible, gifted writer. He's proven that over and over again. I think he and I have written some of the best stuff I'll ever write."
Crosby is particularly smitten with his son's performance on "Curved Air," the penultimate track on "Sky Trails."
"Amazing! Absolutely amazing. He wrote the most stunning music," Crosby said. "The really flamenco-sounding passages are the most startling because that's actually a keyboard, and I have no idea how he did that. That's him, on a keyboard, playing that flamenco guitar."
On this tour, the album's title track has also gotten a lot of traction.
"It's been getting a tremendous response. People love it, which is kind of surprising because it's a very odd song and very unusual stuff. Of course, we do a lot of unusual stuff. We like odd, sophisticated music."
The song includes a harmony with the words, "My only constant sea is you're the one who feels like home to me, so why was I so careless with your heart."
"We were talking about how you get lost on the road. After you're our here for a few weeks, you don't know where you are, but that has a larger significance in feeling lost in life. That's where we wound up writing the song. We started out being lost geographically, and we would up talking about being lost in life," said Crosby, who has been arrested for drugs and weapons offenses multiple times.
Crosby knows the dangers that can arise on the road; he had to cut a 2014 tour for heart surgery.
"It's always been hard, and it gets harder the older you get because you have less stamina to deal with it," Crosby said of pacing himself while on tour. "What I do is two on, one off, two on, one off, give myself the night to rest my throat and stuff, and that generally works."
Crosby certainly isn't ready to slow down. In addition to "Sky Trails," which followed "Lighthouse" (2016) and "Croz" (2014), Crosby is working on another studio album due out in the fall. Around that time, a Cameron Crowe-produced documentary about Crosby's life is set to be released. The film includes lengthy interviews between Crosby and Crowe. The "Almost Famous" director was a Rolling Stone music journalist during his teens.
"He's known me for a very long time, and he get stuff out of me that other people can't," Crosby said.
Against the odds, material keeps coming to Crosby these days. He already has another album on his mind.
"I'm going to try for five in five years," he said.
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at email@example.com, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
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