The singular odyssey of David Crosby remains one of the more remarkable tales in the annals of music history. As a founding member of the pioneering American groups the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, he helped create and popularize the highly influential folk-rock sound, forging the richly harmonic, radiantly acoustic approach that defined the West Coast music scene for years to follow; he also sold millions of records and enjoyed a cultural impact equaled by few of his contemporaries. Yet despite his often overwhelming success, Crosby is recognized far less for his artistic achievements than for his larger-than-life off-stage exploits, specifically a long and fantastically excessive battle with drug abuse that seemingly kept him teetering on the brink of death for over a decade; that he not only survived but remained as colorful and newsworthy a character as before is a testament to his continued creativity and unpredictability.
Crosby was born in Los Angeles on August 14, 1941; the son of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, 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. Under the auspices of producer Jim Dickson, Crosby cut his first solo session in late 1963; early the following year he formed the Jet Set with Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark, and with the additions of bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke, the group was rechristened the Byrds. Although McGuinn chiefly pioneered the Byrds' trademark 12-string guitar sound, Crosby was the architect of their shimmering harmonies; his interest in jazz and Indian music also influenced their subsequent excursions into psychedelia. However, creative differences plagued the group throughout its career, and in 1967 Crosby -- reportedly rankled by his bandmates' refusal to release his ménage à trois opus "Triad" -- left the Byrds in the wake of their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival.
After producing Joni Mitchell's 1968 debut LP, Crosby cut a handful of solo recordings and began jamming with ex-Buffalo Springfield singer/guitarist Stephen Stills. In time, the duo was joined by ex-Hollies member Graham Nash; with its exquisitely beautiful three-part harmonies, strong individual songwriting contributions, and graceful folk-rock sound, Crosby, Stills & Nash's 1969 debut LP proved a pop landmark, launching all three members to greater fame than they'd experienced in any of their previous projects. The addition of Stills' former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Neil Young expanded the group to a four-piece, and in August of 1969 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) made just their second live appearance to date at the Woodstock Festival; 1970's Déjà Vu arrived in stores with advance orders numbering over two million, and through the thought-provoking social and political messages of songs like "Woodstock" and "Ohio," they emerged as generational torch bearers of enormous musical and cultural influence.
Following a sold-out CSNY tour, the group went on hiatus, and Crosby resumed work on his long-delayed solo debut, releasing If I Could Only Remember My Name in 1971; the following year, he and Nash issued the first of several duo efforts, and he also took part in a short-lived Byrds reunion. Despite continued creative differences, CSNY re-formed for a 1974 tour; Crosby and Nash issued Wind on the Water a year later, and in 1977 Stills returned to the fold for the multi-platinum CSN. However, as Crosby's longstanding drug problem continued to worsen, he eventually fell out with both Stills and Nash, and a planned second solo album, Might as Well Have a Good Time, was rejected by Capitol in 1980. A series of arrests for cocaine possession and illegal weapons charges hampered him throughout the years to follow, even as he reunited with Stills and Nash in 1982 for the Top Ten hit Daylight Again. After completing the follow-up, 1983's Allies, the trio did not record together for another seven years.
In late 1985 Crosby was sentenced to prison after fleeing the drug rehabilitation clinic he'd entered in lieu of serving out a previous jail term; upon his release the following August, he'd finally conquered his demons, later chronicling the ugly details of his addiction in the fine autobiography Long Time Gone. In 1988 -- a full 18 years after the release of Déjà Vu -- Crosby reunited with Stills, Nash, and also Young for American Dream; his second solo effort, Oh Yes I Can, finally appeared the following year as well. After the 1990 release of CSN's Live It Up, Crosby continued to suffer personal misfortunes -- first he was severely injured in a motorcycle accident, and then in 1994 he lost his L.A. home as a result of massive earthquake damage. Months later, he returned to the headlines when it was announced he was diagnosed with hepatitis C and dying of liver failure, undergoing a successful organ transplant in 1995.
During the recovery period that followed, Crosby met James Raymond, the son he'd given up for adoption over three decades earlier and a professional musician as well; the two soon began writing songs together, and with guitarist Jeff Pevar they formed CPR, releasing a series of albums and touring regularly. In early 1997, Crosby, Stills & Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame; six years earlier, Crosby had first entered the Hall of Fame as a member of the Byrds. Young returned to the fold for 1999's Looking Forward, with the resulting millennial tour -- dubbed "CSNY2K" -- heralding the foursome's first joint road venture in a quarter century. Crosby was again the subject of tabloid headlines when in early 2000 it was revealed that he fathered the children of singer Melissa Etheridge and her partner Julie Cypher; that same year, he also published a second book, Stand and Be Counted, which assembled interviews with actors and musicians to explore the intersection of celebrity and social activism.
From 2001 onward, a Crosby, Stills & Nash tour became a regular and annual event, with Crosby finding safe haven and camaraderie on-stage alongside his musical compatriots of over four decades. In both 2002 and 2006, Neil Young completed the CSNY lineup for their live dates, and although the politically motivated 2006 Freedom of Speech tour was very much driven by Young's muse, Crosby's "Déjà Vu" was a cornerstone of the set and served as the title for the both the 2008 live album and film that documented the tour. Also in 2006, Crosby, along with Nash, accompanied Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour on sessions for his solo album, On an Island, and the pair went on to help him promote the record on tour.
The expansive, lavishly packaged three-disc retrospective Voyage was issued in 2007. Produced by Nash and archivist Joel Bernstein, the collection married two discs of classic material with a disc of unreleased recordings and set the template for both Nash's 2009 Reflections and Stills' 2013 Carry On. In summer 2013, Crosby began to talk about the sessions for his fourth solo album, his first in over 20 years. Produced in conjunction with his son Raymond and featuring contributions from Wynton Marsalis and Mark Knopfler, Croz appeared in late January 2014.
The singer/songwriter next collaborated with Snarky Puppy's Michael League. The pair wrote some songs together, and then debated how long it would take to record an album. League wanted two weeks; Crosby wanted a month. Working at Jackson Browne's Groove Master studios, it was completed in 12 days. The first single, "Things We Do for Love," was released in July of 2016; the full-length Lighthouse followed in October. Continuing this prolific late-career run, Crosby released another full-length record the following year. Released in September 2017, Sky Trails was again produced by Raymond, and included a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Amelia," from her 1976 album Hejira. He announced a coinciding fall tour of the U.S. to support the album. Crosby quickly followed Sky Trails in October 2018 with Here If You Listen, which once again featured the Michael League-anchored band that supported the singer/songwriter on Lighthouse. ~ Jason Ankeny