Peaking at 75: David Crosby stirring things up more than ever
By Matthew Dobie Special to The Post and Courier
At 75 years old, singer-songwriter David Crosby is in the midst of a prolific burst of creativity.
In 2014, he released "Croz," his first solo album in more than 20 years. In 2016, he released another, entitled "Lighthouse." And later this year, he’ll release "Sky Trails," his third solo album in four years. “I’m extremely happy,” says Crosby. “So that has a big thing to do with my output. If I’m feeling really good, all of a sudden my output doubles or triples.”
He’s currently on tour in support of his upcoming album release and on May 13, he’s bringing his 50-plus years of tunes and a stellar backing band to the Charleston Music Hall. “I’m stunned that I’m lucky enough to have the band that I’ve got,” says Crosby. “Every single person in it is a master level player. And so we’re having a total blast every night.”
Crosby came to fame in the mid-'60s as a member of The Byrds, with hits like, “Turn! Turn! Turn! (To Everything There is a Season)” and a cover version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Crosby brought to the group a penchant for constructing lush vocal harmonies, a feature that still marks his music today.
Upon leaving The Byrds in 1967, he formed the super-group Crosby, Stills & Nash with fellow songwriters Graham Nash and Stephen Stills. They became hugely influential in the late-'60s and early-'70s, spearheading the folk rock movement and unabashedly getting involved in political activism.
Up through the 2000s, the band was still touring sporadically, but for Crosby, something had to change.
“You know, in show business you never leave a successful group,” says Crosby. “And CSN was still a successful group, but it wasn’t fun. It devolved into just turning on the smoke machine and playing the hits and that’s not good enough. I needed to be moving forward still. So this has been kind of a daunting change. I’m not making anywhere near as much money, but I’m making much better music and that’s a thrill for me.”
As a songwriter, Crosby has always been known for using alternate tunings on his guitar and utilizing complex harmonies. That being the case, most of his current band members are heralded jazz musicians. “They’re the most sophisticated players,” says Crosby. “I tend to write way out at the edge of the spectrum, so to speak, and I like the kind of chordal relationships that they go for. They’re more subtle and more interesting.”
One of the members in Crosby’s current band is his son, keyboardist James Raymond, who also has regularly served as a songwriting partner with his father. “He’s a fantastic player and I’ve written more good music with my son James than I have with anybody in the world,” says Crosby.
Collaboration in songwriting has been a part of Crosby’s DNA since the beginning. He’s a big proponent of it. “I like writing by myself too, but I love writing with somebody else because they always think of something you didn’t,” says Crosby.
“It’s as if you had a palette that had seven colors on it. And when you work with somebody else, all the sudden you have 14 colors. You make a better painting.”
Other members in the group include guitarist Jeff Pevar, bassist Mai Agan, drummer Steve DiStanislao, and keyboardist/singer Michelle Willis.
Aside from music, Crosby is a big believer in political activism. He’s never been one to keep a muzzle on about his political beliefs. So, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. Opinion? “This is out of control and crazy,” says Crosby. “It’s like letting your 9-year-old drive the truck. It’s just not smart.”
Crosby was a prominent face in the anti-Vietnam War movement back in the '60s and '70s. And though things are very different today, there are certainly lessons to be drawn from what he experienced back then.
“Even though it took 10 years, we did manage to end the Vietnam War by getting out in the street and saying, ‘We don’t want this war,’ over and over and over again,” says Crosby. “Now, the lesson there is that we need to do that again. We can’t take this lying down. We have to get out in the street. The Woman’s March they just did, I was so proud of. We have to support science. The science march they just did, I was so proud of that, too. We have to get out and get active.”
Crosby’s first single off his new album is a scathing attack on Congress, entitled “Capitol.” With lyrics like, “They come for the power, for the power they stay. They’ll do anything to keep it that way,” you may expect an album full of powerful protest anthems. But that simply isn’t the case. “The rest of the album is mostly love songs,” says Crosby. “That’s mostly what I write.”
So even with his passionate beliefs about the state of the government, don’t expect to hear a lot of politics at his concerts. “I don’t think it’s our job to be preachers,” says Crosby. “I think it’s our job to entertain you, take you on emotional voyages, and make you feel stuff.”
While currently on tour, Crosby already is working on material for a new collaborative recording project with Michael League of Snarky Puppy, Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. There seems to be no signs of slowing down for this grizzled folk rocker.