King of the Canyon: RIP David Crosby

He really shouldn’t have survived the late ‘60s, but against all the odds he did, and made it to the grand old age of 81. Another week passes, and another legend passes, this time David Crosby, he of The Byrds, and Crosby, Stills & Nash fame.

Until I started this blog, which has been a real education in discovering the back stories to the artists and songs I grew up listening to, I didn’t know that much about David Crosby but early on in this ‘nostalgic journey through the tracks of my years’ I discovered a great affinity for the music of the late 1960s, and especially the folk-rock that came pouring out of the hotbed of creativity that was Laurel Canyon. David Crosby seemed to be at the centre of everything that went on there and whenever I watched any of the documentaries made about the place (written about here) he was usually one of the main contributors.

Here’s something new I didn’t know before, David’s parents came from two prominent New York families, the Van Cortlandts and the Van Rensselaers, both of whom first came to the Americas in the 17th century and settled in what was then New Amsterdam. His parents (regulars in society magazines) moved to LA in the 1920s after which his father became an Oscar-winning cinematographer. David’s older brother Ethan got into the music business first, quickly followed by David who by this time had flunked out of college. In 1964 he joined The Byrds and although not the best song-writer or instrumentalist, and often not the lead vocalist, he was responsible for their trademark soaring harmonies and particular phrasing. Here is Turn! Turn! Turn! from 1965.


But David being David, it didn’t take long for tensions to rise within the Byrds ranks, mainly because of his onstage political diatribes between songs. He further annoyed his bandmates when, at the invitation of Stephen Stills, he substituted for an absent Neil Young during Buffalo Springfield’s set at Monterey. This internal conflict boiled over during the summer of 1968, and David was given his P45, but thankfully for us, the partying which then ensued in the nooks and crannies of Laurel Canyon, led to the formation of Crosby, Stills & Nash. David is often credited with having been the architect of folk-rock and it didn’t take long for this new supergroup (Neil Young at times becoming a fourth member) to find great success, their self-titled debut album selling over four million copies and spawning two Top 40 hits, one of them being this song, Marrakesh Express.

Marrakesh Express by Crosby, Stills and Nash:


I’ve shared that song around here before and because I love the story behind the famous album cover, here it is again – The band had apparently been driving around with their photographer friend Henry Diltz when they saw an abandoned house with a sofa outside. They took the iconic picture and then went home. After finalising the name of the band, they realised they should change the seating order. Sadly when they returned to the same spot, the house had been reduced to a pile of timber, so the original picture stood. Glad they didn’t decide to change the name of the band to fit the picture, as Nash, Stills & Crosby just doesn’t cut it for me.

Some people from the world of music change their look every few years but from what I can see, David Crosby found a style that suited him in the late ’60s and just stuck with it. The hair may have turned white but right up until the end he still sported his long frizzy hair, distinctive moustache and sideburns. The look of a dandy was not for David and he seems to have been very comfortable in his own skin.


He was definitely an ornery and cantankerous kind of chap who fell out with just about everyone he ever worked with (although not Stephen Stills it seems) but maybe we need those kind of characters in life as they often act as the catalyst that brings about bigger change. Who knows, the whole Laurel Canyon scene might not have happened in quite the same way without him (and his supply of drugs!). He thankfully avoided joining the 27 Club, something some of his contemporaries (Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin) didn’t manage to do and ended up living a relatively long life. RIP David Crosby.

So, ‘What’s It All About?’ – It does seem as if every other post around here is a tribute nowadays, but as the years roll by, it’s kind of becoming inevitable. I’ve followed music keenly since the 1970s, and have really enjoyed delving back to the 1960s on these pages, an era I was not quite as familiar with. I am, however, conscious of the fact I don’t want the blog to become an obituary column so will restrict my tributes to those artists who mean something to me, or ones, like David, that I’ve written about around here before.

To those music bloggers from my circle who have lost people from their own lives recently, I hope I have not been insensitive. You know who you are and my thoughts are with you.

Until next time…

Turn! Turn! Turn! Lyrics
(Song by Pete Seeger)

To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep

To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones
A time to gather stones together

To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace
A time to refrain from embracing

To everything turn, turn, turn
There is a season turn, turn, turn
And a time to every purpose under heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it’s not too late

Author: Alyson

Whenever I hear an old song on the radio, I am immediately transported back to those days. I know I'm not alone here and want to record those memories for myself and for the people in them. 57 years ago the song "Alfie" was written by my favourite songwriting team, Bacharach and David. The opening line to that song was, "What's it all about?" and I'm hoping by writing this blog, I might find the answer to that question.

12 thoughts on “King of the Canyon: RIP David Crosby”

  1. As usual, Alyson, your comments are both timely and on point. I have great ‘Uni’ memories of the first Crosby Stills and Nash LP. Only in later years did I learn of all the discord and lack of ‘harmony’ that existed side by side with the marvellous sounds.
    In his eighties, David Crosby acknowledged that he had hurt a lot of people on his rambunctious road to fame. I think he actually apologized to Neil Young for comments he made about Darryl Hannah. In today’s papers, Neil Young said “ Love you man, I remember the best times”.
    Both Stephen Stills and Graham Nash also had confrontations with the volatile Crosby. Like Young, they have magnanimously praised Crosby’s talents and looked passed his flaws in their statements of condolences.
    I’ve just spent the morning listening to the Byrds and CS&N. What I’ll remember in the future is the magnificent harmonies that featured Crosby’s tenor voice in both bands. I, too, will look past the human failings and enjoy the music for years to come.
    RIP David Crosby.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Of course, the music of CS&N was from your student years, and somehow the music we listened to then really stays with us for the rest of our lives. About a decade on I was listening to the music of Terry Hall as a student, so I too was very upset when he passed away recently.

      I’ve watched many of the docs made about life in Laurel Canyon and David was always a ‘talking head’ or doing a voiceover. He came across as quite likable in those interviews and had a twinkle in his eye but of course we now know he could be very difficult and rude. Glad that Neil Young and Co. are now just remembering the good times, of which there must have been many.

      Enjoy listening to the music of The Byrds and CS&N – we always revisit their back catalogue when someone dies so in some ways a nice way of remembering the person as they were in their prime without all the sadness of what has happened.

      Like

  2. An excellent read Alyson.He was quite a character and a true one off. Also the biological father of Melissa Etheridge’s kids!
    I’m a big Byrd’s and Laurel County fan too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He certainly was a character and the father of many children it seems. His first child was born when he was 21 I think and he didn’t see him until much later in life but they then got along like a house on fire and his son joined him in his band. Yes, the biological father of Melissa’s children too – he was a generous sort it seems!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great tribute to an amazing artist, Alyson. A true one-of-a-kind. When I first got into CSN(Y) in high school, I didn’t appreciate Crosby’s contributions, but as I got older and dove into their (and his) catalog, I realized how special he was. I’m amazed that he survived this long, as I’m sure he was, but I’m glad he was able to share his talents with us for nearly 6 decades. His recent solo albums were among the best things he ever did, and the two studio albums he did with CPR in ’98 & ’01 are particular favorites of mine.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Before starting this place I knew the songs and knew the names (is it just me but by the time they got to Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young they sound like a firm of lawyers or accountants), but not much else. I love the stories of life in Laurel Canyon and of all the people who lived there so feel as if I am quite well-versed now about the life of David Crosby. Quite a character it seems and although he seemed to have the capacity to fall out with everyone, he also seemed to have the capacity to make good friends too. A complex chap.

      I too am glad he ended up living a long life – he had a few near misses but against all the odds made it through.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. With my visits online being somewhat rare of late, it feels like every time I actually do log in I encounter tributes to yet another recently deceased musical legend. We’re definitely going through a rough patch aren’t we? David Crosby was such a contradictory figure, persistently infuriating bandmates and friends alike with his unpredictable behaviour, while simultaneously bewitching the listening world with his prodigious musical gifts. Rest easy Mr C.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It must feel as if you just visit tribute posts nowadays TS, but as I said above, I think I’m going to have to limit them to artists I really was a fan of, as it’s inevitable there will be a steady stream from now on. If we’re all getting older they are getting even older, sadly.

      Whenever he was interviewed for those documentaries DC always came across as quite an affable chap but it seems he was a very difficult character to work with. Glad to hear his old CSN&Y bandmates have come paid tribute though, remembering the good times.

      Thanks for dropping by as you have little downtime I know. Hope in the new year you get some more time for R&R.

      Like

  5. Lovely tribute to a man whose music and talent was so good (even if his moustache not so much so – I’ve often wondered about the kissing complications of such an accoutrement!) Tucked away on my shelves I have a copy of ‘If I Could Only Remember My Name’, I need to dig it out again – ‘Tamalpais High (At About 3) is a favourite song.
    So true what you say above about how he came across as quite affable in documentaries but was clearly a difficult person to work with. Must have been so frustrating for those around him, but his talents were unquestionable and his music will live on.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ah the moustache. I look at the baby-faced David from his Byrds days and can hardly believe he became the man on the cover of the CS&N album cover only a few years later. That moustache definitely changed him and he stuck with it.

      I can’t say I know many of his songs other than the mainstream hits but whenever someone dies I look back at their life for the tribute and end up finding out so much of interest about them. He was always keen to be involved in the Laurel Canyon docs and contributed heavily to both of those mentioned above but it does sound as if he was a nightmare to work with.

      Like

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