Category Archives: David Crosby

David Crosby: Following His Heart

Here’s a classic from the vaults: my first interview of David Crosby, from August 18, 1997, for the original Old Grey Cat website on GeoCities. (To read the second, click here.) At the time, he was in the midst of recording the first of two studio albums with CPR, the group he’d formed with guitarist Jeff Pevar and son Jeff Raymond….

How did CPR come together?

I’ve been working for the last two or three years with a guitar player named Jeff Pevar, who is a complete stunner. He’s worked with Rickie Lee Jones, Ray Charles … I heard him playing with Marc Cohn. He’s my current thriller guitar player. We got along great. He started working with me when I did solo shows or shows with Graham Nash. Then, about two years ago when I was in the hospital – I don’t want to be dramatic, but I was dying. I knew for many years that I had a son out there somewhere. His mother had had him, and put him up for adoption. You can’t track an adoptive kid from the parent down, only from the kid up. So, when he got married, he wanted to know who his birth mother was. He went down and made the inquiry. I guess they just gave him the book; he’s looking at her page, and, on the other side, is me. When he saw that, he’d been a musician for 20 years.

That really says something about genetics.

Yeah. He started when he was a child playing the piano. The people who raised him, who are lovely people, had realized he had great talent. They encouraged it, gave him piano lessons, got him to study music. He was everything I wasn’t. He’s a schooled musician. He can write music, he can read it, and … he’s just an incredibly talented young guy. When we met, we hit it off extremely well. We found that our music was very, very similar. So we started playing and started writing. Then, when he and I and Jeff got together, there was an undeniable chemistry between me and Jeff and an undeniable chemistry between me and him. And there was chemistry between the three of us. So we decided Crosby, Pevar and Raymond should become CPR.

That’s a great story.

Well, it’s kind of a wild one. To find him at all is against the odds, and to have him be not just a musician, but a fantastic one?! There’s this incredible link. I sort of know what the next chord he’s going to play is and he sort of knows where I’m going. He’s said he’s never found anybody’s music that was easier for him to learn. There’s a real communication there. He’s also an incredibly nice young guy. So we said, well, the music’s too good to ignore. We’re going to go ahead and do it. We tried it out; we did about a dozen dates up the West Coast, San Diego to Seattle or something. It was some of the best fun I’ve ever had playing live. And we kept writing these songs, one after the other…

So the songs you’re recording now are all originals.

Yes. It’s stuff that I wrote, stuff that James wrote, stuff that James and I wrote, stuff that James, Jeff and I wrote, stuff that Jeff and I wrote. It’s just a very, very hot chemistry. We’ve written probably five of the best songs that I’ve written in the last ten years in the past two months.

Would one of the songs be “Morrison”?

“Morrison” was the very first one. It started out with an image about being lost. The metaphor was a gull that gets blown inland on a stormy day. I thought that was a great metaphor for being lost in life. So I started trying to write that. Somewhere in there, it wound up with these images of being lost in a Paris graveyard. It was Jim Morrison, obviously, who did a very good “lost” himself. That’s the way the song wrote itself out of me. I can’t predict how that stuff’s going to happen.

When you do sit down to write a song, does it just flow out of you? Do you have a melody or an idea?

It comes every which way, man. Very often it comes words first, sometimes it comes music first, sometimes both at the same time. I really can’t predict it. In this case, I had no idea I was going to write a song about Jim Morrison. I was writing a song about a gull blown inland on a stormy day. It just came out that way; I didn’t even like Jim Morrison. I knew him, but I never was friends with him. But, I understand him pretty well because I was lost in the very same place. And so he was a good metaphor.

What are some of the other songs you’re recording?

There’s a fantastic one that James had written called “One For Every Moment.” It’s an incredible love song that happens to have this very up, Latin flavor. There’s one called “That House” that I wrote the words for; Jeff, James and I wrote the music. It might be one of my best set of words ever. It might be one of my best vocals ever, too, I think.

There’s another one that I’ve been doing, that I even recorded once before live, “Rusty & Blue.” That came out fantastic! It’s a stunner. I’m as excited as I can be. I feel so good doing it. The level of communication is so high, and the music is coming out so well that I get to the studio an hour early just so I can hear it.

Do you have a title for the CD yet?

No. We’re looking for one.

Do you have a label?

No, we cut it ourselves. I took the money that I made this summer w/CSN and just plowed it right back into this.

Are you thinking of going the independent route?

I’ve talked to Ani DiFranco [who has her own independent record label]. There is a temptation to do that. We will play it for some of the more independent labels. The big guys just have too much super-structure on them.

Half the time they don’t seem to know how to market people correctly.

That was certainly the case with Atlantic and Crosby, Stills & Nash. They had no idea of how to market us, anymore. They didn’t know what demographic we were playing to.

I’ll tell you how it’ll work: If a record company listens to this band and really understands what it is, ’cause it’s sort of out on the edge where Steely Dan, Bruce Hornsby, Joni Mitchell, James Taylor are, people who make pretty sophisticated music – it’s out toward that direction. If we find somebody who hears it and digs it, and really wants it…and evidences a desire to work it, then maybe we’ll make a deal with them. But we wanted to go in and cut the record on our own money so there was nobody telling us what to do.

That’s good.

It’s good because you get to follow your heart. You get to say, “What I really feel is this.” I’m not trying to make a clone of the Spice Girls. This is the real thing that I’m trying to express. This is what I want to do—and we did exactly that. We didn’t do anything except exactly what we really felt.

You mentioned the Spice Girls. Do you stay in touch with the current music scene?

To a degree. Obviously, I’m happy as I can possibly be that Shawn Colvin somehow busted through and got a hit. She’s one of my favorite singer/songwriters. She opened for Crosby, Stills & Nash and we all fell in love with her. Nash and I have gone and sung with her, I’ve sung on her records. She’s a close friend.

She has a mesmerizing voice.

We were just so happy to see a real singer-songwriter break through. That’s exactly what should happen and almost never does. Usually, the radio formats just exclude that kind of stuff.

That’s what frustrates me and I’m sure you. As a fan who likes more than the 20-year-ago hits – for example, on Live It Up, your song “Yours & Mine” is as wonderful a song as any you’ve recorded. Yet, when they play you on the radio, it’s always something 20- or 30-years old.

Yeah, that drives us nuts, too. The classic radio stations love Crosby, Stills & Nash but won’t play anything after Deja Vu or, maybe, the CSN album, the one with the boat on the cover. It makes us nuts. CSN is going to go in, in January and February, and make another album. It’s going to be one of the best albums we’ve ever made – and I know it because I know the songs.

That’s another thing. We left Atlantic. CSN is going to find a new deal with somebody who actually gives a damn about us.

I understand you’re working on a book.

Yeah, I got a book that my friend David Bender and I are writing called Stand & Be Counted. It’s about activism …. musicians and activism. We’re going to start with Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and work our way up through the Civil Rights movement and into the Vietnam War era and into Live Aid, Farm Aid, the Amnesty Tour, on up to now, and try to show how this phenomenon grew up out of the cracks and just manifested itself out of people feeling they had to take a stand on things, that they found they could use music to gather people together for a cause. It’s a wonderful thing. It’s a place where human beings can put somebody else’s good ahead of their own. It gets very shining when they do that, man. It’s a very good thing. And there’s nothing about it. We looked, we researched; there isn’t anything about it anywhere. So, we thought, we should write a book celebrating it and chronicling it, and hopefully try to help perpetuate it.

Will you be interviewing other musicians?

That’s exactly what I’m doing. We have all the best musicians … all the obvious ones, like Bonnie, Jackson, Nash, and Elton, Phil Collins, and Paul McCartney. We have a ton of people. Joni’s going to do it. Shawn said she’ll do it. I’ve already done Neil, Don Henley, Willie Nelson, John Mellencamp, Jewel, Hootie & the Blowfish, Carly Simon, Pete Seeger. I did Pete… that guy is a national treasure. He’s a wonderful guy, wonderful dedication to life, wonderful set of values.

Did you find it odd to be on the other side of an interview, to be the one asking the questions?

At first. But, actually, it came very easily because I have an advantage. I’m not some talking head asking, “Well, how did you boys meet?” I’m usually talking to somebody who I’m at least acquainted with, if not am friends with. And I’m talking to them usually, or very often, about concerts we did together. I try not to get in the way very much. I just try to elicit the response from them and try to get them to really talk about why they do it, what makes them feel the necessity to stand and be counted.

How does that work? Writing about issues?

I think we react just as you do. When you saw the picture of the girl kneeling over the kid dead on the ground after Kent State, you were horrified, right? You said, how can they shoot somebody’s child for doing what the Constitution says they have the right to do? How can they do that? How can this happen? Well, we feel the same way. The only thing is, we have this incredible, lucky thing that we can do: We can externalize it – and also we can have a cathartic release about it. We can crystallize it and put it out there. I think we have every right to speak our minds. I don’t think we should preach. The point is not to point fingers and say, “This is how it should be. This is what you should do, this is right and that’s wrong.”

Sometimes pointing fingers is the right thing to do.

We did it when we did “Ohio,” that’s for damn sure. But that was pretty clear cut. It’s better if you can lead by example, and it’s better if you can talk in metaphors so that people get the essence of the thing without you saying, “Jesse Helms is an asshole.” That makes a dull song.

Depends who you’re singing it to.

Yeah, maybe Nine Inch Nails could do a really good song about that. . .

Twenty-eight years ago today, three a.m. this morning in fact, CSN hit the stage at Woodstock. What’s your memory of that?

The truth is, man, my memory of it is very good. I loved it. I thought the second one was a media zoo, but the first one was a very heartfelt, wonderful, accidentally great thing where a lot of incredible music got played. There was a genuine feeling of brotherhood between the people who were there. Nobody killed anybody, nobody raped anybody, nobody shot anybody. I think that’s probably the only group of people that size who didn’t do that in the history of mankind. Anytime you get that many people together, even at a religious gathering, somebody beats somebody up. There was something special going on. It was a wonderful, wonderful time.

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David Crosby, circa 1999

Da Boot collage

On February 13, 1999, I interviewed David Crosby for the second time.

The first, in August 1997, had occurred over the phone and was for my old website, also called The Old Grey Cat, and focused almost exclusively on the formation of his band CPR, which he’d recently formed with guitarist extraordinaire Jeff Pevar and his son James Raymond.

This time, though, the talk took place face to face, in Atlantic City, where Crosby was headlining at one of the casinos with partners Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. What I remember most: He prowled the room like a caged lion, pacing, pacing, pacing.

We talked for, maybe, 30 minutes, covering everything from his group CPR to CSNY, which was in the process of recording the Looking Forward album, and the hot topic du jour, President Clinton’s impeachment. The interview became the cover story for Da Boot, a fanzine I was involved with at the time; and it was eventually featured on my website, of course.

Me: With CPR, you’ve developed a more jazz-oriented sound.

DC: That was sort of there inherently from the beginning because both Peev and James are that level of players. They play very complex chords quite naturally. They aren’t really interested in playing ordinary stuff. Since I quite naturally go there vocally and we quite naturally build harmonies like that… there’s a certain element of more modern kinds of music in there. There’s some Crosby, Stills & Nash in there, too, just because there’s me in there.

Me: So CPR’s an ongoing unit?

DC: Absolutely. Actually, as much fun as I have with CSN and CSNY, I probably have even more fun with CPR. It’s a very, very special chemistry. Music isn’t about building blocks. It’s not like you get a pound of drummer and a pound of bass player and a pound of guitar player and mix and stir. It’s about chemistry. Real ones happen rarely. Out of 2000 bands that try in 2000 garages, one of them will have a real chemistry. And this one has it. If I could find a third band to do it I’d be in three bands. There’s no such thing as too much good music. That doesn’t exist.

Me: Speaking of great music, you’ve been in the studio with CSNY. How did that come together?

DC: I’m not sure why Neil’s doing what he’s doing. You’d have to ask Neil. But I’ll tell you how it works from my perspective. He walked in, had a Gretsch guitar. We played him a song. He liked it. He said, “Let me play on that.” We said fine. “Can I sing on it, too?” We said, of course. The guy plays and sings great. So we played him the next song. He said, “I like that. Can I play on that?” Eight songs later, I said, “what’s going on here?” He said, “It’s as plain as the nose on your face, Croz.”

Me: Were they songs CSN had already recorded that he came in and overdubbed or did the four of you record together as an ensemble in the studio?

DC: Both.

Me: I know you guys re-recorded “Turn, Turn, Turn” and some of your older songs…

DC: They’re not getting in. No, it’s going to be all new stuff. We have more new stuff than we can fit onto one album, already. The way it stands right now, we’ll do a 40-city tour starting in July.

Me: Speaking of Neil, on your last CPR tour, you guys did “Ohio.” What led you to do “Ohio” as opposed to any number of other Neil songs or any of your songs?

DC: That’s very close to my heart. I was there when he wrote it and the incident that inspired it is very large in my head. Here you have American students who were killed for doing something that they have a Constitutional right to do, which is the right of assembly, the right of free speech. They were killed for it. Murdered. None of the Guardsmen who were photographed shooting them ever did any time; they weren’t even taken to court. That justice does not sit well with me. I don’t want people to forget about it. [Nixon and his people] thought they were above the law. That’s why they did Watergate. They assumed they could get away with it. They assumed they could get away with shooting students and they assumed they could get away with bombing countries. That’s the nature of power. It corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Me: What’s your take on the Clinton impeachment?

DC: It’s the silliest bunch of shit I ever saw. In the first place, lying. Of course he lied – he’s a politician. “Politician” means “liar.” If you look up lying in the dictionary, there’s a picture of a politician underneath it. All politicians lie all the time. It’s their stock in trade. So for them to get all head-up and snooty and say “he lied” – they all lie, every day. That’s what they do.

Now the rest of it…for a guy who’s a Rhodes Scholar to be so fucking stupid that he can’t keep it zipped, it’s a fucking joke. Whoever’s handling him, whoever’s trying to keep him going…I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Washington, man, but they have girls there that look good enough to take home to mom who can suck a golf ball through a garden hose – and keep their lips zipped. There’s no reason he had to be messing around with [Monica Lewinsky]. It should have been, “Bill, third door on your left, you got 32 minutes.” If the guy’s desperate for it then take care of him.

Don’t fuck up our economy and our country, which happens to be working great. And the people made it as clear as a fucking bell. Everybody in the whole country said, “Excuse me, we don’t care! We don’t give a fuck who blew him. We like it that the jobless rate is down and…” They wrote it in fiery letters on the wall: Quit fucking up. We want the country to work. And it is. Admittedly that’s more Alan Greenspan than it is the President, but the President’s team is the ones who’ve got it working good. The Republicans are the people who gave you the Savings & Loan scandal. “Hey, let’s let a few people skim off the top 20 percent of the money in the country and then have us pay for it.”

Me: Talk about your low-interest loans…

DC: It’s a fucking joke, man. I’m met Clinton several times and I like him. He’s not a bad guy. He’s a charming guy and he’s very bright. He just doesn’t know how to keep his pants zipped.

Me: Will the CSNY album be out before the tour?

DC: Yeah. We’ll be in the studio everyday we’re not on the road for another month or so finishing it. We’re already starting to mix some tunes. It’s, uh, it’s going to be an amazing record. Neil came with all acoustic stuff. So there’ll be a definite quotient of acoustic music on it. I’ve got one basically acoustic and percussion kind of song, a very fast Latin thing called “Dream for Him.”

Me: You had that on the last CPR live album, Live at the Wiltern.

DC: We did it and it’s really good. Then they’ll be a couple where we all sat down and just got the track together. Nash has a couple of the strongest songs I remember him ever having. He has one called “Heartland” that just slays me. I can’t get it out of my head. And, of course, “Half Your Angels” which we’ve been doing for a long time.

Me: You seem to be undergoing almost a creative renaissance.

DC: Yeah. I think it has to do with my near brush with death and then the birth of my child and finding James. I used to write three things in a year that I really liked. This year I’ve written 13. I’ve got five pieces of lyrics in my bags that I haven’t even gotten the music to yet. And more come all the time.

Me: It’s almost as if you’re at that place where the muses are coming through you.

DC: I’m scared to say it but, yeah. I don’t know, but maybe the thing’s out there to be tapped all the time, but your own bullshit gets in the way. Before I was either too stoned or then I was too sick or then I was too scared…but lately all I am is pretty happy almost all the time. I wake up in the morning and here’s this little boy who’s 3 who loves me. And, uh, that’s pretty good shit, man, I haven’t found anything better. My wife and I have been together for 21 years now and we still love each other. I’m in two of the best bands in the world. I mean, how bad could it be?