David Van Cortlandt Crosby (born August 14, 1941) is an American guitarist, singer, and songwriter. In addition to his solo career, he was a founding member of three bands: The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN, who are sometimes joined by Neil Young as Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young [CSNY]); and CPR.
Crosby has been depicted as emblematic of the counterculture.
Crosby has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice: once for his work in The Byrds and once for his work with CSN.
David Crosby was born in Los Angeles, California. His parents were Aliph Van Cortlandt Whitehead (a descendent of the prominent Van Cortlandt family) and Floyd Crosby, an Academy Award–winning cinematographer and descendent of the Van Rensselaer family. He is also the younger brother of musician Ethan Crosby. Growing up in California, he attended several schools, including the University Elementary School in Los Angeles, the Crane Country Day School in Montecito, and Laguna Blanca School in Santa Barbara for the rest of his elementary school and junior high. At Crane, he starred in HMS Pinafore and other musicals but was asked not to return due to lack of academic progress. He graduated from the Cate School in Carpinteria, completing his studies by correspondence. In 1960, his parents divorced, and his father remarried Betty Andrews Crosby.
Crosby also attended Santa Barbara City College. Originally, he was a drama student, but dropped out to pursue a career in music. He moved toward the same Greenwich Village scene (as a member of the Les Baxter’s Balladeers) in which Bob Dylan participated, and even shared a mentor of Bob Dylan’s in local scene favorite Fred Neil. With the help of producer Jim Dickson, Crosby recorded his first solo session in 1963.
Crosby joined Jim McGuinn (who later changed his name to Roger) and Gene Clark, who were then named the Jet Set. They were augmented by drummer Michael Clarke, at which point Crosby attempted, unsuccessfully, to play bass. Late in 1964, Chris Hillman joined as bassist, and Crosby relieved Gene Clark of rhythm guitar duties. Through connections that Jim Dickson (The Byrds’ manager) had with Bob Dylan’s publisher, the band obtained a demo acetate disc of Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and recorded a cover version of the song, featuring McGuinn's 12-string guitar as well as McGuinn, Crosby, and Clark’s vocal harmonizing. The song turned into a massive hit, soaring to number 1 in the charts in the U.S. and the U.K. during 1965. While Roger McGuinn originated The Byrds’ trademark 12-string guitar sound, Crosby was responsible for the soaring harmonies and often unusual phrasing on their songs.
In 1966 Gene Clark, who then was the band’s primary songwriter, left the group due to stress. This placed all the group’s songwriting responsibilities in the hands of McGuinn, Crosby, and Hillman. Crosby took the opportunity to hone his craft and soon became a prolific songwriter. His early Byrds efforts included the 1966 hit “Eight Miles High” (to which he contributed one line, while Clark and McGuinn wrote the rest), and its flip side “Why,” co-written with McGuinn.
Crosby is widely credited with popularizing the song “Hey Joe.” Since he felt responsible for having popularized the song, Crosby persuaded the other members of The Byrds to cover it on Fifth Dimension. By Younger Than Yesterday, The Byrds’ album of 1967, Crosby clearly began to find his trademark style.
Friction between Crosby and the other Byrds came to a head in mid-1967. Tensions were high after the famous Monterey Pop Festival in June, when Crosby’s onstage political diatribes between songs elicited rancor from McGuinn and Hillman. The next night he further annoyed his bandmates when, at the invitation of Stephen Stills, he substituted for an absent Neil Young during Buffalo Springfield’s set. The internal conflict boiled over during recording of The Notorious Byrd Brothers album in August and September. Differences over song selections led to arguments, with Crosby being particularly adamant that the band should record only original material. McGuinn and Hillman dismissed Crosby in mid-September after he refused to participate in the recording session of the Goffin and King song “Goin' Back.” Crosby’s controversial menage-a-trois ode “Triad,” recorded by the band before his dismissal, was left off the album. Jefferson Airplane recorded “Triad” and released it on their album Crown of Creation in 1968. David Crosby sang a solo acoustic version on Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s 1971 double live album Four Way Street. The Byrds’ version appeared decades later on the 1988 Never Before release and is now available on the CD re-release of The Notorious Byrd Brothers.
In 1973 Crosby reunited with the original Byrds for the album Byrds, with Crosby acting as the record’s producer. The album charted well (at number 20, their best album showing since their second album) but was generally not perceived to be a critical success. It marked the final artistic collaboration of the original band.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Around the time of Crosby’s departure from the Byrds, he met a recently unemployed Stephen Stills at a party at the home of Cass Elliot (of The Mamas and the Papas) in California in March 1968, and the two started meeting informally together and jamming. They were soon joined by Graham Nash, who left his commercially successful group The Hollies to play with Crosby and Stills. Their appearance at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair in August 1969 constituted their second live performance ever.
Their first album, Crosby, Stills & Nash of 1969, was an immediate hit, spawning two Top 40 hit singles and receiving key airplay on the new FM radio format, in its early days populated by unfettered disc jockeys who then had the option of playing entire albums at once.
The songs he wrote while with CSN include “Guinnevere,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Long Time Gone,” and “Delta.” He also co-wrote “Wooden Ships” with Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane and Stephen Stills.
In 1969 Neil Young joined the group, and with him they recorded the album Déjà Vu, which went to number 1 on the charts. That same year, Crosby’s longtime girlfriend Christine Hinton was killed in a car accident only days after Hinton, Crosby, and fellow girlfriend Debbie Donovan moved from Los Angeles to the Bay Area. Crosby was devastated, and he began abusing drugs much more severely than he had before. Nevertheless, he still managed to contribute “Almost Cut My Hair” and the title track “Déjà Vu.” After the release of the double live album Four Way Street, the group went on a temporary hiatus to focus on their respective solo careers.
In December 1969, David appeared with CSNY at the Altamont Free Concert, increasing his visibility after also having performed at Monterey Pop and Woodstock. At the beginning of the new decade, he briefly joined with Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart from Grateful Dead, billed as “David and the Dorks,” and making a live recording at the Matrix on December 15, 1970.
CSNY reunited in 1973 at the Winterland in San Francisco. This served as a prelude to their highly successful stadium tour in the summer of 1974. Before the tour, the foursome attempted to record a new album entitled Human Highway. The recording session, which took place at Neil Young’s ranch, was very unpleasant, marked by constant bickering. The bickering eventually became too much, and the album was canceled.
In rehearsals for the 1974 tour, CSNY recorded a then-unreleased Crosby song, “Little Blind Fish.” A different version of the song would appear on the second CPR album more than two decades later.
The 1974 tour was also full of constant bickering, though they managed to finish it without interruption. A greatest hits compilation entitled So Far was released during 1974 to capitalize on the foursome’s reunion tour.
In 1976, as separate duos, Crosby & Nash and Stills & Young were both working on respective albums and contemplated retooling their work to produce a CSNY album. This attempt ended bitterly as Stills and Young deleted Crosby and Nash’s vocals from their album Long May You Run.
CSNY did not perform together again as a foursome until Live Aid in Philadelphia in 1985, and then performed only sporadically in the 1980s and ’90s (mainly at the annual Bridge School Benefit organized by Young’s wife Pegi). Without Young, however, Crosby, Stills & Nash has performed much more consistently since its reformation in 1977. The trio toured in support of their 1977 and 1982 albums CSN and Daylight Again and then, starting in the late-’80s, has toured regularly year after year. While the group has continued to perform live to the present day, since 1982 it has released only four albums of new material: American Dream (1988, with Young), Live It Up (1990), After The Storm (1994), and Looking Forward (1999, with Young). In addition, Crosby & Nash released the self-titled album Crosby & Nash in 2004.
Full-scale CSNY tours took place in 2000, 2002, and 2006.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash appeared together on a 2008 episode of The Colbert Report, and “Neil Young” joined them during the musical performance at the end of the episode. However, eventually, it became clear that it was only Stephen Colbert impersonating Young as the group sang “Teach Your Children.”
In 1971 Crosby released his first solo album If I Could Only Remember My Name, featuring contributions by Nash, Young, Joni Mitchell, and members of Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, and Santana. Panned on release by Rolling Stone, it has been reappraised amid the emergence of the freak folk and New Weird America movements and remains in print.
As a duo Crosby and Graham Nash have released four studio albums and two live albums including Another Stoney Evening, which features the duo in a 1971 acoustic performance with no supporting band. Some Crosby songs recorded by the various permutations of CSN in the 1970s include “Where Will I Be?,” “Carry Me,” “Bittersweet,” “Low Down Payment,” “Homeward Through the Haze,” “Time After Time,” “Foolish Man,” and “In My Dreams.” During the mid-1970s, Crosby and Nash enjoyed lucrative careers as session musicians, with both performers (as a duo and respectively) contributing harmonies and background vocals to albums by Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne (whom Crosby had initially championed as an emerging performer), Dave Mason, Rick Roberts, James Taylor (most notably “Lighthouse” and “Mexico”), Art Garfunkel, J.D. Souther, Carole King, Elton John, and Gary Wright.
Renewing his ties to the San Francisco milieu that had abetted so well on his solo album, Crosby sang back up vocals on several Paul Kantner and Grace Slick albums from 1971 through 1974 and the Hot Tuna album Burgers in 1972. He also participated in composer Ned Lagin’s proto-ambient project Seastones along with members of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Starship.
Crosby worked with Phil Collins occasionally from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. He sang backup to Collins in “That’s Just the Way It Is” and “Another Day in Paradise,” and, on his own 1993 song, “Hero,” from his album Thousand Roads, he had Collins singing backup. In 1999, he appeared on Return of the Grievous Angel: A Tribute to Gram Parsons, singing a duet of the title track with Lucinda Williams.
In 2006 Crosby worked with David Gilmour on his third solo album On an Island along with Nash. The album was released in March 2006 and reached number 1 on the UK charts. Both Crosby and Nash also performed live with Gilmour in his concert at the Royal Albert Hall in London in May 2006 and toured together in the United States, which can be seen on Gilmour’s 2007 DVD Remember That Night.
In 1996, Crosby formed CPR or Crosby, Pevar & Raymond with session guitarist Jeff Pevar, and pianist James Raymond, Crosby’s son. The group released two studio albums and two live albums before disbanding in 2004.
The first song that Crosby and Raymond co-wrote, “Morrison,” was performed live for the first time in January 1997. The song recalled Crosby’s feelings about the portrayal of Jim Morrison in the movie The Doors. The success of the 1997 tour spawned a record project, Live at Cuesta College, released in March 1998.
After the disbandment in 2004, Raymond continues to perform with Crosby as part of the touring bands for Crosby & Nash and Crosby, Stills & Nash. Jeff Pevar sometimes tours with the re-formed Jefferson Starship.
Drug charges and prison time
In 1982, after appearing in criminal courts facing several drugs and weapons charges, Crosby spent nine months in Texas prisons. The drug charges stemmed from charges related to possession of heroin and cocaine.
In 1985 David Crosby, on probation for drunken driving, was arrested for a hit-and-run driving accident and possession of a concealed pistol and drug paraphernalia. Crosby was arrested after driving into a fence in a Marin County suburb and officers found a .45-caliber pistol and cocaine in his car.
One of his stories is that while being interviewed, after being arrested, the reporter asked him, “Why did you have a gun?” Crosby responded, “John Lennon, man,” and replied the same to each subsequent question.
On March 7, 2004, he was charged with criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree, illegal possession of a hunting knife, illegal possession of ammunition and illegal possession of about 1 ounce of marijuana. Crosby left said items behind in his hotel room. “Authorities said a hotel employee searched the suitcase for identification and found about an ounce of marijuana, rolling papers, two knives and a .45-caliber pistol. Mr. Crosby was arrested when he returned to the hotel to pick up his bag.” After spending 12 hours in jail, he was released on $3,500 bail. On July 4, 2004, he pleaded guilty to attempted criminal possession of a weapon, was fined $5,000 and given no jail time. “Prosecutors did not seek a more severe penalty on the weapons charge because the pistol was registered in California and was stowed safely in his luggage when it was found. A charge of unlawful possession of marijuana was dismissed. “Mr. Crosby was discharged by the court on condition that he pay his fine and not get arrested again.”
During the early 1990s, Crosby appeared as a guest star in several episodes of The John Larroquette Show, where he played the part of John Hemingway’s AA sponsor. He appeared on an episode of Roseanne as the singer–husband of one of Roseanne’s co-workers, played by Bonnie Bramlett. He sang the Danny Sheridan composition “Roll On Down” on that episode. He was on an episode of Ellen called “Ellen Unplugged,” where he was helping out at the Rock and Roll Fantasy Camp. He also appeared as a pirate in the 1991 film Hook, as a ’70s hippie in the 1991 film Backdraft, and as a bartender in the 1992 feature film Thunderheart.
Crosby has also voiced himself on two episodes of The Simpsons, “Marge in Chains” and “Homer’s Barbershop Quartet.”
Crosby was the recipient of a highly publicized liver transplant in 1994, which was paid for by Phil Collins. News of his transplant created some controversy because of his celebrity status and his past problems with drug, including alcohol, addiction. Crosby's liver problems stemmed from a long run with Hepatitis C.
Crosby suffers from type 2 diabetes and is being treated with insulin to manage the disease. At a concert in October 2008, Crosby, looking quite thinner than in recent years, announced to the audience that he'd recently shed 55 pounds as a result of his struggles with diabetes.
In February 2014, at the urging of his doctor, Crosby postponed the final dates of his solo tour in order to undergo a cardiac catheterization and angiogram, based on the results of a routine cardiac stress test.
Following up on a transformative sailing experience when he was 11, Crosby in 1967 purchased a 59-foot, John Alden–designed schooner named Mayan. Crosby, who sold the boat in early 2014, has sailed it thousands of miles in the Pacific and Caribbean. He has said it served as a deep muse for his song writing and wrote several songs while aboard, including “Wooden Ships,” “The Lee Shore,” “Page 43,” and “Carry Me.”
Crosby is currently married to Jan Dance but has had a number of prior long-term relationships, including with Christine Hinton, Debbie Donovan, and Joni Mitchell.
Crosby had a biological son, James Raymond, in 1962, who was placed for adoption and reunited with Crosby as an adult. Since 1997 Raymond has performed with Crosby on stage and in the studio, as a member of CPR and as part of the touring bands for Crosby & Nash and Crosby, Stills & Nash. In addition, Crosby has three other children: a daughter, Erika, with Jackie Guthrie, a daughter, Donovan Crosby, with former girlfriend Debbie Donovan and a son, Django Crosby, who was conceived with wife Jan Dance after extensive fertility treatments while Crosby’s liver was failing.
In January 2000, Melissa Etheridge announced that Crosby was the biological father of two children Julie Cypher gave birth to by means of artificial insemination. At the time, Etheridge and Cypher were in a relationship.
Crosby’s brother Ethan, who taught him to play guitar and started his musical career with him, committed suicide in late 1997 or early 1998. The date is unknown because Ethan left a note not to search for his body but to let him return to the earth. His body was found months later in May 1998.
- Crosby, David; Carl Gottlieb (2005). Long Time Gone: The Autobiography of David Crosby. Da Capo Press. ISBN 0-306-81406-4.