His life began when David Crosby was born as the second of two sons of an Academy Award winning cinematographer (Floyd Crosby) during the Second World War. The cocky kid had an ear for music and an eye for beauty, which complicated his early years. He went to school and grew up in the mild California climate of Santa Barbara, then migrated south to Los Angeles in time for the folk music revival that opened the Sixties.
Touring with nothing but a guitar and an attitude, he sang as a solo act and with various groups in the low-rent venues that were typical of the era: coffee houses, cabarets, and college concerts. An itinerant folkie steeped in jazz and classical influences, his uncanny ear for harmony led to the formation of a band that blended folk music with British pop and electric amplification. The Byrds revolutionized American popular music and began a new era in rock and roll. Crosby helped begin that revolution, by virtue of his singing and songwriting, and his knack for weaving the complex threads of American music into a fabric that's never gone out of fashion.
The financial and artistic success of The Byrds bought Crosby a house in the Hollywood Hills and a sixty foot wooden schooner, the Mayan, that he still sails today. It also supported a lifestyle that was both magnanimous and obsessive, and provided access to the best and the worst of companions.
His positive friendships were with fellow artists; he introduced Joni Mitchell to the world, producing the debut album that established forever her reputation as a musician, poet and artist. He began a casual collaboration with Stephen Stills (who was singing with Neil Young in a band called Buffalo Springfield), and they were joined by a member of a British band called The Hollies, another singer-songwriter named Graham Nash. Throughout his career he has lent his talent in support and collaboration with a string of musical artists that run from the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead through Neil Young, Jackson Browne, to Phil Collins and U2.
All the while, Crosby's inherent sense of justice kept him deeply involved with political and environmental causes. Stand and Be Counted is a current project, a book and documentary film that chronicles the commitment and influence of generations of his fellow activists, musicians who've donated not only money, but their precious time and art in support of peace and social justice.
In 1969, when personality clashes and artistic differences led The Byrds to ask Crosby to leave, he lost no time in joining new friends to form a new band. As Crosby, Stills, and Nash, their first album made rock and roll history again. This time Crosby was in a group whose close harmonies and carefully crafted lyrical musicianship established a sound that defined another decade of American music, and whose influence is still being heard. Both Byrds and CSN are in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for good reason.
Crosby, Stills, and Nash made their first public appearance together with Neil Young at Woodstock, a festival whose name defined a generation. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's milestone performance was captured in the film of that concert. At the same time, Crosby's success enabled him to pursue the more destructive habits that were an unfortunate aspect of the era when peace signs and love beads shared shelf space in life's candy store with illicit drugs and addictive behavior. What was once recreational and casual became obsessive and necessary. The downhill slide began slowly, and increased in tempo and danger as years of increasing substance abuse sped by.
As another decade began, Crosby found himself at an ever-increasing distance from friends and fellow musicians. An unfailing love affair with a Florida recording studio engineer named Jan Dance couldn't compensate for the downward addictive spiral of their lives. The crash came in 1985, when a drug-related arrest on weapons possession charges in Dallas a few years earlier resulted in a prison term for Crosby and lonely and painful detoxifications for the couple.
After he served a year in both the Dallas County Jail and the Texas Department of Corrections state prison in Huntsville, the Texas Supreme Court overturned Crosby's conviction on appeal. A zealous and vengeful Dallas District Attorney attempted to re-appear his case to the United States Supreme Court, but was denied; Crosby was a free man, wholly sober and drug free for the first time in his adult life, and reunited with Jan Dance, who had undergone her own transformation and renewal. They married soon after to begin a new life, and remain happily wed.
After his release, Crosby toured solo, released an album that summed up his victory over personal demons, appropriately titled "Yes I Can." He also resumed singing and recording with his old partners, both as a duo with Graham Nash and as Crosby, Stills & Nash; CSN continues to tour nationally, playing to audiences that include fans from every era, including sizable contingents that weren't born when the group released its first album. The trio performs their signature material as well as new songs, continuing a creative tradition that has been their distinguishing hallmark from the star.
Unfortunately, the cycle of misfortune and renewal was to continue with a serious motorcycle accident that crushed bones and left lasting damage to Crosby's shoulder and ankle. An experienced rider who had owned and driven motorcycles for decades, Crosby was victim of a defective foreign accessory on his beloved Harley. The resulting product liability lawsuit brought him a settlement in seven figures, which was just enough to pay the million dollar tax liability he had incurred during his addicted years and as the result of a criminal business manager who later went to jail for his misuse of client funds (including Crosby's). It was a long and difficult way to square his account with the government, but it lifted the cloud of uncertainty that hovered over his treasured sailboat and whatever income the Crosby's had managed to salvage. Their heavily mortgaged, lovingly restored new home was so severely damaged in the Los Angeles earthquake of 1994 that they lost it in foreclosure.
While the tax man and the lawyers and accountants did battle over his assets, his most precious remaining possession suffered a desperate threat. Crosby's health was seriously compromised when a previously undiagnosed case of Hepatitis "C" combined with a history of substance abuse to permanently damage his liver. The vital part deteriorated rapidly until it almost ceased to function, a fatal condition that qualified Crosby as a member of another exclusive group: candidates for organ transplant.
By 1995 he was suffering terminal liver failure. Miraculously, a donor became available and Crosby survived a successful liver transplant. While recuperating he received a series of messages that not only revived his spirits, but began yet another life, this time with a family that turned out to be larger than anyone expected.
Although his liver was failing, other organs remained functional, and after 14 years of trying, Jan Crosby became pregnant. The baby arrived, a boy they named Django, after the legendary French jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. He was a welcome addition to their lives, followed shortly by a surprising contact. James Raymond, Crosby's biological son, the product of a brief relationship in the early Sixties, had been placed in adoption and had recently discovered the identity of his father. He sought out Crosby, and they met for the first time late in 1995. Raymond is a musician and a composer, a singer-songwriter who had an established career in Los Angeles, as well as a newborn baby girl. Crosby had lost and gained a liver, become a father twice over and discovered he was a grandfather, all in the same year.
Crosby and Raymond made another happy discovery; they enjoyed playing and creating the same music. They began by writing a song that CSN now performs in concert ("Morrison"), and went on to record and perform together as "CPR." (named for Crosby, guitarist Jeff Pevar, and James Raymond) That band's first album is complete, and a tour is planned for 1998. Another life for the constantly reborn Crosby is beginning.