David Crosby

Musician David Crosby co-founded the influential folk-rock groups the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash.


Born in Los Angeles in 1941, David Crosby co-founded the pioneering folk-rock band the Byrds in 1964. Later in the decade he teamed with Stephen Stills and Graham Nash to form Crosby, Stills & Nash, with Neil Young joining the group for stretches. Crosby released a successful solo album and recorded with old bandmates throughout the 1970s, but also suffered from drug addiction until being imprisoned in the mid-1980s. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, for his work with the Byrds and CSN, and later collaborated with son James to create new material.

Musical Beginnings

Singer, songwriter, guitarist David Van Cortlandt Crosby was born on August 14, 1941, in Los Angeles, California. The future musician was immersed in the arts at an early age: Dad Floyd was an Academy Award-winning cinematographer, and mom Aliph was a poet and singer.

Raised in the Santa Barbara area, Crosby loved sailing and read heavily, though he was hardly the most engaged student. He also developed an interest in acting, but began a lifelong pursuit of music creation at age 16 when his older brother, Ethan, gave him a guitar. 

The two began performing together as a folk duo before Crosby struck out on his own, moving to New York City to join the influential Greenwich Village music scene. He continued to bounce around the country, with stops in cities like Miami and Chicago, before finally returning to California. 

The Byrds 

Back in Los Angeles, David Crosby joined forces with guitarists Jim (later Roger) McGuinn and Gene Clark in 1964, and the trio began rehearsing as the Jet Set. They eventually added drummer Michael Clarke and bassist Chris Hillman to the group, and following another name change, to the Beefeaters, they settled on calling themselves the Byrds. 

Having secured permission to perform Bob Dylan's "Mr. Tambournine Man," the Byrds recorded their own version with delicate harmonies and a rock backbeat. The song became a huge hit following its April 1965 release, rocketing to No. 1 in both the United States and England, and the Byrds earned renown as pioneers of what was coined "folk rock." They followed their initial success with two more hit singles, "All I Really Want to Do" and a modern version of Pete Seeger's "Turn! Turn! Turn!"  

Initially a rhythym guitarist and vocalist, Crosby took on increasing responsibility as a songwriter after Clark left the Byrds in 1966. He co-wrote the psychedelic single "Eight Miles High" and later earned a solo credit for "What's Happening?!?!" However, Clark's departure underscored the tensions bubbling within the group, and Crosby was ousted from the band after walking out of a recording session in 1967. 

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 

Stunned by his forced departure from the Byrds, David Crosby bought a schooner and spent time in Florida, where he befriended budding folk singer Joni Mitchell. During a party for Mitchell in the summer of 1968, he began singing with fellow musicians Stephen Stills, formerly of Buffalo Springfield, and Graham Nash, of the Hollies. Realizing the beauty of their harmonizing, the three banded together to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. 

In 1969 the group released their self-titled debut album, which featured such Crosby-penned tracks as "Guinnevere" and "Long Time Gone." Former Buffalo Springfield guitarist Neil Young soon joined the group, and that August, the newly renamed Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young played to half a million people at the landmark Woodstock Festival in Bethel, New York, just the second time the quartet performed together. 

Shortly after winning a Grammy Award for Best New Artist in early 1970, CSNY released another well-received album, Déjà Vu. During a concert tour that summer, they performed the songs that would comprise their live follow-up album, 4 Way Street (1971). However, by then the group was already earning a reputation for infighting, and they split up in the summer of 1971. 

Solo Work, Collaborations and Struggles 

Already notorious for his hard-partying lifestyle, David Crosby slipped even further into the grip of substance abuse following the death of girlfriend Christine Hinton in 1969. Still, he remained productive in the studio. His 1971 solo debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name, was a commercial success, and he reunited with his former Byrds bandmates for an album in 1973. Crosby also teamed with Nash to create three studio albums during the decade, with Stills coming on board for CSN releases in 1977 and 1982. 

In 1982, Crosby was arrested for possession of drugs and a handgun at a Dallas nightclub. Although the conviction was overturned, attempts to keep him out of trouble through drug rehabilitation programs failed. Crosby finally wound up in prison, spending almost a year behind bars before earning his parole in August 1986. 

Crediting his time served for helping him kick his drug habit, Crosby sought to resume control of his personal and creative life. He married girlfriend Jan Dance in 1987, released two more solo albums and recorded new material with the Byrds and CSNY. Crosby subsequently earned the rare honor of being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, with the Byrds in 1991 and with CSN in 1997. 

However, years of substance abuse had taken its toll, and in 1994 Crosby learned that he had Hepatitis C. He underwent a liver transplant that November, recovering in time to welcome a son, Django, to the family. Around the same time, Crosby became reacquainted with another son, James Raymond, who was born and placed up for adoption in 1962. A talented musician in his own right, Raymond soon began writing, recording and performing with his dad as part of the group CPR. 

In 2000, Crosby made headlines when singer Melissa Etheridge revealed that he fathered (through artificial insemination) the two children she was raising with her then-partner, Julie Cypher. 

Recent Years 

Inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2009, David Crosby returned to the studio for 2014's Croz, his first solo album of new material in more than 20 years. However, underscoring the fragile nature of his health (Crosby also has diabetes) the aging musician was forced to cut short a supporting tour to undergo heart surgery. 

Having found an able collaborator in son James, Crosby in 2016 announced plans to produce two new solo albums. The first one, Lighthouse, was set for an October release. 

Along with his extensive discography, Crosby is the author of three books: Stand and Be Counted: Making Music, Making History/The Dramatic Story of the Artists and Events That Changed America (2000) and the autobiographies Long Time Gone (1988) and Since Then: How I Survived Everything and Lived to Tell About It (2006). 

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