Of all the singers of the hippie generation, David Crosby was one of the funniest, man!
His death at the age of 81 after years of ill health marks the death of a folk-rock pioneer who forged his name in The Byrds, discovered Joni Mitchell and reached creative peak with the supergroup Crosby Stills & Nash.
Crosby traded in divine harmonies and soothing melodies, but his riotous life had more than its fair share of broke, substance abuse problems, run-ins with the law and failed relationships.
With his shaggy, shoulder-length hair and walrus mustache, he embodied the patchouli-scented counterculture scene.
As the Vietnam War raged and young Americans were drafted, he helped nurture the spirit of peace, love, and understanding that emerged despite it all.
Only Wild Crosby would write a song (Triad) about a ménage à trois based on the antics at his Beverly Hills home, which his Byrds bandmates deemed “too controversial”.
He also helped write the drug hit Eight Miles High and contributed the line “rain gray town, known for its sound” about London in the Swinging Sixties.
The song was met with various radio bans amid accusations of advocating recreational drug use.
In the late ’60s, LSD, known as acid, and marijuana were the drugs of choice on the scene. Music was provided by Jefferson Airplane, The Grateful Dead and David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash along with their occasional bandmate Neil Young.
While Crosby’s concert highlight was playing Woodstock with CSNY to a crowd of 500,000 on day three of “Peace and Love,” his hippie dream collapsed a year later in Altamont.
The 1969 festival, headlined by the Rolling Stones, was overshadowed by a frenzy of Hells Angels-provoked violence. A woman was stabbed, two people died in a hit-and-run accident, and an LSD-induced drowning occurred.
Croz, as his friends and family knew him, also witnessed much sacrifice among his peers, but became a rock ‘n’ roll survivor, a West Coast Keith Richards sort of thing.
“I have no idea why I’m alive and Jimi (Hendrix) isn’t and Janis (Joplin) isn’t. . . and all my other friends,” he said in 2014. “I have no idea why me, but I got lucky.”
He championed cannabis use for more than 50 years and even launched a brand called Mighty Croz.
“All these hit songs, every single one of them, I wrote them all on cannabis,” he admitted.
Born on August 14, 1941 in Los Angeles, David Van Cortlandt Crosby already had a head start in life.
His father Floyd was an Oscar-winning cinematographer and his mother came from a New York society family.
Although Crosby showed an interest in music and participated in musicals, he was not particularly interested in school and eventually dropped out of an acting class at Santa Barbara City College to pursue a singing career.
In 1962 he became a father for the first time. His musician son, James Raymond, was put up for adoption, but they reconciled later in life and even made records and performed together as CPR.
Crosby had three other children, Erika, Donovan and Django, with three different women and was also a sperm donor father to singer Melissa Etheridge’s two children. (He was still with Django’s mother Jan when he died).
His first big break came in 1964 when he was introduced to singer/guitarist Jim McGuinn, who changed his name to Roger, and Gene Clark in Chicago.