By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most influential singer-songwriters of the ’60s pays a visit to San Francisco this weekend when Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee David Crosby brings his current band to the Great American Music Hall Sunday.
Born to a well-heeled Los Angeles family (both parents parents were descended from prominent Dutch families and father Floyd Crosby was an award-winning cinematographer), Crosby starred in school musicals, but struggled academically as a youth. Dropping out of community college after a short period studying drama, he soon lit out for New York City to pursue a career in music.
He became part of the Greenwich Village coffee house circuit, singing with Les Baxter’s Balladeers, a group assembled by the noted lounge/exotica bandleader and composer. Finding the outfit too conservative for his liking, Crosby eventually headed back to his hometown and immersed himself in the LA folk scene. He connected with fellow songwriters Jim (later Roger) McGuinn and Gene Clark in the group the Jet Set, a band would transform into the Byrds in late 1964.
With their soaring vocal harmonies and McGuinn’s ringing 12-string guitar, the quartet would become the biggest band to emerge from Southern California since the Beach Boys. Scoring hits like their revamped folk-rock version of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” (a song they heard prior to its public release when their manager got an acetate copy for the band to hear), a cover of Pete Seger’s “Turn Turn Turn” and the psychedelic, raga-influenced “Eight Miles High,” the Byrds became one of the band’s to usher a new rock sound that would explode in 1967 during the Summer of Love.
Friction between members led to Crosby’s acrimonious departure from the Byrds that year, but not before the band played the seminal Monterey Pop Festival where the guitarist also ended up playing with fellow LA band Buffalo Springfield, filling in for an absent Neil Young. A developing friendship with Springfield member Stephen Stills would lead to the next chapter of Crosby’s storied career.
Jamming with Stills and British musician Graham Nash (formerly of the Hollies), the trio of talented songwriters formed what some would describe as the first “supergroup,” playing their second ever public performance in front of a huge crowd at Woodstock in the summer of 1969. At that point, the group’s eponymous debut Crosby, Stills & Nash had already become a commercial smash with Crosby-penned tunes including “Guinnevere” and the politically charged “Long Time Gone” earning heavy FM radio airplay.
The group — which officially grew to include Neil Young for the following year’s massive hit Deja Vu — would prove a volatile one despite the enormous commercial success. Even with time set aside for the individual members to pursue other projects (Crosby’s acclaimed solo debut If I Only Could Remember My Name in 1971 still stands as one of the best of the members’ early efforts), Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young would only produce the live concert document Four Way Street until all four members reconciled to reunite to record again in the late ’80s.
The members would pair off during the split, with Crosby and Nash touring and recording while Stills and Young focused on their solo careers when not working together through much of the ’70s until CSN released their second self-titled trio effort in 1977. The band would tour consistently through the following decade, though at times their activity was curtailed by Crosby’s growing drug and legal problems. It would not be until after several stints in jail and rehab that Crosby would emerge clean in time for the 1988 CSNY reunion album American Dream.
Since then, the songwriter has stayed busy with solo works and tours with both CSN and CSNY as well as an eight-year collaboration in the trio CPR with his son, keyboard player James Raymond, and session guitarist Jeff Pevar. Though some interviews with members of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young indicated that neither band was likely to perform together again, just this week there were rumblings of another CSNY reunion to protest the current Trump administration.
The 75-year-old Crosby brings his current solo tour with a six-member band featuring Raymond and Pevar to the Great American Music Hall Sunday night, playing hits from throughout his career along with tunes from his latest album, the stripped-down collection Lighthouse released late last year on independent label GroundUP.
Sunday, April 30, 6:30 p.m. $60
Great American Music Hall