Between 1971 and 1993, singer David Crosby released a trio of solo records. In the years that came between and followed, he kept busy, working with his collaborators, Graham Nash, Stephen Stills and Neil Young in a variety of configurations.
It always seemed like there was a set of songs brewing, and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees have collectively amassed an incredible catalog of work together. But in recent years, things seemed to dry up — a planned covers collection that was in the works by Crosby, Stills and Nash with producer Rick Rubin at the helm remains uncompleted. And Crosby’s decades-long friendship with Nash has hit a rough patch.
“He’s really mad at me, and that’s where his head is,” Crosby says in a recent phone interview. “And you know, I can’t help him.”
If that’s a fence which can’t be mended between the two, one thing that has come about as a result of the change is a wealth of new opportunities for collaboration and a creative writing spurt by Crosby which shows no signs of letting up. He’s released three solo albums in the past four years, including his latest album, Sky Trails
, which arrived in late September. It feels like there are no boundaries, and Crosby can seemingly go wherever the muse might take him at this point.
“I feel really good about the level of writing. I think part of the thing is that I am not only willing, but eager to write with other people. I’m very picky about it,” he laughs. “Picky as hell. But I do like writing with other people, if they’re good enough. I’ve found some people who most definitely are. This girl that wrote [the title track] with me — Becca Stevens — we wrote ‘By the Light of Common Day’ on Lighthouse
, and she’s just a wonderful writer. Mike McDonald, who is a hero of mine, one of the two best singers alive, I think. And James. James Raymond has been the most prolific, most wonderful writing partner I’ve ever had, my son James.”
Raymond discovered that Crosby was his father in the early ’90s and the two eventually met for the first time and quickly began writing together. It’s a magical story that you can’t make up — and their creative partnership now spans 20 years. “It’s a joy, man,” Crosby enthuses. “He’s a wonderful, wonderful cat, and he does wonderful work. Absolutely wonderful work.”
Working in the studio for 2016’s Lighthouse
album with Michael League of Snarky Puppy producing was an experience which brought surprising results. The two had gone toe-to-toe on how much time they were going to spend working on the album. Crosby figured that they needed a month to properly flesh out the record and League insisted that they’d be done in two weeks.
“We finished Lighthouse
in 12 days,” Crosby laughs. “I couldn’t believe it.”
But he knew he was far from done — he still had songs to record, so he stayed in the studio, called in Raymond to produce and continued to record. Sky Trails
was the album which quickly came together and even as fans are starting to digest the new record, Crosby already has his sights set on the next thing.
“The next record, I asked Becca and Michelle [Willis] and Mike League to do another Lighthouse
record with me and this time, I said I would prefer that rather than it being a David Crosby record with them on it, I prefer that it would be a record of all four of us writing and singing at the same time, so I think that’s what going to happen.”
But first, they’ll tour in support of the current Sky Trails
album, which finds Crosby ruminating on a variety of subjects and as always, never afraid to share what’s on his mind. Fans got an unexpected bit of new music from Crosby in January of this year, when he took to Twitter and announced, “I think I’m actually going to do this new song about our shameful U.S. Congress. Going to mix it day after tomorrow and post it here.” True to his word, “Capitol,” which appears on the new album, emerged on Soundcloud two days later.
“That particular song, I stuck out early because I thought, I mean, this is the worst Congress that we’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s the lowest approval rating that any Congress has ever had in the history of the country. They’re terrible, abysmally bad. They don’t do anything right at all. There’s only maybe four people in there that even have a conscience. So they deserved it and I wanted to get it out there and stick it to them and I did.”
A collaboration with Michael McDonald on “Before Tomorrow Falls on Love” found Crosby reaching out to his neighbor, to come write a song.
“Michael’s a friend of mine and somebody that I have a big hero worship thing with. I think that he and Stevie Wonder are the two best male singers alive,” Crosby says. “He’s my friend and he’s a brilliant songwriter. He really likes to work at it and he really likes to try and do his best. He’s fascinating,” adding that “I’m trying to convince him to do another one.”
The album has a jazzy feel to it which won’t be new territory to anybody who has been listening to the music that Crosby and Raymond have written together over the past two decades.
“He’s a jazzer in the first place and he and I both love Steely Dan and we both love complex chords and intricate stuff,” he says. “We’re just tilted that way, so we quite naturally do it.”
He reaches back to longtime friend Joni Mitchell’s catalog of work, pulling out “Amelia,” from her 1976 Hejira
album, to put his own spin on it — something which he’s wanted to do for quite some time.
“I’ve loved that song for many years. I’d been sort of afraid to try it, because it’s such an unbelievably good song,” he says. “I wasn’t sure I was good enough. But I couldn’t resist it. The way she layers her love life and Amelia Earhart’s life in this multi-layered mixed kind of reality, it’s just beyond belief good.”
Outside of his own recording work, Crosby also recently made a guest appearance on Bidin’ My Time
, the album by his former Byrds bandmate Chris Hillman, harmonizing with his old friend on the opening cut, “The Bells of Rhymney,” a song which first emerged on the group’s 1965 debut, Mr. Tambourine Man
“You know, all of the years, he was such a great singer and still is,” Hillman said in a separate interview, which happened prior to the conversation with Crosby. “In the Byrds, fantastic — and he still is. He’s still a fantastic [singer], just a soulful, beautiful voice. And I did find out something —Crosby was in glee club in high school. You know, he got a lot of training there. I mean, obviously. When the Byrds started, he just had the voice.”
“The choir actually kept me in high school,” Crosby says. “It’s one of the few places I could actually function and that I felt good and it was worthy to me. I loved it. Every once in a while, we’d all get in tune at the same time and it would lift off. That made me happy.”
He admits that the vision of him being a part of an organized thing like glee club is an interesting one.
“I’m not going to kid you,” he laughs. “I’m not going to pretend that I was much of a team player. Because I never learned to read [music] I just faked it. I memorized the parts and just sang them. I never did learn to read them.”
Listening to Hillman and Crosby harmonize on “Bells,” it’s not hard to envision that the pair could do a beautiful album as a duo together.
“Yeah, I’d love to. I’d love to do another record with Roger,” Crosby says. “I’d love to go out on tour with Roger and Chris. I think that would be the most fun of all, to do it live.”
“We get along great, the thing is, I don’t think it will ever happen and that’s fine,” Hillman says. “We all have our own careers, be that what they are at this point. David’s very busy and Roger’s very busy. Roger has a great thing where he works all of the time, travels around with his wife. He does these ocean cruises, really, really great gigs. David is working a lot and doing a lot of recording and I’ve got this tour. So we’re all happy. We’ve all got these identities still intact.”
“Well, I would do it in a second,” Crosby says. “It’s Roger that doesn’t want to do it and God bless him, you know, he’s got a right to want to do what he wants to do. If he changes his mind, I’ll be there in a second.”
Fans will hear music from the Byrds catalog in the midst of what Crosby says will be a diverse mix of material that he’ll bring to the stage, “There will be some of this record, some of everything from Byrds to CSN to CSNY to CPR to Crosby-Nash,” he says. “We pull from everywhere.”
He confirms that it will be a significant moment for him, coming back to Kent, where he’ll play on Sunday, Nov. 5, at the Kent Stage
“It’s definitely an emotional thing,” he says, “and I’m definitely going to sing ‘Ohio.’”
David Crosby, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 5, Kent Stage, 175 East Main St., Kent,
330-677-5005. Tickets: $66-$609, thekentstage.com.