Guest of Honor

David Crosby in His Spiritual Grove

Folk-rock musician David Crosby, known best for his work with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, has been on the music scene for half a century, starting with his first hit with The Byrds. His newest solo album, "Croz" is out now.

Photo: Django Crosby
Photo: Django Crosby

Brendan Francis Newnam: David, thanks for joining us. You are currently on tour supporting your new album out, which is called “Croz,” that’s with a Z, and there’s a song on it called “The Clearing,” and some of its lyrics are kind of Big Sur-esque. One of the lines is, “Fire light creates, families believe, shadows become giants in the trees.” When you wrote that, when you sing that, what are you picturing? Where does your mind go?

David Crosby: It’s a very interesting piece of intuitive stuff on your part, there. The truth is, that song is largely about my brother, and for many, many years, he lived there in Big Sur – Ethan Crosby – and he lived there for a long time, had many, many friends, was like a very well-known fixture there for a long time. I’ve spent an awful lot of time in Big Sur, myself. Love it, stay at Deetjen’s all the time, and eat there, too.

Brendan Francis Newnam: They have great pancakes.

David Crosby: They also have unbelievable eggs benedict.

Brendan Francis Newnam: That’s right, the eggs benedict.

David Crosby: They have great food for dinner, too. They’re a wonderful place.

Brendan Francis Newnam: This part of our conversation brought to you by Deetjen’s, right off the highway, downtown Big Sur. You’re a child of California. You were born in LA, your father was a successful cinematographer. I wonder, what were your summer vacations like, way back before you had a mustache?

David Crosby: You know, I don’t think we went up there much. We went through there. I remember my dad taking me up to see the sequoias which are, I don’t know… It’s almost religious with me, how I feel around redwood trees. I love them in Big Sur, I love the coastal ones, but seeing the sequoias was quite a thing when I was a kid, and I feel some sort of kinship to them. I think they’re one of the things, if you’re wandering around California trying to get a grip on it, there are some obvious ones, Yosemite and stuff like that. Any place that you can get in the middle of a grove of redwoods, if I was a praying person, that would be my church. That’s where I feel the most spiritual energy. That’s where I feel the most at peace, I think that, and at sea. Of course, that’s the other thing that California’s got. It’s an incredible place if you’re a sailor, which I have been all my life.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Inspiration for your beloved Crosby, Stills, and Nash song, “Wooden Ships.”

David Crosby: Yes.

Brendan Francis Newnam: I want to talk to you about my favorite album of yours. It’s called “If I Could Only Remember Your Name.” It was your first solo album, it came out in 1971. I have heard it described as the quintessential California album, and it makes sense to me because it’s not only great to listen to while you’re cruising the One, but it was made by some of California’s finest musicians, some of them transplants. You had help from Graham Nash, The Grateful Dead, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Jefferson Airplane. Can you tell me about the process, making that album, and who was involved, and how it came together?

David Crosby: I can tell how the whole thing happened. I was actually in a very bad space. A girlfriend of mine had gotten killed in a car wreck, and I didn’t really have any way to deal with it. I was not equipped to deal with that, and we were making “Deja Vu” in a studio in San Francisco. When I got done with it, the studio seemed to be the only place that I really could deal with life right then, so I stayed in the studio.

I had a lot of songs. Obviously, when you’re making a record with four guys, you might get a certain amount of songs on a record. So, I had a bunch of songs, and I had a bunch of friends, the people from the Airplane, people from The Grateful Dead, particularly Jerry, people from Santana, people from all over, Quicksilver. We all knew each other, and there was a distinct anti-Hollywood, kind of, let’s not be competitive, let’s not be show biz, let’s instead help each other, and contribute to each other’s music feeling there, in San Francisco. It was an ethic that was kind of alive at the time, and a very elevating thing. You saw people willingly giving to try and make other people’s music be better.

Brendan Francis Newnam: The opening track on that you sing with Graham and Neil Young, “Music is Love.” Is that kind of a thesis statement maybe for you?

David Crosby: You know what that is? That was a jam.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Oh, wow.

David Crosby: I had that phrase, everybody’s saying “music is love,” but I didn’t have a song. I just went into the studio, and Graham and Neil showed up, and we were just fooling around. And that was, I think, the first take. Then what happened is, and I said, “Gee, that was fun, okay, let’s record a real song,” and they said, “That was a real song.” And I said, “Well, wait a minute.”

So, they asked for the tape, and they took the tape, and then Neil, who absolutely has no idea how to play bass, played bass on it. And then Nash, who has absolutely no idea how to play conga drums, played conga drums on it, and they brought the tape back and said, “Here, here’s the first track of your album.”

Brendan Francis Newnam: Wow. So, you said that you just had the phrase music is love lying around, and you threw it out there, but am I wrong in thinking that it makes up part of your philosophy of life?

David Crosby: No, I don’t think so. I don’t want to be pompous about it, but yeah, that’s part of my basic philosophy of life, I guess. You know, music has a lot of jobs. Part of it’s just to make you boogie. Part of it is our thing as being troubadours, you know, where we carry the news from one town to another. And part of it’s being the town crier. It’s 11:30 and we have a bunch of idiots in Congress. There’s a lot of different things, but the part of it that appeals to me the most is taking you on a voyage, taking you to a place you haven’t been, and helping you feel something there. That’s what I really love about it.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Did it help you heal?

David Crosby: Yes. I mean, music is a healing force in the first place. It’s an elevating force in the human race. It lifts you, and, of course, it was how I found my way back up to the surface and got flying again. Thank god it was there. I don’t know how I would have made it otherwise.

Brendan Francis Newnam: David Crosby, thank you so much for joining us for this special show.

David Crosby: It’s a pleasure, and I’m happy to do it, man.

Brendan Francis Newnam: Do you have any parting words for the people lying out in the grove, any things they should think about?

David Crosby: You know, there are a couple of things that I would suggest. Herbal enhancement works very well with redwood trees. I don’t know who told me that, but I think it works.