By Dennis Hartley
(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on January 21, 2023)
In his Jeff Beck tribute last week, music industry maven Bob Lefsetz observed:
And [Beck’s] death was so sudden. At 78. May sound old to you, but then you’re probably not a baby boomer. I mean the end is always looming, but you always believe it’s at some distant point in the future, when in truth it’s closer than you think.
But it’s even weirder than that. The giants are falling. The building blocks of not only the British Invasion, but classic rock, are passing. The icons and the secondary players. But they were all major players to us, music was everything. Not only was it soul-fulfilling, it told you which way the wind blew. And the hits were not all the same and new ones popped up all the time, it was a veritable smorgasbord of greatness.
Falling like dominoes. To paraphrase The Giant in Twin Peaks: “It is happening again.”
I don’t know what to say other than I’m heartbroken to hear about David Crosby. David was an unbelievable talent – such a great singer and songwriter. And a wonderful person. I just am at a loss for words. Love & Mercy to David’s family and friends. Love, Brian pic.twitter.com/Hjht7LeGiv
— Brian Wilson (@BrianWilsonLive) January 19, 2023
God bless David Crosby and peace and love to all his family peace and love Ringo 😎✌️🌟❤️🌈🍒🎶🥦☮️ pic.twitter.com/7wNvVDkO57
— #RingoStarr (@ringostarrmusic) January 20, 2023
David Crosby stuck to his guns. A difficult and gifted man. Whose talent and taste was immense. His harmonious voice still echoes in Laurel Canyon. A proud man who said what he said, and felt what he felt with no apology. A brilliant songwriter, and an American Icon, RIP. pic.twitter.com/lwL5emAdQ3
— Michael Des Barres (@MDesbarres) January 19, 2023
“Difficult and gifted” would be a fitting epitaph. But with Crosby, the “gift” far out-trumped the “difficult”. No matter how bad things got for him, that heavenly, crystalline voice never faltered. In fact, his pipes were so pure and pitch perfect that while I can always isolate Stills, Nash, and Young’s individual parts in those patented harmonies…try as I might, I can never “hear” Crosby. I know he’s in there, somewhere-but I’ll be damned if I can detect his contribution. Yet, I would notice if he were not there.
He was one of the best harmony singers that I have never heard.
Crosby was not only an ideal “middleman” for facilitating lovely harmonies, but an essential catalyst for several iconic bands that sprang from the Laurel Canyon scene of the 1960’s. In my review of the 2019 documentary Echo in the Canyon, I wrote:
“The Byrds were great; when [The Beatles] came to L.A. [The Byrds] came and hung out with us. That 12-string sound was great. The voices were great. So, we loved The Byrds. They introduced us to a…hallucinogenic situation, and uh…we had a really good time.”
– Ringo Starr, from the 2019 documentary Echo in the Canyon
Someone once quipped “If you can remember anything about the 60s, you weren’t really there”. Luckily for Ringo and his fellow music vets who appear in Andrew Slater’s documentary Echo in the Canyon, they’re only required to “remember” from 1965-1967.
That is the specific time period that Slater, a long-time record company exec, music journalist and album producer chooses to highlight in his directing debut. His film also focuses on a specific location: Laurel Canyon. Nestled in the Hollywood Hills West district of L.A., this relatively cozy and secluded neighborhood (a stone’s throw off the busy Sunset Strip) was once home to a now-legendary, creatively incestuous enclave of influential folk-rockers (The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Mamas and the Papas, et.al.). […]
Frankly, there aren’t many surprises in store; turns out that nearly everybody was (wait for it) excited and influenced by The Beatles, who in turn were excited and influenced by The Byrds and the Beach Boys, who were in turn inspired to greater heights by the resultant exponential creative leaps achieved by the Beatles (echo in the canyon…get it?) […]
One comes away with a sense about the unique creative camaraderie of the era. Roger McGuinn once received a courtesy note from George Harrison that the main riff he used for the Beatles’ “If I Needed Someone” was based on the Byrds’ “Bells of Rhymney”. Apparently, McGuinn was totally cool with that. […]
According to Stephen Stills, there was so much musical badminton going on at the time that a little unconscious plagiarism now and then was inevitable. In one somewhat awkward scene, Dylan asks Eric Clapton about the suspiciously similar chord changes in Stills’ song “Questions” (by Buffalo Springfield) and Clapton’s “Let it Rain”. After mulling it over for several very long seconds, Clapton shrugs and concurs “I must have copped it.”
Crosby was right there, at the epicenter. As Michael Des Barres noted, he “stuck to his guns”, wearing the ethos of 60s counterculture idealism and political activism on his sleeve until his dying day. From my review of the 2008 documentary Déjà Vu:
Cracks about geriatric rockers aside, it becomes apparent that the one thing that remains ageless is the power of the music, and the commitment from [Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young]. Songs like “Ohio”, “Military Madness”, “For What it’s Worth” and “Chicago” prove to have resilience and retain a topical relevance that does not go unnoticed by younger fans. And anyone who doesn’t tear up listening to the band deliver the solemnly beautiful harmonies of their elegiac live show closer, “Find the Cost of Freedom”, while a photo gallery featuring hundreds of smiling young Americans who died in Iraq scrolls on the big screen behind them, can’t possibly have anything resembling a soul residing within.
Adieu to a musical icon. Here are 10 of my favorite Crosby songs. Feel free to tear up.
What’s Happening?!?! – The Byrds (written by David Crosby; from Fifth Dimension)
Triad – The Byrds (written by David Crosby; from The Notorious Byrd Brothers)
Guinevere – Crosby, Stills, & Nash (written by David Crosby; from Crosby, Stills, & Nash)
Wooden Ships – Crosby, Stills, & Nash (written by David Crosby, Paul Kantner, and Stephen Stills; from Crosby, Stills, & Nash)
Déjà Vu – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young (written by David Crosby, from Déjà Vu)
Almost Cut My Hair – Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young (written by David Crosby, from Déjà Vu)
Laughing – David Crosby (written by David Crosby; from If I Could Only Remember My Name)
Have You Seen the Stars Tonight? – The Jefferson Starship (written by Paul Kantner and David Crosby; from Blows Against the Empire)
Whole Cloth – Crosby & Nash (written by David Crosby; from Graham Nash David Crosby)
In My Dreams – Crosby, Stills, & Nash (written by David Crosby; from CSN)