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Two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Famer David Crosby, has died, sources close to his family confirmed to Billboard. He was 81. The cause of death is unknown.
Crosby was a seminal, pioneering figure in the folk-rock scene for more than six decades as a member of The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash and then Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He also had a prolific solo career, especially in recent years, releasing new music at an almost frenetic pace.
His former bandmates took to social media to laud his talents.
“It is with a deep and profound sadness that I learned that my friend David Crosby has passed,” Graham Nash posted on Instagram. “I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times, but what has always mattered to David and me more than anything was the pure joy of the music we created together, the sound we discovered with one another, and the deep friendship we shared over all these many long years. David was fearless in life and in music. He leaves behind a tremendous void as far as sheer personality and talent in this world. He spoke his mind, his heart, and his passion through his beautiful music and leaves an incredible legacy. These are the things that matter most. My heart is truly with his wife, Jan, his son, Django, and all of the people he has touched in this world.”
Stephen Stills said in a statement, “I read a quote in this morning’s paper attributed to composer Gustav Mahler that stopped me for a moment: “Death has, on placid cat’s paws, entered the room.” I shoulda known something was up. David and I butted heads a lot over time, but they were mostly glancing blows, yet still left us numb skulls.I was happy to be at peace with him. He was without question a giant of a musician, and his harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius. The glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun. I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure.”
Crosby, a Los Angeles native and son of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, joined the Byrds in 1964, and in 1965, the band, known for its jangling guitars and layered harmonies, took two songs to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100: the Bob Dylan-penned “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Pete Seeger’s “Turn!Turn!Turn! (To Everything There Is a Season).”
Due to feuding with his bandmates Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman,” Crosby left the Byrds in 1967. In 1968, after meeting Stills and Nash, the trio formed Crosby, Stills & Nash, appearing at Woodstock in August 1969, for only their second gig.
Their self-titled debut album spawned two top 40 Hot 100 hits — “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (No. 21) and “Marrakesh Express” (No. 28) — and the trio won the Grammy for best new artist in 1969. (He is one of only two individuals in Grammy history to have received two nominations for best new artist. He was nominated for that award as part of The Byrds (1965) before his CSN win.)
In 1969, Neil Young joined the trio, bringing them to greater heights with their 1970 album, Deja Vu, which reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100. Crosby contributed such songs as “Guinnevere,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Long Time Gone” and “Wooden Ships” to the group, but was best known for his tight harmonies and rhythm guitar playing.
“As a writer and lead singer and (in particular) as a harmony singer his understanding of songs and harmonic structure was instinctive, inspired and magically creative,” wrote producer Peter Asher on his Instagram. “While the passage of time (and his own misbehavior!) may have changed his appearance, it never changed his voice or his beautiful sound which will now live forever. Without Dave neither the Byrds nor CSNY would have become the wildly influential and successful bands they did.”
Similar to his tenure with the Byrds, Crosby’s time with CSN and CSN&Y was marked by bitter infighting with Young leaving the band in 1970. Unable to control the bickering in the studio, CSN didn’t release another album until 1977, with a self-titled set that included the hit, “Just A Song Before I Go.” 1982’s Daylight Again included “Wasted On the Way” and “Southern Cross.” After several tours, the band split for good in 2016, but, as Nash told The Guardian in 2022, they created something truly special: “We used to go to our friends’ houses in Laurel Canyon, me and David and Stephen with a couple of guitars, and we’d kill them. We were f–king fantastic. We had discovered a new way of singing, of creating a vocal blend, making our three voices into one,” he said. “We would kill them. They could not believe what we were doing. Then we’d follow that with ‘Guinnevere,’ then ‘Lady of the Island,’ then ‘Helplessly Hoping’, and ‘You Don’t Have to Cry’ and they’re all on the floor with their fucking brains melting. That’s the image I see every time I think of those moments.”
Crosby agreed, telling the Guardian in 2021 that he preferred the music he’d made with CSN and CSNY than the Byrds. “No contest,” he said. “Both CSN and CSNY are more sophisticated bands than the Byrds and went way further.”
Crosby was prolific outside CSN, releasing his first solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name in 1971. He and Nash, as Crosby & Nash, released several studio and live albums, while he also released several sets between 1996 and 2004 as part of CPR (Crosby, Pevar and Raymond, who was Crosby’s son). In 2014, he released Croz, his first solo album in more than 20 years. He then released five albums collaborating with Snarky Puppy’s Michael League on several. In December, BMG released David Crosby & The Lighthouse Band: Live at the Capitol Theatre, which, taped in 2018, was his first ever live solo CD/DCD set.
Crosby struggled with substance abuse issues for decades, resulting in a jail stint in 1985 for drug possession, a liver transplant in 1994 and another short jail sentence in 2004 due to drug and weapons possession.
In 2019, Cameron Crowe produced a documentary about the cantankerous rock icon called Remember My Name. In an interview about the warts-and-all doc, Crosby explained to Billboard why it made sense that his Byrds bandmate McGuinn called him “insufferable.”
“I can be contentious. Opinionated. I’m comfortable with that,” Crosby conceded. “When you’re in a relationship like that in a band, it’s like a marriage… you start out, you love each other, you love each other’s music. You’re thrilled that you’re doing this, and every time you play music, you feel brotherhood with the other guys. In CSNY with Neil [Young] and Graham [Nash] and Stephen [Stills], we were a competitive band. Not cooperative/competitive. We were also very shitty to each other over and over and over again, unkind and disloyal.”
Nash and Young had cut off contact with Crosby and were not believed to have reconciled by the time of his death. Stills was still in touch with Crosby, telling Billboard last summer that he had talked with his former bandmate, “not that long [ago].”
Hard hit by the inability to tour during the pandemic, Crosby sold his recorded music and publishing rights to Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group in 2021. The deal included both his solo works and his works with groups.
“Given our current inability to work live, this deal is a blessing for me and my family and I do believe these are the best people to do it with,” Crosby said in a statement at the time.
Crosby was aware the clock was ticking, telling Consequence in a 2021 interview, “I don’t know how much time I have. I could have two weeks, I could have 10 years. I’m sort of at the end of my life. We know that. However much time I got isn’t really the significant thing — it’s what I do with that time, right? And it looks to me that the only contribution I can make, the place where I can help, is to make more music and do it really well. And spend whatever time I do have, trying to make it better. Trying to make more music. So that’s what I’m doing.”
A prolific and often opinionated tweeter on Twitter, Crosby was posting as recently as Tuesday.
Crosby earned 10 Grammy nominations in his lifetime — including a best music film nod for Remember My Name — but the CSN best new artist prize was his lone win.
Crosby, who was MusiCares’ inaugural person of the year recipient in 1991, is survived by, among others, his wife of 35 years Jan, and sons Django and James Raymond.
Assistance in preparing this story provided by Katie Atkinson, Keith Caulfield and Paul Grein
This story first appeared on Billboard.com.
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