As a teen, he bused tables in a coffeehouse and sometimes sang harmony with the musicians performing there. When he was 19, his brother gave him a guitar.
He had no idea he’d become an icon of the music industry. Or that he’d lead a roller coaster of a life that included incredible musical accomplishments, as well as serious problems with drugs, alcohol, the law and his health.
A major headliner for Vancouver Island MusicFest, David Crosby will perform at the mainstage at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds on Sunday, July 10.
And in case the name doesn’t ring any bells, think Wooden Ships, Eight Miles High and Woodstock. Yep, the creator of The Byrds, Crosby, Stills and Nash, later joined by Young, is coming to the Comox Valley.
“I’m writing a lot and that means things are right with the world,” Crosby said in a recent phone conversation from his home in central California. “Writing is a good window into how any song or book writer is doing with their life. If they’re writing, they’re doing something right.”
Crosby credits his love of music to the fact that his parents played folk and classical music all the time.
“It made me feel something,” he says.
After high school, Crosby took his music on the road, playing gigs wherever he could get them. And he started writing songs.
“Writing music came easy to me and right away,” he says. “The songs come every which way; I don’t have a routine like Bob (Dylan). He’d get up and be pecking away at his typewriter before breakfast; that’s how he wrote such incredible stuff.
“For me, the words usually come first and often just before I fall asleep,” Crosby explains. “I’ve learned to get up and write them down, otherwise they’re gone in the morning.”
Crosby’s personal favourites include Guinevere, Deja Vu and more recent songs composed with his son James Raymond, such as On the Edge.
In 1963, when he was 22, Crosby formed The Byrds, whose hits Turn! Turn! Turn! and the Bob Dylan cover Mr. Tambourine Man gained them critical and popular acclaim. And, as pioneers of the folk/rock genre, the sound of The Byrds influenced many musicians of that era.
Four years later, Crosby left The Byrds to create Crosby, Still, Nash and eventually Young. The band’s impact on the music scene was immediate, and Crosby, Stills and Nash’s self-titled first album is on the Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
With Woodstock, numerous awards and two inductions into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Crosby’s career was flying high. He was, too.
The drugs, alcohol and debilitating lifestyle took their toll in the form of hepatitis C, liver failure, diabetes and heart attacks. He was also arrested on more than one occasion and spent time in Texas jails.
But Crosby’s a survivor.
Not only did he turn his life around, he wrote three books, Stand and Be Counted: Making Music, Making History/The Dramatic Story of the Artists and Causes That Changed America, Long Time Gone and Since Then: How I Survived Everything and Lived To Tell About It, chronicling his incredible life journey.
These days, Crosby’s writing songs, touring and taking care of himself.
“My one big regret is doing other stupid stuff when I could have been making music,” he admits. “That’s a big one for me. But I’m doing great health-wise. I go to the gym and work out and am very glad to be healthy and alive.”
This spring, Crosby spent a couple of months touring with Graham Nash, and the duo heads to Europe for five months this fall.
“Graham and I have a special relationship,” Crosby says. “When we sing together, it’s like two fighter pilots — we fly in tight formation and always know where the other guy’s wing is. We also agree on what’s important in life, family and music. To have a connection like that is extremely rare.”
“I’m really busy these days; I don’t have the time not to be,” he adds. “I’m old as dirt (Crosby turns 70 in August) and have to hustle. I have a lot of songs I want to write and sing.”
Crosby’s advice for aspiring musicians is blunt.
“Don’t do it unless you’re so driven you can’t do anything else. If you wake up in the morning and want to sing and write songs and can’t force yourself to do anything else and don’t care if you make any money at it, then go ahead.
“But if you want to be a star and on the cover of Rolling Stone, go get a real job because the odds of you succeeding to that level are a million to one.”
July will be Crosby’s first visit to the Comox Valley, and he’s excited about being part of MusicFest.
“My dear friend, Spider Robinson, told me about it five years ago,” he says. “He kept telling me I had to be there, and it’s finally happening.”
And the concert Crosby’s looking forward to hearing most? “Randy Newman, he’s so great.”
For more info about the July 7 to 10 VIMF, visit www.islandmusicfest.com.