David Crosby is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and co-founder of the Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash (CSN); Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY); Crosby & Nash; and CPR.
The legendary musician’s latest tour features the Sky Trails Band as they accompany him in performing some of his iconic songs and greatest hits, plus material from the “Sky Trails” album at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22 at the Honeywell Center’s Ford Theater. Tickets are $45, $55 and $150.
In a Plain Dealer phone interview last week, Crosby answered bluntly, but honestly when asked why he still toured.
“Because you’ve got to pay the rent, man. Same like everybody else. I’ve got a mortgage and I’ve got to buy groceries and my kids have to go to school. All that regular stuff,” he said.
Crosby said the minuscule payouts offered by online streaming music services such as Pandora and Spotify make it impossible to not tour.
“It used to have a little more cushion to it, but streaming just took half my income away,” he said. “Because they don’t pay us, you know? They pay us like you did your job for a month and they paid you a nickel. So, that’s a hard thing.”
Crosby said he tours every summer.
“Because that’s when the kids are out of school and that’s when you tour. And, that’s just how it is,” he said. “I love the singing parts. Man, when I’m singing, I’m the happiest guy on Earth. The rest of kind of beats the crap of me.”
Behind the music
Crosby is also the star of the new documentary, “David Crosby: Remember My Name,” which was directed by A.J. Eaton, produced by Cameron Crowe, and made its debut at the Sundance Film Festival.
“It’s little uncomfortable being naked in public, but it’s good,” he said.
Crosby said it was much different than other documentary efforts about his life, including a 1998 episode of the VH1 television series, “Behind the Music.”
“That’s a normal rock doc. ... It’s pretty much make you look good,” he said. “This is a much deeper, this is a friend asking me the hardest questions that I’ve ever been asked.”
In the new documentary, Crosby discusses his penchant for alternately tuning of his guitar. He said guitar players usually start by tuning the low E string down to a D.
“After that then you get into re-tuning all the strings to an open chord. Pretty much any open chord you’d like,” he said.
Crosby said his favorite tuning was EBDGAD, which he said gave him the CSN song, “Guinnevere” and the CSNY song, “Déjà Vu.”
“You think up all new chord positions,” he said.
Crosby said his last name came first in the order of every band name it appears in because “if you say it any other way it doesn’t work.”
“Try it. Trying saying it any other way. That’s it,” he said, laughing. “Believe me, they tried. (Stephen) Stills wanted his name first so bad, man. He tried every way he could to figure it out, but he couldn’t make it work.”
In June, it was revealed by The New York Times Magazine that Crosby – along with such artists as Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf – was one hundreds of artists who had lost master recordings in the June 1, 2008, Universal fire.
“I’m torn up about it because look at the list,” he said. “You think, ‘Man, I’m still alive.’ There was stuff in there that was utterly, totally precious and irretrievable.”
Crosby has himself been prolific lately, producing four albums in the past five years.
“They’re four of the best records I ever made,” he said. “So, that tells me I’m probably doing the right thing. I’m not making any money, but I am making very good music and that’s my job, so that’s what I’m doing.”
As for live tribute acts copying not only his music, but his style and affect, Crosby said it was odd feeling.
“The ones that sing our stuff can get very good. I’ve heard lots of people doing three-part harmony, that’s how they learned three part harmony, was Crosby, Stills & Nash songs. ‘Helplessly Hoping’ is the one they always pick. When they start trying to look at you, well then, that’s kind of weird,” he said.
In the CPR song “Morrison,” in the new documentary and on Twitter, Crosby has voiced his displeasure for The Doors and, in particular, the late lead singer Jim Morrison.
“I did not like Morrison as a person. Didn’t think he was a good singer. Didn’t think he was a good writer. So, that was a real problem right in the first place,” said Crosby.
Crosby said his main problem was with the late keyboardist Ray Manzarek’s left hand.
“He tried to play bass with his left hand. And he wasn’t any good at it. It just never swung. That band never swung, ever. They never had a groove, ever. And it’s because they didn’t have a bass player and because he was very awkward with his left hand,” he said.
Crosby said young artists he appreciates who are working today include frequent collaborators like Michael League, Becca Stevens, and Michelle Willis, and bands like The Punch Brothers, I’m With Her and Snarky Puppy.
“There’s tons, man. They’re all struggling like crazy because they can’t make any money off of records because of streaming,” he said.
Crosby has always been outspoken politically. The new documentary contains footage from the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival shortly before Crosby was fired from the Byrds in which he uses a lull after the song “Hey Joe” to tell the crowd President John F. Kennedy was killed by a conspiracy including multiple shooters.
Crosby said he still believes that today.
“No change at all,” he said, before recommending the 1973 Burt Lancaster-starring film, “Executive Action.”
Crosby said today’s Democratic presidential political field was full of good choices including Massachusettes Sen. Elizabeth Warren, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and California Sen. Kamala Harris.
“It is time for a woman. That is the truth,” he said.
Crosby said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden were too old for the job.
“We’re going to have to reshape our economy and reshape our basis on fossil fuels or the human race is going to die out, which is kind of not a good solution,” he said. “I don’t think that old guys can make that kind of change.”
Crosby said the candidate he preferred above all was South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, though.
“He’s absolutely the smartest one, and he’s a wonderful cat, and he has no chance of making it at all because he’s gay. But, he’s absolutely the smartest one. And, I love him. He’s fantastic,” he said.
What is one interview question he never gets asked?
“Where should I send the money? That was good. I’m pretty proud of that,” he said.
What is the best piece of advice he had ever received?
“Joni Mitchell. She said, ‘Write that down. I said, ‘Write what down?’ She said, ‘What you just said.’ I said, ‘What did I just say?’ She said, ‘Something good. And, you never write it down. And, you say really good lyrics all the time. And you should write them down, or they didn’t happen,’ That’s where it got important: write it down or it didn’t happen,” he said. “Which I have taken very much to heart and I write everything down.”
What is one song he didn’t write which he wishes he had?
“I always liked ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (by the Beatles.) I thought it was a very brave thing for him to talk about people like that that nobody else would talk about in a rock ‘n’ roll song,” he said.
Is there anyone he has feuded with in the past including Neil Young, Roger McGuinn or Graham Nash he would like to make up with?
“I’m not mad at anybody. I don’t have a bad thing about any of those people, they’re all good people, and I did good work with them ... but I’m really aimed at tomorrow all the time,” he said. “My head is looking at what I’ve got to do tomorrow, what I’ve got to do next week, what I’d like to do next year. And, that’s where my head is.”