David Crosby, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, has died, according to people close to his family. He was 81. The cause of death has not been determined.
For more than six decades, Crosby was a seminal, pioneering figure in the folk-rock scene as a member of The Byrds, Crosby, Stills & Nash, and then Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He also had a successful solo career, particularly in recent years, releasing new music at a breakneck rate.
His old bandmates praised his abilities on social media.
“I learned with deep and profound sadness that my friend David Crosby has gone,” Graham Nash wrote 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 courageous in both his life and his music.
He leaves a huge vacuum in terms of sheer personality and talent on this planet. Through his lovely music, he expressed his mind, heart, and passion, and he leaves an unforgettable legacy. These are the most important considerations. My heart goes out to his wife, Jan, his son, Django, and everyone he has touched in this life.”
“I read a passage in this morning’s paper credited to composer Gustav Mahler that stopped me for a moment: “Death has, on placid cat’s paws, entered the room,” Stephen Stills said in a statement. I should’ve realized something was wrong. David and I had a lot of headbutts over the years, but they were largely glancing hits that left us with numb skulls.
I felt relieved to be at peace with him. He was without a doubt a musical giant, and his harmonic instincts were nothing short of brilliant. The glue held us together while our vocals flew toward the light like Icarus. I am extremely grieved by his death and will miss him greatly.”
Crosby, a Los Angeles native and the son of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, joined the Byrds in 1964, and the band, known for its jangling guitars and layered harmonies, reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 with two songs: Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Pete Seeger’s “Turn!Turn!Turn!”
Crosby departed the Byrds in 1967 due to a conflict with his colleagues Roger McGuinn and Chris Hillman. After meeting Stills and Nash in 1968, the trio became Crosby, Stills & Nash, performing at Woodstock for only the second time in August 1969.
Their self-titled debut album produced two top 40 Hot 100 successes, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” (No. 21) and “Marrakesh Express” (No. 28), and they received the Grammy for a best new act in 1969. (He is one of just two people in Grammy history to receive two nominations for a best new artist. Before his CSN win, he was nominated for the award as a member of The Byrds (1965).)
Neil Young joined the trio in 1969, propelling them to new heights with their 1970 album, Deja Vu, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 100. Crosby wrote songs for the group including “Guinnevere,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Long Time Gone,” and “Wooden Ships,” but he was best renowned for his tight harmonies and rhythm guitar skills.
Crosby’s time with CSN and CSN&Y, like his time with the Byrds, was marred by violent infighting, with Young departing the band in 1970. CSN didn’t record another album until 1977, with a self-titled set that included the hit “Just A Song Before I Go,” because they couldn’t control the arguing in the studio. “Wasted On the Way” and “Southern Cross” were included on Daylight Again in 1982.
The band officially disbanded in 2016 after multiple tours, but as Nash told The Guardian in 2022, they built something genuinely unique: “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 amazing. “We’d discovered a new method of singing, of blending our three voices into one,” he explained. “We’d murder them.
They couldn’t believe we were doing it. We’d then play ‘Guinnevere,’ ‘Lady of the Island,’ ‘Helplessly Hoping,’ and ‘You Don’t Have to Cry,’ and they’d all be on the floor, their fucking brains melting. That’s the image that comes to mind whenever I recall those times.”
Crosby concurred, telling the Guardian in 2021 that he preferred his work with CSN and CSNY to that with the Byrds. “No contest,” he declared. “Both CSN and CSNY are more sophisticated and went far further than the Byrds.”
Outside of CSN, Crosby was prolific, producing his debut solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, in 1971. He and Nash made many studios and live albums such as Crosby & Nash, and he also released several sets as part of CPR (Crosby, Pevar, and Raymond, Crosby’s son) between 1996 and 2004. Croz, his first solo album in more than 20 years, was released in 2014.
He then recorded five albums, several of which he collaborated on with Michael League of Snarky Puppy. David Crosby & The Lighthouse Band: Live at the Capitol Theatre, which was recorded in 2018, was released in December by BMG. It was his first live solo CD/DCD collection.
Crosby suffered from substance abuse for decades, leading to a prison sentence for drug possession in 1985, a liver transplant in 1994, and another short jail time in 2004 for drug and weapon possession.
Remember My Name, a documentary directed by Cameron Crowe on the cantankerous rock legend, was released in 2019. Crosby explained to Billboard why his Byrds bandmate McGuinn labeled him “insufferable” in an interview about the warts-and-all documentary.
“I can be argumentative. Opinionated. “I’m fine with that,” Crosby admitted. “When you’re in a band connection like that, it’s like a marriage… You start out loving each other and listening to one other’s music. You’re overjoyed to be doing this, and every time you play music, you feel a sense of brotherhood with the other guys. We were a competitive band in CSNY with Neil [Young], Graham [Nash], and Stephen [Stills]. It is not cooperative or competitive. We were also really rude to one other, unkind and unfaithful to each other on numerous occasions.”
Nash and Young had severed contact with Crosby and were not thought to have reconciled by the time he died. Stills kept in touch with Crosby, telling Billboard last summer that he had spoken with him “not that long [ago].”
Crosby sold his recorded music and publishing rights to Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group in 2021, after being hampered by his inability to perform during the epidemic. The contract encompassed both his solo and group efforts.
“Given our current incapacity to work live, this deal is a blessing for me and my family, and I believe these are the finest people to do it with,” Crosby said at the time in a statement.
Crosby was aware the clock was ticking, told Consequence in a 2021 interview, “I don’t know how much time I have. I may live for two weeks or ten years. I’m nearing the end of my life. We are aware of this. What I do with the time I have is more important than how much time I have, right? And it appears to me that the only contribution I can make, the only place where I can contribute, is to make more music and do it well. And I strive to improve it with whatever time I have. I’m attempting to make more songs. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Crosby, a prolific and frequently opinionated Twitter user, was tweeting as recently as Tuesday.
Crosby received ten Grammy nominations during his career, including one for best music film for Remember My Name, but his only win was the CSN best new artist award.
Crosby, who was MusiCares’ first person of the year in 1991, is survived by his wife of 35 years, Jan, and kids Django and James Raymond.
Katie Atkinson, Keith Caulfield, and Paul Grein assisted in the preparation of this report.