David Crosby, 1960s Folk Rock Icon, Dies at 81

Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images
Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

David Crosby, the legendary folk rocker who defined the sound of the 1960s as a founding member of groups like the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (later to become Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), died Thursday. He was 81.

Melissa Etheridge, the singer-songwriter who conceived a son with Crosby serving as sperm donor, appeared to confirm the news. “Thank you @thedavidcrosby I will miss you my friend,” she tweeted on Thursday afternoon.

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Of the other three members of the CSNY supergroup, Graham Nash was the first to comment publicly on Crosby’s loss, writing on Facebook that he was feeling “a deep and profound sadness” over his onetime bandmate’s death.

“I know people tend to focus on how volatile our relationship has been at times,” he continued, “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.”

A spokesperson for Neil Young declined to comment on the matter to The Daily Beast.

A cause of death was not immediately apparent.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>David Crosby poses for a portrait at the Jefferson Center on Thursday August 15, 2019 in Roanoke, VA.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images</div>

David Crosby poses for a portrait at the Jefferson Center on Thursday August 15, 2019 in Roanoke, VA.

Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Born in 1941, David Crosby dropped out of a college in Santa Barbara to chase a career as a musician. Linking up with Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, Chris Hillman, and Michael Clarke to form the band that was to become the Byrds in 1964, Crosby enjoyed his first hits with the group’s covers of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” and the Limeliters’ “Turn! Turn! Turn!”

Despite laying the foundations of the folk-rock scene just beginning to bloom around Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon in the mid-’60s, the Byrds were never a solid rock unit, and Crosby departed under a cloud in 1967, taking his rhythm guitar with him.

The two-time Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame inductee began jamming and writing songs with Stephen Stills, a fellow malcontent who had recently decamped from Buffalo Springfield. They were joined by Nash, lately of the Hollies, and formed Crosby, Stills & Nash. The trio rocketed up their charts with the self-titled 1969 debut, and they took the album on the road, joined by another Buffalo Springfield alum named Neil Young.

Now a quartet, CSNY played one of their first shows before half a million people who had made the pilgrimage out to Woodstock, New York, for the iconic 1969 festival. They recorded 1970’s Déjà Vu, which generated three Top 40 singles in “Woodstock,” “Teach Your Children,” and “Our House.”

But the supergroup called an indefinite hiatus by the summer of 1970, having had enough of the bickering and scrabbling for power that defined their behind-the-scenes interactions. (CSNY only officially broke up in 2016.)

Going solo, Crosby put out his debut, If I Could Only Remember My Name, in 1971, which reached No. 12 on the Billboard 200. Over the next few decades, he would periodically regroup with various configurations of CSNY for live shows and albums, enjoying a particularly close relationship with Nash that only disintegrated in later years.

After a 20-year break from recording, Crosby returned to the studio and cut 2014’s Croz, telling Rolling Stone, “It’ll probably sell nineteen copies. I don't think kids are gonna dig it, but I’m not making it for them. I’m making it for me. I have this stuff that I need to get off my chest.”

From there, his output picked up steam, and he released the albums Lighthouse in 2016; Sky Trails in 2017; Here If You Listen in 2019; and For Free in 2021.

<div class="inline-image__caption"><p>Stephen Stills and Manassas with special guest Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performing in San Francisco on October 4, 1973.</p></div> <div class="inline-image__credit">Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images</div>

Stephen Stills and Manassas with special guest Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young performing in San Francisco on October 4, 1973.

Larry Hulst/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

He seemed to revel in the creative freedom of his second wind, telling The Daily Beast two years ago, “Everyone I’ve worked with on the albums since Croz have been so good and so eager and so amazingly confident that I have felt safe and able to take chances and risks. I can be utterly, totally fucking naked. I can be completely honest about stuff.”

He retired from touring last May, grousing in an interview that he was “too old to do it anymore.” Several months later, however, he appeared to change his mind, tweeting in December, “hmmmmmm….dare I say it? …I think I’m starting yet another band and going back out to play live…”

Less than a week before his death, it was announced that Crosby had set a date to play before a live audience again in Santa Barbara, California, helping to ring in the 150th anniversary of the city’s Lobero Theatre on Feb. 22.

It remains unclear how organizers intend to handle the show in the wake of Crosby’s death.

On Thursday, colleagues of the music legend flocked to social media to pay their respects.

“David was an unbelievable talent - such a great singer and songwriter,” Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys tweeted. “And a wonderful person. I just am at a loss for words.”

During his later years, Crosby himself was also a prolific—and frequently cantankerous—user of social media. In 2019, asked his opinion on contemporaneous group the Doors by a Twitter follower, he rattled off: “basically sucked ...guitar and drums pretty ok ...keyboard was awful ..his bass with left hand was abysmal, horrible ...square wheel bad ...and [Jim] Morrison was no effing good as a singer or poet ..poser ....sorry.”

“Croz,” as his followers knew him, continued tweeting out bon mots until the end. On Wednesday, the day before his death, he quoted-tweeted a user joking about tattooed people being barred from heaven.

“I heard the place is overrated... .cloudy,” he wrote.

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