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Remembering David Crosby

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I was talking with Michael the other day. We had just learned of David Crosby’s passing.  We both had memories of David dating back to our early days as single performers. It was a particularly poignant conversation. We were getting close to David’s age and had both dodged a trip to rock ‘n roll heaven this past year. David’s passing wasn’t a big surprise to us. We just figured that having known him, we always thought it would be from other causes.

Michael and I first met David at about the same time.  For Michael, it was at his home club, the Buddi, in Oklahoma City where Michael was the opening act. I was the opening act at La Cave in Cleveland and was on a “road trip” to Coconut Grove, Florida where I first met him. The Grove was a place of music, and David was playing some of the coffee houses in the area. I first met him at an “open mic night” at one of those clubs. He was hanging out with Fred Neil, a singer/songwriter who, aside from writing “Everybody’s Talkin’”, was the fellow who influenced so many of the folks who went on to create “folk rock.”

Fred Neil

La Cave was one of those folk music clubs that had become a mainstay of the folkies and singer/songwriters of the day. At that time, folk rock was coming on, and several of the musicians that had played there had gone on to become “stars” of this new idiom. Denny Daugherty, Cass Elliot, and John Phillips had formed the Mammas and Pappas. The Lovin’ Spoonful was made up of musicians that had played La Cave as was Phil Oachs and a host of others. 

David with the Byrds

One night I was opening for some group when the Byrds, who were playing a big venue in Cleveland, came down to see what was happening at La Cave. And there was David Crosby. I hadn’t been paying attention and didn’t realize he was in the group. The Byrds at La Cave became another excuse to have a party at Stan’s apartment. Stan, the owner of the club, was famous for his after-show parties and this was no exception. 

The Byrds

I had an idea that it was time for me to head to California. We were sitting around Stan’s place when David pulled out a package of joints warning us that those with the black crosses were California’s best. He also pulled out a small, portable cassette recorder, smaller than anything I had seen at the time. The Byrds had just returned from London where they had been hanging out with the Beatles. They were full of stories but what impressed us the most was what was on the tape in that tiny machine. It was a tape of the as-yet-unreleased Beatles “Revolver” album. I’m not going to say that every one of the Clevelanders at that party thought we were cool, but we did. Very cool.

David and the Beatles

The next encounter with David came when I was rehearsing with Ruthann Friedman. A&M Records was trying to turn us into a group.  We did have a single as “The Garden Club.” Ruthann had just written “Windy” for the Association and I was going to help her do the demo for it. I’m not sure how it happened, but we ended up working in David’s basement in Laurel Canyon.

Ruthann Friedman

Many years later Brewer and Shipley were finishing up our “Tarkio” album. We had one song to finish mixing, but the studio was booked. We begged and pleaded for a little more time with the group that had the studio booked. We were joined in this endeavor by our manager and everyone else in our group. No luck. Not even a couple of hours. David and Graham Nash had it booked and wouldn’t budge. So we ended up finishing it in one of the engineering rooms there at Wally Heider’s. So much for honor among thieves. 

The Tarkio album cover

A few years later Jackson Browne released his first album. We had known Jackson since he was 16 playing open mic nights at the clubs around LA. Years later, Brewer and Shipley were playing Washington’s Cellar Door with James Taylor. James and the rest of us were all aware of Jackson and couldn’t wait to hear the album. There was David along with Graham Nash doing harmony vocals. To be honest none of us was particularly crazy about the production. We had been used to listening to Jackson with only his guitar and piano as accompaniment. Simple and beautiful. Hearing him with the full-blown Hollywood treatment had given us pause.

Jackson & David

The final twist and turn of this story came a few years later. Brewer and Shipley received The Spirit of Folk Award at the Folk Alliance International Conference in Kansas City. Graham was there, and I reminded him of the incident with the studio so many years earlier. “We pulled rank,” Graham said. Okay. He was right. They had. 

Me with Graham Nash

But our album, “Tarkio”, was a hit as was the single “One Toke Over The Line.”  Knowing David and his joints with the x’s on them, I thought he would like that. The studio incident notwithstanding, I would like to say “Thank you, David, for some beautiful songs.” They helped get me through the 70’s in one piece.

2 Responses

  1. Susan Bryce
    | Reply

    I loved David Crosby with all my heart. He was the belt that held up the fabric of our collective Stand & Be Counted spirit. He was at times both leader and mascot.
    Some of us have followed his music in the last decade, and his final album released in this last month, Live at the Capital Theater is magnificent. A glorious parting gift.
    I love your essay about Croz.
    I consider you his equal for the ways in which your music made our society better. I thank you for sharing your engaging stories with us still.

  2. Mike esau
    | Reply

    Tom,
    Your music has been a staple in my library since the early 70’s.
    I’ve seen you and Michael live whenever I could. Whenever you were close.
    You and Michael did an acoustic gig at the Catskellar in the basement of the K-State student union in the late 70s when I was an undergrad.
    The last time I saw you was at the outdoor venue Crossroads in KC. You opened for OMD which had to cancel due severe storms which kicked in as you and Michael left the stage.
    The Daredevils are playing TPAC this Saturday in Topeka, where I live. How convenient. Hopefully I can get Supe to sign his book for me.
    As much as I love all your music, whenever I needed to be grounded I got myself alone and put on Witchi-Tai-To, turned up the volume and sang along.
    Is there any significance to the title not to mention the other lyrics in the chorus? I always imagined it must be some native language but I never knew.

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