As much as just about any rock star, David Crosby has lived the lifestyle to its fullest, indulging freely and wantonly in the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll stereotype that flourished in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Accordingly, the music legend – who has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, for his work in The Byrds (he wrote “Eight Miles High,” “Lady Friend” and “Why”) and Crosby, Stills & Nash (“Guinnevere,” “Wooden Ships,” “Almost Cut My Hair,” “Déjà vu”) – has found his share of drama, legal trouble and severe health problems, including drug and alcohol addiction, a liver transplant, Type 2 diabetes and last year’s angiogram.
But when he steps out onto the stage Tuesday night at the Fillmore Miami Beach, fans will see a Crosby who is in a better place – emotionally, spiritually and health-wise – than he’s been in a long time.
Crosby will perform an intimate solo set – just him and a guitar – of songs and the stories behind them that run the gamut of his entire career, from his years with The Byrds; Crosby, Stills & Nash (and, later, Neil Young); his duets with Graham Nash; and solo work, including tracks from last year’s critically acclaimed album “Croz” and some that he’s written just within the past few weeks.
Crosby talked to The Miami Herald about the show, the early days with CSN, and how he ended up fathering Melissa Etheridge’s children.
What do you want your fans to get out of this show?
It’s just me and my guitar and the songs – and that’s where the thing lies. If you’re working with a band, you have lead guitar and keyboards and bass and drums and stuff to occupy their minds, If you’re by yourself, you’d better have some really good songs. That’s the part of it that I like: I like telling the tale and taking them on a little voyage. It’s much more challenging, but it is a joy to do.
You get a chance to strip the songs down to their real essence, I guess.
Yeah, and the words matter. If you’re playing in a gigantic place, a 10,000-seater, [laughs] that’s why Mick Jagger wears a scarf around his neck – because it’s pretty hard to work in fine brushstrokes when you’re in a huge place. When you’re singing in a small theater, you can make the words count, make the story count, you can take people on a little voyage, and that’s what I love doing.
What’s the set-list breakdown – kind of a retrospective of everything?
Yeah, songs all the way from The Byrds to stuff I wrote last week. Brand-new stuff – there’ll be some of that. I’ve been writing a ton – I don’t know exactly what’s going on, but I’ve been writing a lot, and I’m absolutely loving it. Probably the longest, densest creative surge in 20 years – a long time.
Wow. Is there anything you can pinpoint as an explanation for this?
Well, I’m pretty happy – I think that might have something to do with it. My family loves me, and I love them, and that’s a good thing. And I’m alive [laughs]. That was a close-run thing for a while. And I’ve been sober for a while now, and that probably helps, too. I mean, I don’t think there’s too much wrong with smoking pot, which is the only thing I’ve done for probably 30 years. But I haven’t even been doing that for six months or something, because I’ve been in the middle of this writing surge.
Does that dull your creativity a little bit?
No, it just gives me, you know – look at the colors, the colors! I can pay attention better, and I can work harder if I’m straight – at least, that’s what I think. It’s different for everybody, but it’s been really good for me, and the result is a ton of good songs.
Are they similar in style to the stuff on “Croz,” or are they all over the place?
All over the place. All different.
Things have obviously changed quite a bit in the music scene since your beginnings. Is this show kind of a gift to people who long for the pure days, back before all the production and marketing and social media?
Yeah, I think probably. I think people who really love songs, who are fans of singer-songwriters like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor and Bob Dylan and stuff like that are probably gonna love this night. They will dig it and get what I’m trying to do.
Will you tell the stories behind them?
I always do, man. The other guys in CSN are always telling me to shut up and quit talking, because I always tell stories about songs.
Are you going to play stuff from The Byrds and CSN that other people wrote as well, like “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Carry On”?
[In sing-song voice] I’m not gonna te-ell yo-ou – you have to come to the sho-ow! But yeah, I’ll be doing all the stuff from the beginning to now.
When you started with CSN, you were with The Byrds, Graham Nash was with The Hollies and Stephen Stills was with Buffalo Springfield, and you guys were called a “supergroup.” Did you feel that way, or was it more like friends getting together who were in harmony, musically?
We weren’t thinking about who was who – we were just reveling in singing together, because it worked. We could tell right away, as soon as we sang together at Joni [Mitchell]’s house, we knew what it sounded like. And we all had songs. There’s a huge advantage to having three songwriters – or in the case of when we had Neil [Young], four songwriters – because it can give you a really wide palette of colors to paint from.
How did Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher end up choosing you to father their children [a daughter, Bailey Jean, and a son, Beckett], and was it a difficult decision for you?
No, not at all – it wasn’t even my decision, really. I just went along with it completely, because I thought it was a great idea. What happened was, they were in Hawaii, and we were in Hawaii, and they visited us. This was 20 years ago, and that’s when my son Django was a kid, and they saw him and said, “Oh, wow – what a great kid!” And they said we’ve been trying to do that, but it’s hard for us to work it out successfully, where it’s not weird. And they looked at Django and said, “He’s a stellar one – where’d you get that?” And my wife Jan [Dance] pointed at me, and in an act of complete generosity and love offered me up. And I think the thing that they liked the most about that was that it came from a good place. It came from an honest friendship, and it wasn’t being weird or wanting money – it was just, “Yeah, we’ll help you.”
I mean, they were nice people, and they were in love. We couldn’t see why they shouldn’t be able to have kids, and I still feel that way.
Are you a big part of their lives?
No, I’m a small part. But Melissa was very generous about making sure they knew who I was and letting them visit me and stuff. And we’re friends. They’re good kids – I love ‘em.
Are your wild days behind you?
Oh, definitely, yeah. The stuff that’s important to me now is my family and music. With pot, I’m still an activist and I still stick up for what I believe in, but my life energy is concentrated on my family and making the best possible music that I can.