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What makes it so: A conversation with David Crosby

By Kevin M. Wilson

Contributing writer 

Though he has presented himself as a solo artist for well over 40 years now, David Crosby is, for good reason, best known for his high-profile alliances. A two-time Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee for his influential work with both the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, & Nash, his songs have left an indelible mark on millions. The Advocate-Messenger recently caught up with this amiable veteran of Woodstock (and countless other musical milestones) to talk about his brand new release, Lighthouse, as well as his upcoming performance at Centre College.

AM: The production on L ighthouse is wonderfully understated. The songs, and your voice, really have a chance to grab the listener. Can you speak to your approach in the studio this time around?

DC: Here’s how it happened: I asked Michael League to produce this record. Since he was the leader of a big band of extremely talented musicians, I assumed that it would be like hiring a carpenter with a gigantic tool box. But he was actually hoping to capture the sparse feel of my first solo album by focusing primarily on acoustic guitar and big vocal stacks. That’s exactly the sort of thing I love doing anyway, so we made a conscious decision to go in that direction, and I think it worked.

AM: Your father was a respected cinematographer who worked on such classics as “High Noon.” When you were growing up, did you have any opportunities to hang out on movie sets or function as, say, a cowboy extra?

DC: I didn’t get to be a cowboy extra, though I would have loved that. I did get to watch him make movies a whole lot. This was old Hollywood, you know, and old-style movie making. It was great fun to watch it happen. I thought that’s what I wanted to do, become an actor in movies, but then I started singing and that was that.

AM: It is easy to detect the musical influences of folks like the Everly Brothers and John Coltrane in your work. Do you have any non-musical influences that have impacted your life?

DC: The people who have influenced me the most are people who behave like exemplary humans and are courageous about their choices. In the 60s I was very inspired by the courage of Martin Luther King though I don’t think that I could have ever done anything like what he did.

AM: Tell us how this happened: four of the generation’s best songwriters played together at the defining musical event of the 1960s, and Joni Mitchell, who wasn’t even there, ended up writing the so ng about YO UR experience?

DC: [Laughter] Yeah, go ahead and make some sense out of that! Nope, that’s just how it happened. She was that good. Even though she wasn’t there, she got it. We came back, told her what happened at Woodstock, and she wrote that song. And it’s a beautiful song.

AM: Is there any truth to the story that CSN was responsible for teaching the Grateful Dead how to sing harmo ny parts for their American Beauty album?

DC: That story’s been around forever, but it’s not true. We might have led by example, you know, we certainly were good at harmonies, and they were very good listeners. But we never sat them down and taught them how to do it. They figured it out for themselves, in their own way, and it was good, too.

AM: Unlike many of your peers, you have enjoyed a long, happily married life. What is the secret to that?

DC: [Laughter] Oh, man, if I knew the secret to that, I would bottle it up and sell it. Look, I fell in love with a woman who was really sweet and wonderful. And I’m still in love with her. That’s it. I got lucky.

AM: At 75, you are enjoying quite a creative streak. What do you attribute that to, and what do you hope to accomplish moving forward?

DC: The hope for the future is more of the same. I’m really pleased with the way things are going. Why it’s working is anyone’s guess. It’s probably because my life is good right now. I am really happy with my family, and my music, and for whatever reason, there are a lot of songs coming through me, which is a great gift.

AM: What is the format for your tour? Will you be doing a solo storyteller sort of show, or more of a full band thing?

DC: It’s something new and I’m looking forward to it very heavily. It’s going to be me, Mike League, Becca Stevens, and Michelle Willis. It’s not a smoke machine and greatest hits kind of thing. The songs will certainly span my career but it’s all about forward motion at this point. And, really, the music speaks better for me than I can for myself.

IF YOU GO

David Crosby appears at the Norton Center For The Arts (600 W Walnut St, 859-236-4692) at 8pm this Saturday, November 19th.

Kevin Wilson is a Louisville-based Arts & Features writer and the author of I Close My Eyes To See: The Dan Rhema Story.