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Remembering David Crosby, the outspoken co-founder of Crosby, Stills & Nash

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. David Crosby, co-founder of the folk rock group Crosby, Stills & Nash and before that, a member of the Byrds, died last week at the age of 81. He was known for his great harmonies, his on-and-off struggle with drugs, his outspoken personality, and his songwriting including the songs "Deja Vu," "Guinnevere," "Long Time Gone" and "Almost Cut My Hair." In 1990, Terry Gross spoke with David Crosby and Graham Nash, who, before joining Crosby, Stills & Nash, was a member of the British group The Hollies.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

TERRY GROSS: I'd really love to hear the story about how the two of you first met. Is there such a story?

GRAHAM NASH: There is.

DAVID CROSBY: Yes, there is. Yeah.

GROSS: Can you tell it?

NASH: The Hollies were in Los Angeles in 1967, maybe even late '66. And I had, on a previous visit, met a woman who drastically changed my life. Her name was Cass Elliot. She was the lead singer with the Mamas & the Papas. And on my next visit to LA, when I was staying at the Knickerbocker, she called me up one day. She said, I want to take you somewhere; be downstairs in the lobby, 5 minutes - which is the way that Cass used to operate the world, you know? Be here; be down (vocalizing). So I was down in the lobby, and she rode up in this red convertible Porsche and proceeded to drive me up Laurel Canyon and windy, windy, windy, windy. And we end up at this house. It also has a dark green Porsche. Was it convertible, David?

CROSBY: No.

NASH: No. A dark green Porsche in the garage. Led me up the stairs, and I see this man who is lying on a settee with a tray of dope on his chest.

CROSBY: Well, let's be specific now. It was a tray of...

NASH: Marijuana.

CROSBY: Marijuana.

NASH: Yeah.

CROSBY: At the time.

NASH: Yeah. That's what we called dope then in those days. Rolling the most immaculate joints that I've ever seen that could very well have easily gone into a packet and been sold as, you know, consumer-level stuff. And that kind of amazed me 'cause I'd never seen anybody quite do this whilst answering the phone, whilst watching the TV and reading a book at the same time.

CROSBY: Eating, too, probably.

NASH: Yes, probably. We got on famously. David did not know who I was. But I knew...

CROSBY: Cass, the rat, didn't tell me who he was. She just...

GROSS: Was that intentional?

CROSBY: Yeah, sure. She loved to do things like that. She didn't tell me who he was. I really liked this guy, you know, that she brought over. And I was totally mystified about who he was. I hadn't the vaguest clue. And then, after he was gone, you know, later on, I said, who was that guy? And she said, you ever hear (singing) King Midas in reverse?

And I said, you're kidding, you know, 'cause I'm a harmony singer freak. You know, I love harmony singers. You know, I loved the Everly Brothers. I love people that can sing great harmony. And the minute you hear a Hollies' record, you know, that's what you notice, is this fantastic high harmony. And so when she told me, I beat her about the head and shoulders for a while and then said, I want to see him again.

NASH: And that's how David and I met.

GROSS: So how did you decide to actually perform together, start singing together?

NASH: Well, we were friends before we ever got involved in music on that level. We both, of course, knew each other musically, and I was a great fan of his stuff on the Byrds albums. And one day, the Byrds were touring England, and David was in London. And I had his number, and he was staying at a hotel that was, strangely enough, called the White House. And I said, hey, you don't want to be at the White House - blue-haired ladies, old people, cigars.

CROSBY: What a pit.

NASH: Come over, and stay with me. So he came over to stay with me at my - I had a muse apartment in London. And then, we started to talk music, you know? And he left me with a tape of a very early demo of a song he'd written called "Guinnevere" and a song he'd written called "Deja Vu" and a song he'd written called "Wooden Ships." I believe "Long Time Gone" was on there also. And so, you know, first of all, it amazed me that these songs had not been recorded yet because, you know, in hindsight, they were brilliant songs.

And so from the very first musical inklings of this man, of this mass complex man that Crosby is, I began to realize that I would like to make music with this man, that he wrote and thought very differently than me. And yet there was something that bound us together. Either our sense of humor or our sense of the ridiculous or our sense of rebellion, there was something that linked David and I together from the very beginning. And it remains to this day.

GROSS: Were there things you wanted to each do that you couldn't do with the bands that you were with, that, Graham Nash, you couldn't do with the Hollies...

NASH: Obviously.

GROSS: ...That, David Crosby, you couldn't do with the Byrds?

CROSBY: Yeah. I'm not as sure now as I was then that I was being held back by the situation I was in. But I was certainly stuck in a role. I was, you know, the rhythm guitar player-harmony singer. And it was tough for me to be, you know, to be recognized as a singer-songwriter in my own right, in that band and in that role. And I know that it was even more so for Graham. Graham was writing songs that absolutely stunned me - they were so good. And his band wanted to do an album of Dylan songs. And if - I think if you...

NASH: Which is not necessarily bad, but they wanted to do it Las Vegas-style.

CROSBY: Well, no, I really think actually the Hollies doing Dylan is, like...

NASH: Yeah.

CROSBY: ...A really inappropriate choice.

NASH: I'm trying to be kind.

CROSBY: I'm trying to be kind, too. They make great records, but...

GROSS: Yeah.

CROSBY: ...A Dylan song - it's not the...

GROSS: Right. Yes, right.

CROSBY: ...Thing for them to be doing. Not at all. Not even close. Not in the ballpark. And they had great songs, his songs. So I know that he was, you know, frustrated, too. And then my relationship with the Byrds came to, you know, a feisty end between me and them. And they threw me out. And I started hanging around with Stephen. And then we, you know, lucked into, you know, singing together. And the minute you sing together and hear that sound, you know, you know you want to do that, obviously.

GROSS: Now, I want to get back, Graham Nash, to your work with the Hollies. Now, you were writing, I mean, what I think was great songs, like "Stop Stop Stop" and "Carrie Anne." I mean, did you feel like that was a kind of pop that you didn't want to do anymore?

NASH: It became so after a while. You know, we were trained to write, you know - I don't think we ever wrote anything over two minutes and 50 seconds long, you know? It was - there was a Tin Pan Alley kind of training that we went through in the late '50s, early '60s. And that's what I was kind of stuck in. But then having met David and Stephen and expanding my awareness, not only on a personal level but on a - you know, by smoking huge, copious amounts of marijuana, I began to change the way I felt about what was important in music. And I began to realize that the three-minute pop song, although it has its value, was not truly, truly important on a deep level.

And so I began to write songs that I personally thought that were better songs than just three-minute pop songs. And the Hollies were not interested in those songs. And so I became - I began to question myself. I thought that it was me that was at fault, that I was wrong, that, you know, because there were four of them and only one of me. It was Crosby that saved my musical life by saying, wait a second. If you're crazy, then I'm just as crazy. And maybe we should stick together here.

GROSS: Were there differences in how you approached the music business - David Crosby, coming from America, Graham Nash, coming from England? I mean, there's some differences.

CROSBY: We have - we did have some differences about how we related to the music business when we originally got together. I had already gotten to a place where from my, you know, from my way of thinking, the music business and the music press and all were adversaries. But I had been watching Dylan. So, yeah, I used to go and go to press conferences with Bob Dylan and watch him, you know, play verbal pingpong with these people. And so then when I came to England, I had this enormous amount of irreverence, you know, for it. And I think Graham liked that.

NASH: Oh, I did.

CROSBY: He was really tired of having...

NASH: You got to understand...

CROSBY: ...To cater to these people.

NASH: ...David came to one of the Hollies' press conferences in London. And the Hollies - because we were, you know, controlled by the forces that made pop groups, and we wanted to be famous, and all that stuff, you know, people would say, OK, all stand on your heads now. OK, click, click, click. Good. OK, now take this orange in your hand and juggle with it. Fine - click, click, click, click, click. We went to a press conference, and somebody asked me a question, and Crosby stood in the way, and he said, screw off. We're not answering that question, are we, Graham? Now, this shocked me because we'd been used to treating the press like gods. And here is someone who treated them, you know, like dogs, which is almost spelt the same way, but not quite, you know. It was amazing.

GROSS: So did that become a habit of yours afterwards?

CROSBY: A certain amount of irreverence.

NASH: No, I still have more patience with people in the press. David still is irreverent.

DAVIES: David Crosby and Graham Nash, recorded in 1990. Crosby died last week at the age of 81.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROSBY, STILLS, NASH AND YOUNG SONG, "DEJA VU")

DAVIES: Coming up, critic-at-large John Powers reviews the new HBO series "The Last Of Us." This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL, ET AL.'S "TURN, TURN, TURN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Combine an intelligent interviewer with a roster of guests that, according to the Chicago Tribune, would be prized by any talk-show host, and you're bound to get an interesting conversation. Fresh Air interviews, though, are in a category by themselves, distinguished by the unique approach of host and executive producer Terry Gross. "A remarkable blend of empathy and warmth, genuine curiosity and sharp intelligence," says the San Francisco Chronicle.