In his third year as a Byrd, David Crosby was kicked out of the band. There were a number of reasons, none of them made public, but several of them easy enough to guess. Crosby, rhythm guitarist, singer, and composer, was continually at odds with Roger McGuinn, acknowledged leader of the group. While McGuinn steered the band's uneasy course from "folk-rock" through space-rock to country, Crosby, equally energetic, equally opinionated, equally brilliant, kept tampering with the wheel. Crosby worked out and executed the intricate harmonies for the group's three-part vocal lines, but he went beyond "folk-rock" early in the game. He wrote "Mind Gardens," "Eight Miles High," "Everybody's Been Burned," "Why," and "What's Happening?!?!" He called Byrd music "folk, bossa nova, jazz, Afro."
Away from music, but still on stage, Crosby insisted on speaking out on politics, and he did it articulately and abrasively. At the Monterey Pop Festival in June, 1967, he delivered a rap challenging the credibility of the Warren Report. Four months later, he was no longer a Byrd.
Crosby hasn't changed much. If anything, he's younger than yesterday, freer with his music and with his iconoclastic ideas. Since leaving the Byrds, he produced Joni Mitchell's first album; Jefferson Airplane recorded a love song of his that the Byrds couldn't take: "Triad." And now he is the proudest, loudest member of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. On stage, it is David, Leo/Lion round face fronting a neat mane of wild hair, with freak fringes flying from his old Byrd jacket, who dominates the between-song raps. It's like the man can't stand dead air.
Where Steven Stills is the restrained Capricorn virtuoso boy wonder; where Neil Young is the earthy balance to the other three's often-angelic approaches, and where Graham "Willie" Nash is the boyish, stretched-out Englishman, Crosby is the most obvious catalyst, working hardest to keep four adamant individualists together. He does it with looks, grins, vibrancy bouncing off the balls of his feet, and, most of all, with raps.
Introducing a Neil Young tune called "Only Love Can Break Your Heart," Crosby rumbles: "Here's a song about President Johnson, Spiro T. Agnew, Richard Nixon/Ronnie Reagan/Vietnam/Cambodia/the moon and refuse"... pause ... "but it's not a bummer!" Talking about "Guinevere," a song he'd written for his lady Christine before she was killed last summer, he now says: "This is a place that Tricia Nixon doesn't get to go." At the Oakland Coliseum last week, Nash come-nowed: "She might be groovy," to which Crosby replied, slowly: "The odds are stupendously high against it." Then the irreverent capper: "She's the kind of girl that'd give bad head." Nash choked, turned away, and laughed. McGuinn would've kicked him off stage.Below is an excerpt of an article that originally appeared in RS 63 from July 23, 1970. This issue and the rest of the Rolling Stone archives are available via Rolling Stone Plus, Rolling Stone's premium subscription plan. If you are already a subscriber, you can click here to see the full story. Not a member? Click here to learn more about Rolling Stone Plus.
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