BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles

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David Crosby

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Back to Part Three.

Everybody's Been Burned

BW: It seems to me that CSN was one of the first high profile bands to not just play an occasional benefit, but to consistently have politics as something that crops in the music, something that motivates the way you do business, and something that's influencing a lot of your business choices throughout. Did you get a lot of resistance to that from Atlantic, and the business side of things, early on?

DC: No, but you've got to remember that when we were doing it, Atlantic was a different company. Ahmet Ertegun was running it, and Ahmet, you know, is a human being, as opposed to the people who are running it now, he said succinctly. The people that are running Atlantic now are the same people that are running the other majors. They're all accountants and lawyers, and they wouldn't know a song if it flew up their nose and died. They're in it for the quarterly report. And I despise them. I think they're all dinosaurs, and I think they carry a superstructure of drones that do nothing, they have business practices that are ludicrous, and I hope they all die a sorry death. [Laughs.]

BW: RIP, the record weasels?

DC: Yeah. Basically, I wouldn't have any thing to do with them. If a major came to me and offered me $5 million to sign tomorrow, I would turn them down.

BW: The label that you have the new CPR album on -- is that a self-financed label, or a small indie?

DC: That is wonderful thing that happened to me. Do you know the Gateway computer story? Two guys, the Waitt Brothers, started a computer company in Nebraska in their garage. When it became worth $2 billion -- that's with a "B" as in boy -- one of the two took his half and split, Norm Waitt. He started an entertainment company called Gold Circle. He hired, very wisely, a very good man named Mike Delich, who used to run Grammophone Records, to run the record company which is called Samson Music. And they heard my album. They heard the CPR album, which we made with our own money, and we were shopping. And they said, "This is what we want," and they signed us. And they were completely independent. They owe nothing to anyone. No one can tell them what to do. And my dealings with them have been just amazing. I've been making records for 35 years and this is the first time that I ever had anybody do everything they said they were going to do, and nothing they didn't say they were going to do.

BW: And the Stoney Evening record you initially distributed that through Grateful Dead records.

DC: Yes.

BW: CD, I'm sorry.

DC: Oh, it's okay, I call them records, too. In that it is a record of things that happen.

BW: That's what I always say to people when they catch me doing that, but it's really 'cause I have a room full of vinyl still, and I could never replace them.

DC: I lost all my vinyl, and I wish to hell I hadn't. I had such an astounding collection.

Too Young To Die

BW: A little bit about the Byrds: I wanted to ask you about Gene Clark. Because I haven't seen anybody ask you about him since he died, shortly after the Rock Hall induction, a couple months later. Any thoughts you have on Gene?

DC: I really liked Gene a lot, man, he was a good guy. It was very sad. I was sad that he died, I was sad about how he died. Same thing got him that almost got me. And he had been warned, you know. They told him that if he drank anymore, he would kill himself. And I think he knew that, and I think he just poured down a bottle on purpose. And I find that very distressing. He was an enormously talented guy. And a sweet guy, nice guy. And that's all.

BW: It has become known to the fan world recently that he was much younger than we believed. Everyone thought he was born in '41, and it turns out he was born in '44. So he would have been just a 20 year old when you all got together in the summer of '64. Which may explain why the pressure got to him... It's a big difference between 20 and 23.

DC: You know, it might be age... I don't really think so. I think it had to do with him being very much a product of a huge family in Mississippi -- Mississippi or Missouri?

BW: Missouri.

DC: And he, uh... I think he listened to too many people that told him stuff that wasn't true. I think he was manipulated by people again and again. I think it was sad, because he had a real talent.

BW: Maybe this is a good time while we are this subject, I guess, to talk about Michael [Clarke] a little bit. A lot of Byrds fans, and I guess Firefall fans probably, were really saddened by it, but it wasn't on the front pages or anything, and it just seemed like a shame.

DC: Yeah, he went down to a grubby death. He drank himself to death too. And, I think he probably died of liver failure. You know, probably without any insurance to get the transplant that I did get. Because, of course, if you don't have insurance, you die. Interesting little dividing line there. If you have it, you live, if you don't, you die. Again, sad, you know. I mean.... Booze, man. I'm 12 years clean and sober now, and I'm thankful about it every day, because there but for the grace of God go I. I could have been either one of them. Almost was. Repeatedly. I was worse than both of them, because they didn't have the money to get as completely twisted on drugs as I was. You know, Michael frustrated me a lot going out and you know pretending that he had a band and called the Byrds and stuff, that was really... low. But he was just desperate, you know, and it's just sad.

I Have Seen That Movie, And It Wasn't Like That

BW: There is a lot of detail about Michael's last days that I hadn't ever heard before in the new version of Johnny Rogan's book...

DC: Rogan is not actually a very good source. Johnny Rogan thinks he knows everything, and he speaks with great authority, but he is repeatedly wrong. If you sit down with that book, I can show you 24 mistakes in the first 7 pages. He comes off as if he really knows everything, and he is an opinionated little son of a bitch, but he is continually misinformed. And I would like to go on record as saying "Do not take Johnny Rogan as an accurate source, because he damn well isn't." He can't even spell names, let alone get facts right.

BW: There's a funny interview where Chris Hillman runs into him sometime after that book comes out and just gives him the dickens. And Rogan recounts it, pretty much at his own expense, somewhere. He basically got the bum's rush from Hillman, and it's like a three paragraph interview.

DC: I'm not surprised. You know, Chris feels, I'm sure, very much the same way I do. The guy is... you know, he comes off opinionated as hell and acts like he really knows what the hell he is talking about and he really damn well doesn't. If he had expressed all of his misinformation as opinion, I would have said, fine, he has a right to all the opinions he wants. But he purports it to be the facts, and he is sadly mistaken.

Onward to Part Five.

News & Interviews | The ByrdWatcher Interview | David Crosby | Part 4

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David Crosby

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