BYRDWATCHER: A Field Guide to the Byrds of Los Angeles

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David Crosby

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Back to Part Four.

Younger Than Yesterday

BW: What did you think of the Byrds reissues?

DC: I thought they were good. It pissed me off that nobody asked me anything. No one consulted me, no one talked to me, no one ever rang my phone, ever -- not once -- about any of it. So naturally I was pissed off. You will notice that there is almost nothing of mine in any of it. I mean, in the compilations, there was almost nothing of mine. In these, they're reissues so they had to put my stuff in. As for the extra songs...

BW: There is some nice stuff of yours that didn't come out until the '80's.

DC: I wouldn't have put them in and the reason we left them out is because we meant to leave them out. It just ticked me off that they didn't ask me. I was in the group, the last time I checked. And they could have at least communicated with me, but that's okay. They'll need me someday and I won't be there. I don't mean Roger, I mean Columbia.

BW: Which is Sony now.

DC: Yeah, well, they don't care. One of those big labels.

BW: Yeah, although one ironic thing is that it seems like the accountants from Japan and the Netherlands and places like that, that own the labels that are also run by accountants, seem to have a greater appreciation for what is in their archives than a lot of American labels do.

DC: Maybe they are smarter about how to repackage stuff now.

BW: Maybe they understand that it's free money. They don't have to pay anybody, they just have to put it out.

DC: Possibly so. [Picks up the CD insert from Younger Than Yesterday.] This is my favorite Byrds album of all. I loved it, I thought we did a great job.

BW: That one is where your songwriting really came to the fore.

DC: So did Chris's.

BW: And Chris's, sure.

DC: I think we were maturing as talents then, and I think we did really good work on that record. I liked it. I liked all the Byrds records that I was on.

BW: Yeah, I don't think there's really a weak one among those.

DC: No.

BW: I've never heard anybody remark about this, but I was listening to "Tribal Gathering," which you co-wrote. You probably wrote most of it, I'm guessing, and there is that heavy riff in there, and I'm wondering if you ever heard the "1969" by the Stooges? Same riff.

DC: No. Never heard it.

BW: So the Byrds are credited for inventing folk rock, raga rock, jazz rock, space rock, country rock, but now you can claim punk rock, too.

DC: [Laughs.] I don't think we invented any of that shit. I think they were just desperately trying to label us, and I never wanted to be labeled. We always fought being labeled because it is a function where somebody can dismiss you because they can say, "Oh, that's a ...," and they can stop thinking about it. So what you want to do is try to refuse the label. They kept trying to label us; every time we turned around, they came up with a new one. And it's a bunch of bullshit. What we were was a good singer/songwriter band. And pretty creative. We pushed the envelope a lot for that early on.

Why Can't We Go On As Three?

BW: You have given a lot of credit to Jim Dickson for his early guidance.

DC: He was a big influence early, you know, the first year or so of the band. He brought Dylan to us. It's not that we didn't know, you know -- I'd watch Dylan play when I was a kid working in the Village, and he was singing over at Gerde's. And I thought he was a great writer then. Didn't like his voice all that much, but I thought he was an unbelievable songwriter. But I didn't really get him until Roger translated him for me. When Roger took "Tambourine Man" and changed the time and the feel... Roger's a genius, man. Face it, the guy is. He's one of the great storytellers of music ever, and one of the great arrangers. He did the best translations of Dylan's work that'll ever happen, or at least have ever happened, and he made Dylan come alive for me. All of a sudden I realized what the real potential of those songs because I wasn't listening to Dylan's voice, which I found sort of irritating. I think Roger's just an immense talent.

He's a huge frustration to me too. Because he doesn't want to have anything to do with me and Chris. And we're still alive and we're both still good, you know, and I would gladly work with Roger if I could get him to do it. But I don't think he wants to, and, you know, he certainly has got a right to not want to. You can only play the music you want to play. If he doesn't want to play with me and Chris, he doesn't want to. You can't do anything about that. But it's hugely frustrating to me, 'cause I'm sure there is more good music in there. We are all vastly more competent that we were then, and I can't imagine that we couldn't create good music, new music. I know we could. And I think it would be valuable.

BW: He and Hillman did a one-off encore together this summer, this spring, they were on a bill together, at a folk show somewhere. But I think you and Hillman did something like that recently, a few months back at a concert.

DC: Well, Chris and I are good friends. I love him. He is a really truly good guy.

BW: Have you heard his new album yet? [Like A Hurricane (Sugar Hill, 1998).]

DC: Yeah, I'm on it. He wrote a song in it, "I'm Alive," that is sort of largely about me, and got me to sing on it. Worked my butt to the bone to get it too, a stratospheric harmony. [Laughs.] But he is and will remain a close, good, dear friend. And it's not like Roger's my enemy. I really like Roger, tremendously. And I do talk to him on the Internet, but he just frustrates me 'cause he does not want to have anything to do with me and you know, [laughs] I want to play with him. There's nothing I can do about that.

BW: Yeah, it sure would be nice. It's easy to imagine a lot of interesting combinations there still could be -- some Byrds, Springfield, CSN combination...

DC: Oh yeah, that thought's occurred to many people over long periods of time. Obviously, if everybody wanted to, we could put together an evening that you would never forget. Byrds, Springfield, Hollies, CSN, CSNY.

BW: One of the things I wanted to ask you about from this Younger Than Yesterday era, or, right after this era is whether there is any oral or written documentation of "Draft Morning" as you originally wrote it.

DC: I'm sure there's a demo someplace, man. Who has it, I have no idea.

BW: Is that something you would ever play live if it turned up on your Internet poll?

DC: It's possible. You know what, that whole thing, that song and "Dolphin's Smile," I guess, they were both on that record, right? [The Notorious Byrd Brothers.]

BW: Right.

DC: Which is the record they tried to pretend I wasn't on. [Laughs.] I'm on it. It was not a comfortable parting of the ways. They threw me out. And they were not nice about it. And they did take songs that I co-wrote, and music that I made, and tried to pretend that I wasn't there. Or at least give the impression that I wasn't there, which was unkind, but understandable under the circumstances. They were under the influence of some very bad people at the time, and they were told that they needed to give the impression that they were just as strong without me as they had been with me. And I don't think... I know that's not how Christopher feels about me and I don't think that's how Roger feels about me now. I think it was just a bad feeling at the time, and I am sure I contributed to it as much as anybody. I was not an easy guy at that point. I was pretty much of a punk and had an enormous attitude and thought I was a lot better than I probably was, and wanted to be... to have a larger share of things. And I was starting to write fairly good stuff. When they tossed me out I was writing "Wooden Ships" and "Guinnevere" and "Déjà Vu."

BW: I want to bring up another bone of contention -- "Lady Friend." It's such a great song. I can see where it would have been galling to have that left out.

DC: That frustrated me more. That was when I realized that I was really up against them, because I thought, "Man, this is good as anything else there -- at least." And it should have been used.

BW: Well, if it's any consolation, you were not erased from that album. I mean, you're in there. Not just your singing and your playing, which are on some songs, but I mean -- when you were talking about "Tribal Gathering" from that album, it is clearly a Crosby song. "Dolphin's Smile" is clearly a Crosby song. You can't mistake it for anybody else. Even if you weren't in on the final version of it, your DNA is in there.

DC: [Chuckles.] Yeah, probably so. I am really curious, too, you know... When I saw what we were able to do in the studio in just a couple of days in Nashville for the Boxed Set, it made me really wonder what would happen if Roger and Chris and I got together and tried to create some new music. Because I think you know we're past all that crap. I have enormous respect for Roger and I would gladly fly wingman to him. [Pauses.] When we got together for the Byrds reunion, I was throwing my weight around too much.

BW: You're talking about in '73 now.

DC: Yeah. I was definitely throwing my weight around too much, and I'm sure that it pissed everybody off. We made a much better record than we were credited with, but I didn't help. You know, I was sort of, [Goes into blowhard voice] "Well, I'm the guy in the big group and I'll just... we'll do it my way." It was stupid.

BW: Hillman has mentioned in interviews that maybe, in the spirit of detente, nobody wanted to be too tough on anybody else's stuff. Everyone was a little too nice to each other, maybe.

DC: There might have been some of that, yeah. I still think that, you know, Chris and I and Roger have... you know, unfinished chemistry there.

BW: Well, obviously, there's a lot of people that would agree with you, that would like to hear the results of that.

Onward to Part Six.

News & Interviews | The ByrdWatcher Interview | David Crosby | Part 5

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David Crosby

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