Son’s Orbit Follows Dad’s : David Crosby’s New Band Takes Root When Keyboard-Playing Offspring Makes Contact
David Crosby’s new band, C.P.R., had its embryonic beginnings long before he met Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young, or learned to spell “Birds” with a “y.”
It was the early ‘60s, and Crosby, a young folkie from Santa Barbara, was ready for the freebooting life of a traveling minstrel, not for fatherhood. He lit out for the territories. His ex-girlfriend gave birth to the child Crosby had fathered and gave him up for adoption.
Crosby went on to a career notable for its Hall of Fame musical achievements--folk-rock with the Byrds and distinctive, layered harmonies with Crosby, Stills & Nash--and for its painfully public debasement via a raging drug addiction, followed by a prison stretch in 1985-86 that started Crosby on the road to lasting sobriety.
In February 1995, Crosby met James Raymond for the first time. They sat down in a cafeteria at UCLA Medical Center, where Crosby had come for postoperative treatment after a lifesaving liver transplant three months before.
As he got to know his son, Crosby could feel an old knot of guilt unwinding. And soon the strands of a new musical collaboration began to come together (C.P.R. plays Thursday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and Friday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre in Santa Ana).
“It’s something I pretty much tormented myself about for years,” Crosby, 56, said recently while driving through the Santa Ynez Valley, where he lives. “It bothered the heck out of me for a very long time. I thought I’d run out on this kid. But he was very kind and forgiving. He’d had a wonderful life and not been harmed by it. He made that very clear to me, so I could let go of it.”
Besides gaining a son--and a granddaughter who is now 3 years old--Crosby discovered he also had gained an experienced musical collaborator.
Raymond, 35, grew up near San Bernardino, soaking up the Beatles, Elton John and Stevie Wonder as key musical influences. The Byrds and CS&N; were nice to hear on the radio, but he didn’t buy their records.
He came up playing keyboards on the cover-band circuit during the 1980s, then graduated to composing for TV soundtracks and working as a touring sideman, including gigs with Ronnie Laws, Oleta Adams, Kirk Whalum and Take 6.
In a separate interview, Raymond said he didn’t think of seeking out his natural parents until his adoptive father suggested it when he was approaching 30. When adoption records indicated that his father was David Crosby, he assumed it was some other Crosby, not the famous rocker. In 1994 he made contact with his mother, who had moved to Australia, and found that his daddy was indeed the David Crosby.
Raymond met his mother at his wedding in the summer of 1994 but held back from contacting Crosby. He was concerned he might be perceived as an opportunist seeking career advantages rather than a purely personal connection.
Crosby’s liver failure late in 1994 added urgency, and they met after the transplant operation.
“I let him know there were no [angry] feelings on my part, I had no regrets, and he shouldn’t either,” Raymond said. “As soon as we made it clear that there wasn’t a lot of baggage, it made it easier to get to know one another.”
Now Crosby gets to dote belatedly on his oldest son’s ability (he also has a grown daughter from a different relationship and a 3-year-old boy, Django, with his wife, Jan).
“It was amazing not just because [Raymond] was a great guy and very kind and let me into his life, but he’s also this incredible, jazz-level, Steely Dan-level player,” Crosby said.
After they had gotten to know each other better, Crosby gave Raymond a lyric he’d written and asked him to set it to music.
“I was [thinking], ‘Oh, no, don’t let me mess this up,’ ” Raymond recalled. “Then I said, ‘I’ll do what I do and see whether he likes it.’ Luckily, it was right up his alley. Musically, we hear things very similarly.”
That first father-son collaboration became “Morrison,” a track from “C.P.R.,” their first album together (“P” is Jeff Pevar, a veteran session and touring guitarist who has played with Crosby for several years). The song has a sophisticated, jazz-blues-pop feel that quickly calls Steely Dan to mind; the harmony blend of Crosby, Pevar and Raymond sounds closer to Steely Dan than to any of Crosby’s past vocal collaborations.
“Morrison” began, Crosby said, when the image of a sea gull blown into the desert on a stormy day came to him. “I thought it was a great metaphor for describing somebody who was lost. I don’t know how my mind works when I write, but when I started thinking about people who were lost, [Jim Morrison] popped up and became part of it.”
In several other songs, Crosby continues to meditate on the meaning of his own “lost” period and what he learned from it.
“I don’t really intend to write about it. I just write what comes,” he said. “It’s probably the hardest thing I did in my life, and it’s engraved into my brain pretty deep.”
Carl Gottlieb, a friend of Crosby since 1964 and co-author of his 1988 memoir, “Long Time Gone,” said the amazing string of experiences Crosby has had in recent years--being saved by a liver transplant, fathering a child, befriending and playing music with a previously missing grown one and getting to be a grandfather--was like winning the lottery. “It was this escalating joy of discovery.”
Gottlieb said Crosby seems to have taken in stride some countervailing sad news: last November, Crosby’s older brother, Ethan, left a suicide note in his rural cabin in Siskiyou County in Northern California and apparently walked off into a wintry wilderness to die; his remains were identified last week. Ethan had been an early musical influence on his younger brother; Crosby had little to say about the loss.
Crosby’s plans call for several months of touring with C.P.R., starting with the two Orange County shows. Rounding out the live band are two longtime musical associates of Raymond from San Bernardino, bassist Adam Ford and drummer Steve DiStanislao.
Raymond said the show includes a bunch of reworked nuggets from Crosby’s catalog, along with the new album material.
“We all have an equal say, and Dave can veto anything,” Raymond said with a laugh when asked whether C carries more weight than P and R. “We all have pretty strong ideas about where things should go, and he’s been really cool about it.”
After finishing with C.P.R., Crosby plans to rejoin Stills and Nash to finish a new album that will likely coincide with next year’s 30th anniversary of their classic debut record, “Crosby, Stills & Nash.”
Raymond’s other interests include composing for TV: He spoke from a studio where he was recording the soundtrack for the pilot to a potential CBS drama series. His wife, a screenwriter and producer, is also working on the project.
Commercial hopes for “C.P.R.” aren’t extravagant, Raymond said, but “I think there’s an audience for this kind of advanced singer-songwriter type of music, and it’s what we love to do.”
Crosby is ebullient about the whole thing.
“I get in that [rehearsal] room and get higher than a kite. The music is the best fun I could imagine.”
Nowadays, Crosby’s famous walrus-brush facial hair is handy for something other than presenting an instantly recognizable image.
“He’s the perfect granddad,” Raymond said. “He’s got the perfect mustache to pull on.”
* C.P.R. plays Thursday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. (714) 496-8930. Also Friday at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana. (714) 957-0600. Both shows 8 p.m. $28.50-$30.50.