Hey, Croz – A Big Adios

Whenever I saw David Crosby onstage, he was always in fine fettle, except for once…

With Stephen Stills and Graham Nash, and sometimes also Neil Young, or in a duo with Nash, he was aces, every time. 

But in a solo show in the early 80s – an outdoor students-free MayFest show at UAlbany, maybe the one that that U2 headlined – he was cranky, digressive and unfocused. Those who got up closer to him than I did reported red angry burns on his forehead from free-basing cocaine, the do-it-yourself predecessor to crack. Songs that might have sounded dream-y evocative simply seemed drone-y, disinterested.

David Crosby, 2017 (photo by Jim Gilbert)

He needed his band-mates, it seemed; however much each might have argued with that; fought it, even. Nash, for example, rankled at having to function as the Krazy-Glu that held things together emotionally. Even in episodes of relatively smooth sailing, between blow-ups, the thing really shouldn’t have worked. 

Apart from the roughly balanced heft of previous fame (Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Hollies), those voices only made sense together when midwifed into harmony by Joni Mitchell and Cass Elliott.

But the blend was awkward, unlikely: the gruff, rough Stills; the incongruous sweetness of the Croz a half-step below – or above – the angelic Brit Nash, and the primal howl of the defiantly lone wolf Young.

The Croz was incongruous all by his break-the-mold, prime-number self. 

Park a parrot on his shoulder as he helmed his Alden schooner the Mayan (muse of “Wooden Ships,” hero of “Southern Cross”) and he’d be a perfect pirate. Bandito ‘stache, mischievious/mad gleaming glance, he seemed equal parts fun and ferocity.

Around that same time I saw the Croz at UAlbany, I was visiting music-biz friends Albhy Galuten and Nancy Lyons in Pacific Palisades near LA when the Croz phoned them offering to sell his publishing. This meant the copyrights and therefore future royalties to his songs. Back then (mid-80s) nobody talked about that; it was considered humiliating, the last-ditch disgraceful dollar-dive of fading stars. 

Now, everybody – Dylan, Bruce, Sting – is doing it. Songs made in love or desperation, tunes of protest or privation, can now sell cars and canned hams. But I digress. 

Albhy passed, mainly to spare the Croz the shame of it all, although the Croz seemed past shame then.

David Crosby
David Crosby, 2010

Fast-forward to a CSN show at SPAC. Albhy and Nancy were there and took me backstage. They came in singing, to the tune of “Volare,” the name of CSN percussionist Joe Lala in greeting. 

Everybody laughed.

There was Nash, talking photography; there was the Croz checking out a vintage Martin acoustic guitar a fan-friend-collector had brought; and there was Stills, slumped low in a chair. I noticed how Albhy carefully sought a lower position from which to address him, like this was Stills-presence protocol. The Croz seemed healthy and in a good mood. 

Some time later, after ups and downs among CSNY together and individually, the Croz did a solo album and a tour. His publicist offered interviews and I chased and got one.

He sounded upbeat, excited about the new music and happy to hit the road again. Most of all, I found him totally candid, unguarded, and ready to talk inter-band dynamics and show-biz vicissitudes – not holding anything back. He wasn’t angry with anybody, not even himself, though he freely acknowledged bad behaviors of his own.

For whatever reason, I didn’t get to that show, and only saw my last show of his by accidental afterthought. 

The tremendous Nashville bassist Victor Wooten (of the Wooten Brothers, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and seemingly 100 shorter-term collaborations) played The Egg in 2018 in a jazz trio with the fantastic drummer Dennis Chambers (ex-James Brown!) and saxophonist Bobby Franchescini. I wanted to take son Zak but he fell ill, so I brought a get-well card for Victor to sign to him. They’d met before, and Vic is good about remembering those encounters. I waited in line with others seeking an autograph or selfie and Vic greeted me with a friendly hug, then graciously signed the get-well card for Zak. Other fans gawked at my request and the serious, intently sincere way Vic fulfilled it.

As I headed down the stairs to avoid the elevator crush, I heard the Croz through the walls.

I had forgotten entirely that he was playing in the big (Hart) room while Victor Wooten played the small (Swyer) room; one of those nights when The Egg hit two home runs.

So, I simply went back upstairs and walked into the big theater.

The Croz was singing high and free like the bird he always was, with younger folks, bassist Michael League of Snarky Puppy* and two women singers. One also played acoustic guitar; the other, cello. 

It kinda reminded me of “Everything Wants to Be Noticed,” an unfairly neglected trio album by elder Art Garfunkel with the younger and quite good singer-songwriters Maia Sharp and Buddy Mondlock. 

David Crosby (second from left), 2017 (photo by Jim Gilbert)

But where those kids carried Artie and protected him, the Croz clearly ran things in this new crew – the big name among otherwise equals. That didn’t keep him from getting lost once, starting a tune in the wrong key. Now, the kids didn’t transpose on the fly to catch him up; they stopped, laughing, and let him crash on the rocks alone. He didn’t apologize, at all, but he did explain, and re-start, and the kids were right with him. 

They played quite a long time; even after Victor Wooten’s set and the after-schmooze, there were lots of songs left by the time I eased in to see the Croz. And he didn’t lean on old songs, though I think he did “Guinevere” in long encores. He was looking ahead. He was finding fresh things to say. And he was looking to say them alongside fresh talent.

CBS Sunday Morning paid predictable loss-of-a-giant tribute – WAY better than some crass cable “news” outlet’s lame take on Jeff Beck that somebody Facebooked. That linked the guy with negligible neo-pop/soul collaborators of recent and inconsequential…OK, enough.

Jeff Beck, 1973

While we’re on that subject, I got to see Beck a few times and was always struck by the simplicity of it as much as by his incandescent brilliance. He came onstage with one guitar and played that same old baby-blue Strat throughout the set. No roadie ran out with a freshly tuned one, not ever. Beck just re-tuned it himself – really fast, sometimes mid-song – whenever something went off. 

In this workmanlike way, Beck reminded me of Doc Watson: A guy led Doc out to a chair onstage, handed him his Martin six-string and a glass of water. That’s all Doc needed for the whole show. No spare guitar, no tuning help; not even a refill on the water.

The Croz, the Doc and Jeff Beck are all gone now; and so, sad to say, is a much-loved DJ from here: Lin Brehmer. 

The Reverend of Rock and Roll, he styled himself, carrying the nickname from here to Chicago when he moved up on the microphone food chain. 

The Rev was a top talent on air here on WQBK, hippest radio around in the late 70s/early 80s era some see as the peak of the Albany rock scene.

Mark McGovern, Lin Brehmer and photographer Dave Suarez
WQBK DJs Mark McGovern, Lin Brehmer and photographer Dave Suarez

‘QBK introduced the coolest new sounds and helped hype many cool shows at J.B. Scott’s, the Albany club where U2 played on their second night in the US, where Count Basie showed up alone one night because he’d heard about the place from fellow jazz-bos, liked the joint and asked Vinnie Birbiglia if he could bring in his full band – yeah, he could! – where Manhattan Transfer looked out from the stage and called it “the classiest toilet we’ve ever played,” where James Cotton taught me – a very damaged me, as things turned out – to drink tequila shots – where Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders used to hang out even when she wasn’t playing. But I digress. 

One late, smoked-up night, I was listening to the Reverend spin cool sounds when he launched a ‘twixt-tunes rap that sounded familiar: honed cadences, kinda antique vocabulary – words in rhythm that painted pictures.

At the end, he credited the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, shining a bright light of memory in my darkened music room.

Working in the old Schenectady library – now a part of Union College, it had glass floors in the upstairs fiction stacks – I’d written maybe my best high school English paper on Hopkins and knew him in my bones. 

The Rev loved him, too. And everybody loved the Rev – and Jeff Beck, and the Croz.

  1. Carol says

    thanks Michael for the Lin memory– I remember him vividly–all these years later-his voice spouting poetry, his fabulous music choices, his stories, his humor–Imagine folks remembering a voice they heard long ago in another time another life ago with such fondness. That his memory is a blessing is a sign of a life well lived

  2. Mark Romano says

    I caught Freddie Hubbard at JB Scott’s. I seem to remember winning the tickets from a radio show.

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