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Remembering folk-rock legend David Crosby, who died at age 81


CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) Yes, a long, long, long, long time before the dark.


Folk-rock legend David Crosby has died at the age of 81. He was the co-founder of two iconic bands. The Byrds were early pioneers of psychedelic rock. Crosby, Stills & Nash melded pop harmonies of the '50s with the folk revival of the '60s. In a Fresh Air interview, Crosby's former bandmate Graham Nash recalled the first time the trio sang together.


GRAHAM NASH: Whatever vocal sound that Crosby, Stills & Nash has was born in less than 40 seconds - no rehearsing that vocal blend. It happened instantly, and we all knew it so much that we all actually stopped singing the song and started to laugh 'cause it was silly.


CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH: (Singing) Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby awaiting a word.

MARTÍNEZ: That fateful meeting took place in a house in Laurel Canyon, which in the '60s was a bohemian enclave in the Hollywood Hills. Here with more on the legacy of David Crosby is Michael Walker, author of a book about the Laurel Canyon scene.

Michael, Crosby didn't write many of the songs for the Byrds or Crosby, Stills & Nash. So how was he important, then, to the sound of both bands?

MICHAEL WALKER: Oh, he's interesting. He's like, if you're making a bottle of wine with Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, for example, they'll often add a dash of merlot as a blending grape, 'cause when you listen to their vocals, you hear David - you hear Graham Nash and Stephen Stills a little more distinctly than you do David Crosby. But his voice, this little keening tenor, was the glue that held that all together. If you take that piece out, as Graham Nash just said, it doesn't sound like them anymore. But the three of them together is absolutely unmistakable.

That meeting also was brokered by Mama Cass of the Mamas and the Papas at her house in the canyon, and she was a person that knew harmony quite well from being in her band. And she could hear what they were going to do before they ever did it, and they were amazed. They came up to her afterwards. How did you know? How did you know this? And she just did, 'cause she kind of knew everything. She was sort of the...

MARTÍNEZ: She was Mama Cass. She knew.

WALKER: ...Yeah - the doyenne of Laurel Canyon.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. She absolutely knew. Tell us about some of the very dark times that Crosby also went through.

WALKER: Well, that was - he was a man that really - he was a sensualist. He and Cass were very good friends. And they were both like that. They liked good food, good dope, good sex. He liked everything. And this is a man that could con a 76-foot schooner across the Pacific for thousands of miles with a joint in one hand and a sextant in the other. So he was - you know, he could manage it for a while. And then it got out of control in the '80s with freebase cocaine and other things. But he did eventually pull himself back in. And it's a tribute to his talent and his perseverance that he was able to end his career performing again.

MARTÍNEZ: What more can you tell us about David Crosby as a person? - because it sounds like he certainly never held back when it came to enjoying life.

WALKER: No. No, he did not. I mean, he had - he said a really interesting thing one time in his biography. He said he loved things that were better made than they had to be made. And it really struck me as a really interesting point of view for life and for his career because in the studio he was known to be a very - he would be a - he was known to be a pretty difficult guy, but he was always pushing the envelope with the musicians he worked with to not just get it good, but to get it great.

MARTÍNEZ: Michael Walker is the author of "Laurel Canyon: The Inside Story Of Rock-and-Roll's Legendary Neighborhood." Michael, thank you.

WALKER: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE BYRDS SONG, "EIGHT MILES HIGH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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