The music of the folk-rock icon, who passed away on January 18 after battling a long illness, was an integral part of an echo that can still be heard in the work of today’s artists.
Singer-songwriter and guitarist David Crosby, known as a piloting force behind the folk-rock movement of the 1960s and ’70s, has died at the age of 81. Details on the cause of his death, which occurred on Wednesday, January 18, have not been disclosed to the media, but his wife Jan Dance has stated that he had been battling a “long illness.” He’s survived by Dance, their son Django, and his children of previous relationships: son James Raymond, and daughters Erika and Donovan Crosby. (He was also the biological father of Melissa Etheridge and Julie Cypher’s two children, Beckett Cypher, who passed in 2020, and Bailey Jean Cypher.)
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Almost Cut My Hair
Crosby, a founding member of the Byrds and supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, was defined by his unmistakable, timeless—and preternaturally physically enduring—voice, which, combined with his songwriting, shone through the throngs of his talented contemporaries to make him an icon. Often pictured with a coy, impish smile, he was characterized by his incorrigibility, perseverance, and brazen outspokenness on politics as well as his personal opinions. Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice—as a member of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash (the group’s original iteration)—he helped mold his era’s musical zeitgeist into something that demanded longevity, and in doing so contributed to forging the grammar that continues to be spoken by today’s folk artists.
As a child, Crosby had a reputation for being a bit of a rebellious loner with a distrust of authority. At 16, his older brother Ethan gave him his first guitar. Ethan also shared with him a love for ’50s jazz, and Crosby became enraptured by artists like Chet Baker, Dave Brubeck, and Erroll Garner. Indifferent to the ubiquitous strains of Elvis and nascent rock ’n’ roll, he was drawn instead to the music of the Everly Brothers, whose “All I Have to Do Is Dream” was one of the first pop tunes to leave a lasting impression on him. Later in his youth, after dropping out of his drama studies at Santa Barbara City College, he moved to New York City’s Greenwich Village—the beating heart of the early-’60s folk scene—where he soon became connected to Jim McGuinn (who later changed his name to Roger).
The Byrds formed in 1964, with a sound driven by McGuinn’s jangly 12-string guitar and Crosby’s harmonies and rhythm playing. They released their seminal cover of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man” on their debut album of the same name in ’65. By the following year, their cover of Pete Seeger’s “Turn! Turn! Turn!” was among the three biggest singles on the charts (the others were the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and the Beatles’ “Yesterday”). On their third album, Fifth Dimension, Crosby's writing contributions—including his personal composition, “What’s Happening?!?!,” and co-writing credits on songs such as “Eight Miles High”—pointed the group in a psychedelic direction (along with the McGuinn-penned title track).
The acoustic guitarist was inimitable in his songwriting, which blended innately with the voices of Stephen Stills, Graham Nash, and Neil Young.
Photo by Frank White
But as Crosby comments in the 2019 documentary, David Crosby: Remember My Name, “It’s not always a positive thing when you win early and win young.” Tension between McGuinn and Crosby had been intensifying over the years, and by the time of their performance at the inaugural Monterey Pop Festival in ’67, McGuinn had grown to see Crosby as insufferable. “[I was] not easy. Big ego. No brains,” Crosby admits. His vocal endorsement of political conspiracies on stage during their performance only fanned the flames between the two men, and later that year McGuinn and bassist Chris Hillman fired Crosby from the band.
That year still proved to be a busy one for Crosby. He helped Joni Mitchell get signed to a record label and produced her first record. He also joined Buffalo Springfield for a brief stint before they broke up in ’68. Crosby and Buffalo Springfield’s Stephen Stills suddenly both found themselves unemployed and began jamming together. They were joined shortly thereafter by Graham Nash of English pop group the Hollies.
“Whatever sound Crosby, Stills & Nash has was born in 40 seconds,” Nash said in 2013. Their self-titled debut was released in 1969, and featured Crosby’s “Guinnevere,” as well as the first song he wrote with Stills, “Wooden Ships.” Its introduction of the three singer-songwriter-guitarists’ converging talents, gilded by their gently interwoven harmonies and Crosby’s alternate tunings, emblazoned a new face onto the already flourishing folk landscape. (Their second-ever performance was at Woodstock later that year, where a candid Stills told the audience, “We’re scared shitless.”)
On Crosby’s invitation, Neil Young—another former member of Buffalo Springfield, who had two solo records to his name—was soon after added to the trio, and CSN became CSNY.
[Crosby, Stills & Nash’s] introduction of the three singer-songwriter-guitarists’ converging talents, gilded by their gently interwoven harmonies and Crosby’s alternate tunings, emblazoned a new face onto the already flourishing folk landscape.
Their first album as a quartet, Déjà Vu, shot to the top of the charts (to date, it has sold over 7 million copies). It’s rounded out by two of Crosby’s compositions, the counterculture anthem “Almost Cut My Hair” and the jazz-imbued title track.
I have memories of where I’ve been when listening to many of the albums that have left as indelible an imprint on me as Déjà Vu, but unlike almost any other one I can think of, I remember exactly when and where I was when I first heard it. (I then quickly set “Carry On” to be my morning alarm, and was thusly woken up to the lyrics, “One morning, I woke up.…” for at least a year.) As a former music teacher, I’ve also had the privilege of witnessing the awe on young students’ faces when I’ve shared with them “Almost Cut My Hair,” where Crosby leads with a restrained yet angry rawness to his voice, sans harmonies.
But in late 1969, the death of Crosby’s longtime girlfriend Christine Hinton sent him spiraling into cocaine and heroin addiction, the former of which had been developing throughout his career. A little over a year later, Crosby released his debut solo album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, to mixed reviews, Meanwhile, CSNY didn’t record another studio album together until 1977. Then, in the early ’80s, he was convicted of bringing cocaine and a loaded pistol into a Dallas nightclub. He ran from the law for two years before serving five months in prison—four of them in solitary confinement.
His time spent in prison, which sobered him up from hard drugs, renewed Crosby’s resolve as a songwriter. He released two more solo records, 1989’s Oh Yes I Can and 1993’s Thousand Roads, and in the ’90s, was united with his son, pianist James Raymond—who had been given up for adoption 30 years prior—and guitarist Jeff Pevar to form the tongue-in-cheek-named CPR. CSNY became CSN again for a few more releases, then reformed as a quartet with 1999’s Looking Forward. They continued to perform until their disbandment in 2015, but, by then, their relationships had become fraught, and the split felt long overdue.
Early on his career, Crosby developed a reputation not just for his vocal harmonies, but for his adventurous alternate tunings.
Photo by Steve Kalinsky
In 2014, Crosby returned for what became the most prolific period of his solo career with Croz, which, as his first work in this vein in 21 years, made the Top 40. He put out four more albums over the next seven years. 2018’s Here If You Listen was recorded with Michael League, Becca Stevens, and Michelle Willis, and his final release, 2021’s For Free, was named after his cover of Mitchell’s song, ”Real Good for Free.“
I have memories of where I’ve been when listening to many of the albums that have left as indelible an imprint on me as Déjà Vu, but unlike almost any other one I can think of, I remember exactly when and where I was when I first heard it.
Following the announcement of Crosby’s death, Nash posted a statement on social media, saying “[Crosby’s] harmonic sensibilities were nothing short of genius. The glue that held us together as our vocals soared, like Icarus, towards the sun. I am deeply saddened at his passing and shall miss him beyond measure.”
Young, from whom Crosby had become estranged in 2014, commented, “Crosby was a very supportive friend in my early life, as we bit off big pieces of our experience together. David was the catalyst of many things.… I remember the best times!”
When asked by producer Cameron Crowe in Remember My Name if, given the choice, he would take the gift of a (more) fulfilling family life but have to sacrifice his music, Crosby at first paused. He then answered, “That’s no world for me. It’s the only thing I can contribute, the only place I can help.” That, hopefully, is how he will be remembered.
There's more in Corona than a slice of lime. The California city is also the home of Fender’s Custom Shop, and PG’s John Bohlinger, with our crack video team of Chris Kies and Perry Bean, descended on the shop recently for a different kind of rundown.
The tour starts with master builder Andy Hicks, who recount his CV, including a stint in the Gretsch Custom Shop, where he built the Malcolm Young 1963 Jet Firebird G6131 limited edition. At Fender, he leads a tour through the company's metal shop, which includes a press installed by Leo Fender. Saddles, pickup bobbins, shielding, bridge plates … check. You can watch a CNC machine cut Strat pickguards, and then stop in on Justina Campos, perhaps Fender’s most famed living pickup maker, with 31 years of experience. Campos’ pickups are destined for Master Built guitars. How do you know if you've got a Campos pickup? She signs and dates each one. At Fender’s wood mill, where both the Fender USA and Custom Shop sawing gets done, you see alder, ash, and maple blanks, plus rosewood for fretboards. Learn about the "Golden Neck,” and see how Custom Shop necks get hand shaped. In Custom Shop final assembly, everything comes together. Guitar bodies have been painted and aged. Assembled neck are bolted in. The wiring and electronic installed. “All the guys in here are experts about their own work as well as everything else,” Hicks explains. That's part of Fender Custom’s quality assurance gameplan. On this day, Team Built instruments were on the menu. Master Built guitars are the province of a single builder, from start to finish. And master builder Austin MacNutt gives us a close-up look at one of his special projects, the Jerry Garcia “Alligator” Stratocaster, in a limited run of 100. And in Hicks’ own shop, he talks about the process of creating a custom guitar, from talking to the buyer about his or her desires, to plugging it in and playing it. He also displays a very special Jaguar, made from a 50,000-year-old piece of partially petrified wood, with a blonde inlay from mastodon tusk. FYI, he currently has 50 to 75 guitars at various stages of the three-month process of custom building. Hicks also talks about creating his annual prestige model. It's a secret. You've gotta wait till next year!
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.