Even if the love child of Jessica Fletcher and Sigmund Freud attempted to unravel the enigma that is David Crosby, they would find a multifaceted character. Crosby, a mellowed songbird, bestowed upon the world some of the sweetest tunes to ever grace human ears. Yet, the genesis of these musical creations often occurred amid the chaotic backdrop of backstage life in a Dallas nightclub. Picture Crosby, freebasing cocaine with a propane tank in one hand, a brown bottle in the other, and a .45-caliber semiautomatic tucked into his back pocket.
His musical preferences added to the complexity, forming a juxtaposed soundtrack to his tumultuous days. Amid the highs and lows of his life and career, one constant remained—the fondness for serene folk, inspired by his enduring hero. During a brief romantic liaison with Joni Mitchell, as she entered the music industry, Crosby became an influential figure in her early career. Reflecting on his impact while producing her debut album, “Song to a Seagull,” Crosby expressed a rare humility.
In an interview with Rolling Stone, the Byrds man confessed, “The strongest thing I did for Joni as a producer on ‘Song to a Seagull,’ from 1968, was keep everybody else off of that record.” He acknowledged Mitchell’s unique approach as a folkie with an indicated arrangement, praising her freshness and innovation in approaching chords and melodies. “She had mastered the idea that she could tune the guitar any way she wanted, to get other inversions of the chords. I was doing that too, but she went further.”
This admiration for Mitchell extended to her pivotal 1971 album, “Blue.” Crosby, along with a cohort of musicians, celebrated Mitchell’s complexity, describing her as exciting, turbulent, and fun. However, he observed that despite external joys, Mitchell never seemed truly happy. He recognized her use of music as a medium for processing personal struggles, including polio, marriage to Chuck Mitchell, and giving up a child.
Mitchell’s brilliance shone on “Blue,” where her emotional depth and innovative guitar playing took center stage. Influenced by her childhood bout with polio, Mitchell had to adapt her guitar playing due to a weakened left hand. Explaining her approach, she likened the guitar to an orchestra, with the top three strings as a horn section and the bottom three as cello, viola, and bass. This unconventional approach infused her music with depth and a unique harmonic richness, mirroring the yin and yang of nature and civility—a central theme in her songwriting, beautifully exemplified in “Blue.”
As Crosby concluded, drawing comparisons with other celebrated songwriters, he asserted, ”Bob Dylan’s as good a poet as Joni, but nowhere near as good a musician. Paul Simon and James Taylor made some stunners – but for me, ‘Blue’ is the best singer-songwriter album. Picking a song from it is like choosing between your children. Can you imagine a better song than ‘A Case of You’? She was so brilliant as a songwriter, that it crushed me. But she gives us all something to strive for.”