Dear Guitar Hero: David Crosby Talks Guitars, CSN&Y, 'Croz' and Working with David Gilmour

by Damian Fanelli
Posted Aug 7, 2014 at 5:13pm

He's one-fourth of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and owns a sweet collection of rare and vintage axes. But what Guitar World readers really want to know is...

What’s the key to great harmony? — Billy Ray Latham

Listen to Phil Everly. I don’t think there’s any question that the first time I got hooked into harmony singing it was listening to “[All I Have to Do Is] Dream” by the Everly Brothers.

That’s where it starts, but then you have to go to a lot of places besides that. Listen to classical music, listen to Bach. It’ll never hurt you, and if you really listen, it’ll help you a lot. Listen to the first record by the Bulgarian State Television Female Vocal Choir from 1966, Music of Bulgaria: The Ensemble of the Bulgarian Republic, under the direction of Philip Koutev. It is beyond-belief good. Those little Bulgarian housewives can sing rings around everybody. [Graham] Nash and I would credit them with changing our lives. It will rot your brain.

You recorded and toured with David Gilmour a few years ago. How did that connection come about? — Chris Thumann

David knew Graham, and he came to our Crosby & Nash show in London a couple of times and liked our harmonies and our way of going at it, and he asked us to sing on [his 2006 solo album] On An Island. In the process, we got to be pretty close friends. He asked us to sing at his concert in London. We ended up doing, like, eight shows, just singing the songs we sang on the record. I think Fender should erect a monument to Gilmour. He has this tone, and it’s not gizmos. It’s his touch.

Your new album, Croz, is your first solo record in 20 years. Why the long wait? — James Fitze

You’re only looking at solo albums. In between, I did a double album with Graham Nash [2004’s Crosby Nash]. I was working on a covers album with CSN. And we’ve all been working on the CSNY 74 thing for a couple of years [a forthcoming collection of performances from the band’s 1974 tour].

When you hear it, you’re not going to freaking believe it. So I’ve been working on other stuff; I just haven’t done a solo record. I was writing so much with my son, James Raymond, who’s a brilliant writer. We were both having a very good streak of writing on our own, together and with [guitarist] Marcus Eaton. The songs are the key to the entire thing. Do you have a real song? Can you sit down and sing it to somebody? Can you make them feel something? If I have songs, I want to make a record. So we both had these songs. We didn’t really have a choice.

How the hell does your voice sound the same after all these decades? — Lisa Rogers

I don’t really understand it, although I didn’t smoke cigarettes. I may’ve been herbally enhanced once or twice, and I went through hard drugs and all that stuff. I don’t know how I have a throat left. [laughs] But there it is, and as long as it still works, I’m going to work it. I’m pretty happy about how it sounds, but a lot has to do with how my son recorded it on the new album.

I read about your guitar collection in Guitar Aficionado magazine. What do you look for when buying guitars, and which one is your favorite? — Gil Pender

It’s a complex thing. I don’t collect the way other people do. Some people collect rare guitars, like, “I have a ’54 Strat worth $50,000.” And I don’t collect the way Nash does. Nash has Duane Allman’s guitar and Johnny Cash’s guitar. I bought guitars because they sounded good. I played them, they sounded unbelievably good, and I couldn’t resist. I probably have the best set of acoustic 12-string guitars in the world.

But I’ve gone through an odd change about it. I have a strong room in my house where I keep them. When I go in there and play them, I feel kind of bad that they’re hanging on the wall when they can be in the hands of someone who is desperate to play a guitar that good. I keep getting the urge to give them away. I gave a Collings dreadnought to a young guitar player in the Valley where I live, because he didn’t have a good acoustic and he’s a terrific player. I might do more of that. Or I’ll auction off the whole batch when I run out of money.

What inspired you to play a Gretsch Tennessean with the Byrds? — Clarence LeBlanc

That’s what George Harrison had. And he had that Rickenbacker [360/12], which is what Roger McGuinn got. We went straight for their s---. [laughs] We said, “Okay, that’s how you do it!” And you know, once you play a Gretsch, you find out there are tricks to it. Take a Gretsch and roll the volume all the way up on the guitar and then control it from the amp. Then you get that crunch that Gretsch guitars have got. But they won’t give it to you unless you turn the volume all the way up and control your volume from a pedal or the amp.

Are you always writing new music? — Lucy Sciancalepore

Yes. As a matter of fact, I wrote one of my best songs right after we mastered the new album. How f---ed up is that? [laughs] Last night, I played it to an audience for the first time—and they loved it! I’m thrilled and excited, stoked and stuff.

Did you write any CSN songs in Joni Mitchell’s kitchen? — Jody Porter (Fountains of Wayne)

I know we sang a lot there. That’s where we put Crosby, Stills & Nash together. Stephen and I had been singing and we were there with Graham. We sang, “In the morning when you rise” [from “You Don’t Have to Cry”], and Graham said, “Would you sing that again?” So we sang it again.

And he said, “That’s fantastic. Would you do it one more time?” We sang it a third time, and he put the top harmony on it. Right then, we knew exactly what we were going to be doing for a long time. There wasn’t any question. We have very different voices and some kind of weird chemistry. And it definitely was in Joni’s kitchen. Stephen is fiercely sure it happened at Cass Elliot’s, but it didn’t.

You’re friendly with everyone from CSNY, but do you have a relationship with the other Byrds, especially since they kicked you out of the band? — Elijah Hunt

I have a very good relationship with [bassist/guitarist] Chris Hillman. He lives not too far me, so we have dinner together sometimes. I’ll go out to hear him and Herb Pedersen play country music, because they are the real deal. I have a friendly relationship with Roger [McGuinn], and the last message I got from him was very friendly; he said he liked the new record.

Roger doesn’t want to be in a band. He wants to be folkie and work by himself, and that’s frustrating to me and Chris, because we know we could make really good music together. There’s not even a question. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Roger. Half of what the Byrds had was Roger and his ability to arrange and play and his ability to know how to translate a song from the demo of “Mr. Tambourine Man” into what it became. If you heard the demo, you’d break the record. [laughs] It’s terrible! Roger translated it into a brilliant pop record.

What happened to the album Crosby, Stills & Nash were recording with producer Rick Rubin just a few years ago? — Gregory Swedberg

Trying to make an album is a chemistry between people, and the chemistry wasn’t there. And I’m not saying this to slight Rick. He’s a talented guy, and when he does have good chemistry with the people he’s working with, he does good work. But he didn’t have it with us. We didn’t get along.

We didn’t have the same things in mind; we didn’t have the same way of going about things. And you have to understand all those records that were huge that we did, we produced those. We worked with Rick for months and got nothing we thought was worth anything. Then, just to check, we enlisted Jackson Browne’s Groove Masters studio, and we cut, like, five things in four days. So I have to think we can do it our own way and do it pretty easily! We’ll probably finish that record.

Do you have a favorite chord, one that makes you feel comfortable like a warm blanket? — Vin Downes

Yes. I have a couple them. The one I can describe to you is Em9-7. But I have another one that’s in a different tuning. I can play it for you, but I can’t tell you what it is!

Do you practice or play guitar around the house on a regular basis? — Frank Little

I try to do it every day. The muse is out there, and it will come by your house if you leave the door open. But you have to open the door! Pick up the guitar and make space for it to happen. And then it will happen—if it’s gonna happen. But you have to pick up the ax and open the door.

What inspired your open tunings, and can you share a few of them? — Tim Goodwin

I use a lot of tunings because I listen to a lot of jazz. I hear the chords [jazz pianist] McCoy Tyner had to play for John Coltrane. He was asked to play really rich, thick tone-cluster kinds of chords, which he did brilliantly. I would listen to those chords and say, “I want to play that, but I’m not good enough.”

So then I grab my guitar and I can get versions of the chords that were different from what everybody else was playing. And it works. That’s where I got “Déjà Vu,” “Guinnevere,” “Compass” and “Climber.” They are all in really strange tunings because they give me another sound that expands the envelope, gives you more to work with—if you’re willing to take up a whole new set of chords. There is that minor detail. [laughs] You tune the low E to a D and then your D chord sounds really fantastic. That’s the beginning of the slippery slope!

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images for LUTB


Add a Comment
0 Comments

Similar Guitar News

Ritchie Blackmore, David Gilmour, Brian May and Others Play "Smoke on the Water" in 1989 — Video (7/13/2015)
It was 26 years ago this week that one of the greatest guitar hero gatherings of all time got under way. The occasion was a remake of the 1972 Deep Purple hit “Smoke on the Water” that featured some of the biggest players in rock, including Ritc...
Jimi Hendrix, David Gilmour, Jeff Beck and More: 10 Surprising Guitarist Guest-Star Spots (10/1/2015)
Everyone knows about Eric Clapton’s performance on the Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” And Eddie Van Halen’s solo on Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”? Fantastic, yes, but do we really need to revisit it again? Instead, we decided to highligh...
Go Behind the Scenes "Today" with David Gilmour — Video (9/8/2015)
David Gilmour, whose new album Rattle That Lock will be released September 18, has shared a new making-of video for "Today," the second single off the album. In the clip, which you can check out below, Gilmour explains how the track was the resu...
David Gilmour Talks Guitars and New Album, 'Rattle That Lock' (10/28/2015)
If David Gilmour had not become the guitarist for Pink Floyd, he probably should have sought a career as the Director General for MI5. The man can certainly keep much more than a saucerful of secrets better than most, and he runs a very tight s...
David Gilmour Previews New Song, “Rattle That Lock” — Video (7/16/2015)
David Gilmour will release the title track from his upcoming album, Rattle That Lock, July 17. The album will be released worldwide September 18 on Columbia Records and will be available for preorder. The title track, “Rattle That Lock,” will be...
David Gilmour Premieres New Song, "Rattle That Lock" (7/17/2015)
David Gilmour has premiered a new song, "Rattle That Lock," and you can check it out below. It's the title track from the Pink Floyd guitarist's upcoming solo album. "It's a jingle, a four-note jingle, and every time I heard it, it would make me...
David Gilmour Premieres Harrowing "Faces of Stone" Music Video (10/28/2015)
David Gilmour has premiered another music video from his new album, Rattle That Lock. Below, you can check out "Faces of Stone," a video that mixes old film footage and shots of the former Pink Floyd guitarist performing the song in the studio. ...
David Gilmour Premieres "The Girl in the Yellow Dress" Music Video (10/8/2015)
David Gilmour has released a video for “The Girl in the Yellow Dress,” from his new album, Rattle That Lock. The video can be seen below, along with a short interview clip with Gilmour. Rattle That Lock was issued September 18 and is Gilmour’s ...
David Gilmour Premieres "Rattle That Lock" Music Video (7/31/2015)
David Gilmour has premiered the music video for his new song, "Rattle That Lock," and you can check it out below. It's the title track from the Pink Floyd guitarist's upcoming solo album. "It's a jingle, a four-note jingle, and every time I hear...
David Gilmour Plays the Blues — Video (8/31/2015)
Although it's safe to say there's always been a strong blues influence in David Gilmour's guitar playing, we don't often get to hear him play in a straight-ahead, full-on blues context. Which is why this video—taken from the 1988 Les Paul & ...
David Gilmour Performs Pink Floyd's "Remember a Day" in Tribute to Rick Wright — Video (9/15/2015)
September 15 marks the seven-year anniversary of the death of Richard Wright, keyboardist for Pink Floyd. In the video below, you can see his bandmate David Gilmour play Floyd’s “Remember a Day” in tribute to him. The song is a track from A Sauc...
David Gilmour on Pink Floyd's Future: "I Think I Can Safely Say Goodbye to That Now" (8/17/2015)
In a new interview with Rolling Stone, David Gilmour effectively announced the end of Pink Floyd, saying, in regard to the band, "I think I can safely say goodbye to that now." When he was asked if Pink Floyd were "done forever," Gilmour had th...
David Gilmour Covers The Beatles' "Here, There and Everywhere" (8/25/2015)
David Gilmour, who—as some of you might know—used to be a member of Pink Floyd, has premiered his new cover of the Beatles' “Here, There and Everywhere." The guitarist's faithful cover of this Revolver track will appear—exclusively—in the new i...
David Gilmour and Jeff Beck Play "Jerusalem" and "Hi Ho Silver Lining" in 2009 — Video (10/23/2015)
Here's something you don't see every day. On July 4, 2009, attendees of Jeff Beck's sold-out show at London's Royal Albert Hall got a bit of a bonus during the encore: a visit by Pink Floyd legend David Gilmour. Gilmour—whose appearance was a co...
David Gilmour Performs Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” Acoustically –– Video Finds (3/26/2015)
Here’s a great clip of Pink Floyd guitarist/vocalist David Gilmour performing “Breathe” acoustically. As the second track on Floyd’s epic LP Dark Side of the Moon (the album opens up with the “Speak to Me” sound collage), this acoustic rendition...
Pink Floyd's David Gilmour Talks "Comfortably Numb" Solo — Covers by Tina S., Richie Faulkner and Thomas Leeb (3/6/2015)
How do you reason with two guys who once went to court over the artistic ownership of a big rubber pig? That was Bob Ezrin’s mission when he agreed to co-produce Pink Floyd’s The Wall with guitarist David Gilmour and bassist/vocalist Roger Wate...