Sunday, May 14, 2017


David Crosby
image by Henry Diltz

Back with his third album in less than three years, David Crosby is having the time of his life. Beginning with 2014’s Croz, followed by 2016’s Lighthouse, the legendary former Byrd and co-founder of Crosby, Stills, Nash (& sometimes Young) is charging headlong into his golden years with a focused passion, an inexhaustible supply of musical energy, a flow of brilliant songs, and the help of some blindingly talented friends. Both on record and in concert, Crosby is captured at stunning heights of creative power. His new album, Sky Trails, is exclusively available as a limited edition at his shows; an official summer retail release is planned. Crosby and Friends are currently on the road to showcase the new album in a performance that interweaves a treasure-trove of greatest hits drawn from many phases of a long and legendary career. The tour arrives on Long Island on May 18th at The Space at Westbury.

Preparing for this interview, I reflected back to the last time I had the opportunity to speak with David Crosby. Lighthouse had just been released, and the tour had just completed its first show. Early album reviews from both critics and fans were resoundingly positive, and the opening night concert in Atlanta left both performers and their audience ecstatic. David was in a chipper mood as he called me from his tour bus. At one point during our conversation, I referred to Lighthouse as “soul medicine” and he picked up on the phrase right away, repeating it to his band mates on the bus.

From my initial introduction to David Crosby’s music at the age of 15 through the many interviews with him during the span of more than 25 years, my love of the music has remained a constant; my respect and admiration for the man has grown exponentially.

Speaking with the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer as he continues to break new musical ground, I am struck most by his humility, his humanity, and the feeling that, in some fashion, I am speaking with an old friend. So, as always, for the music, and for the friendship, I say: Thank you, David.


Roy Abrams: How are you, sir?
David Crosby: I’m a happy guy, man.


RA: I can’t believe we’re speaking this quickly again, with all that’s going on in your life!
DC: And in the world! Holy …


RA: Yeah. That’s a whole other subject!
DC: Yeah.


RA: I wanted to congratulate you on the Lighthouse album and the tour. David, since I got the album, I listen to it every day. That’s no bullshit.
DC: I’m thrilled! That’s really, really wonderful to hear. You know, I’m very proud of that record. I think that this thing of me being in two bands—one acoustic, one electric—is the best way to stretch myself and push myself. And at this stage of my life, that’s exactly what I need. This new record, Sky Trails, and this band, with my son James, is a fully electric deal. It’s the completely opposite end of the scale from Lighthouse. Having both of these to be able to do and push myself with? Boy, it’s so terrific, man. I’m the luckiest guy in the world.


RA: Listening to Lighthouse again last night, I was thinking about how your 25-year-old self would have been awestruck by the degree of prolificness—
DC: Yeah, what the hell? What’s going on here? Yeah, I’ve been baffled by it, too. All my friends ask me, what are you eating for breakfast? You know, I’m very happy. I did love being in CSN but being out of CSN is kind of great; it opened a floodgate on material—I’ve been writing like crazy. So that’s a very good thing. Not to say that I won’t ever be in CSN again; but it’s just making me write like crazy and, of course, that’s the center issue of the whole deal: you’ve gotta have songs, or you don’t have anything.

image by Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images
David Crosby
image by Buzz Person

RA: Speaking of Sky Trails, you and James had put out “Capitol” a little while back; once again, I was struck by the instantly identifiable sound that the two of you have formed.
DC: [Laughs] Yeah, we do have an identifiable thing … and the jazzy chords kind of pushing (things); that’s us!


RA: Regarding the core musicians who you’re working with on this album, I’m floored to see Jeff Pevar back in the mix. How did that happen?
DC: I said, “Hey! James and I would love you to come and play guitar with us again.” Because he’s a terrific player! It’s not like CPR, though, because we have these two girls in the band now. Mai Agan plays bass and is a stunner of a player from, of all places, Estonia. She’s a jazz bass player who has her own band in Scandinavia. And then we have Michelle Willis from the Lighthouse band who is an astounding singer. It’s very exciting, I have to say.


David Crosby and Michelle Willis
image by Buzz Person

David Crosby and Mai Agan
image courtesy of Steve Silberman

RA: Are the musicians who played on the record the same who are accompanying you on tour?
DC:  Yes, (including) our drummer Steve DiStanislao, who fortunately is on a break in-between tours with David Gilmour.

Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, Steve DiStanislao
image courtesy of Steve Silberman

RA: How have the rehearsals been going?
DC: The way I do it is very exciting, man. Every day I get ready to go and I get all excited and charged up [laughs]; I want to go over there (the rehearsal space) early and start playing sooner, because it’s really fun!

RA: I saw from pictures that James had posted the other day while you were rehearsing in L.A. that you have some pretty illustrious company next door!

Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, Paul McCartney
image courtesy of Jeff Pevar

DC: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. He came wandering in … it was so funny, man. We were singing a song that I love to sing, “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”; we have a vocal arrangement of it. So we’re singing that, I’ve got my eyes closed, all spaced out and loving it and thinking, “Wow, this sounds so good!” and I get to the end, and somebody’s clapping, somebody’s applauding. I turn around and it was McCartney! He’s a really sweet guy, man. He came over and brought his whole band over another time and we played a few songs for him. We went over there yesterday and they played a few songs for us. We’re all a bunch of hams; we love showing off for each other. But I really like the guy. You know, that’s not an easy crown to wear, and he does it pretty gracefully. I’m proud of him as a guy; I think he does a good job!


RA: Something else I’ve always admired about you, separate and apart from your own music, your own songwriting, is the way in which you’ve supported and introduced new talent, going back to Joni and Jackson. Shawn Colvin was somebody who you turned me on to 25 years ago; certainly, Michael Hedges as well. Now, we’ve got Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. My question is: Why that is such an important thing for you? It’s not something that I see many other artists do.
DC: Here’s the thing: Yeah, I agree. Not everybody does that; I do do it. I’m always on the hunt for really good singer/songwriters because I think that’s where the best of the stuff comes from, and particularly lately, I’ve been on it even more because the streaming services have killed us being able to make money off of records. We no longer get paid on our music; so that’s what we have to face. So, that’s okay for (some artists); I can handle it because there are a lot of people want to buy tickets for my shows. But for a young person, there’s no record money! You can’t sell any records because everybody’s used to getting them for free! That just makes it almost impossible for new, young talent to break in. They’re still at the stage we’re they’re driving a van 300 miles to play to another 35 people. And that doesn’t work out. So I try to find them and give them as much of a leg up as I possibly can. If I find somebody really talented, then I think it behooves me to focus a light on them, because they deserve it!


RA: That’s a beautiful thing. I have Becca’s album and Michelle’s album thanks to you; I would not have known about them otherwise. So, thank you!
DC: [Laughs] Well, at least you can count on me to only turn you on to good stuff, I promise.


RA: It’s been way more than that! I started listening to you when I was 14-15; I’m 56 now, so that’s the majority of my life, which I why I always say thank you every time you and I speak.
DC: Man, I really appreciate the help, so thank you back!


RA: You mentioned the last time we spoke that there were a couple of guest artists who appear on the new record—Michael McDonald and Jacob Collier.
DC: Michael McDonald wrote one of the songs, called “Till Tomorrow Falls on Love”, and it turns out that he’s just a good a writer as we all thought he was!

RA: What was Jacob’s role?                       
DC: He sang on the first song on the record, one of James’s songs called “She’s Got to Be Somewhere” and he sang harmony on it. He did a great job, of course!


RA: I spoke with him back in January, and he singled out you, Herbie Hancock, and Quincy Jones, saying that he loves that you still bring that childlike energy to the table. He said, “I’ll play a song for David, and he’ll hear something, and he’ll jump up and clap.”
DC: I can’t help it! Look how good he is!! [Laughs} He’s one of the people I’m trying to turn the rest of the world on to. I think he is one of the most talented people I have ever met in my life.

Jacob Collier and David Crosby
image courtesy of David Crosby

RA: Scary! And he’s so grounded; it’s uncanny to me.
DC: He has got his head screwed on right, doesn’t he? I really love him. I just love him.


RA: We had spoken briefly at the beginning of this conversation about our current world circus. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this, our whole condition, and also how you see the role of music in playing the cultural resistance role as it has in the past.
DC: I think circus is a great choice of word. I think it’s a clown car. I rarely this many truly stupid people I one place. It’s doing harm to us, and to the United States of America, and to the world. So I’m very disturbed by it. I’m very, very upset by the ridiculous Congress, by the ridiculous president, by the complete collection of unbelievable assholes that he has managed to put together. I’m a bit of a corny guy, man. I really actually believe in the United States. I love it. I think it’s the best idea that anybody’s ever had about how people could live together in a representative democracy. But we don’t have it. We have a corporatocracy and there’s nobody in Washington working for you or for me. So, we have to get down in the trenches and earn it back. And it’s not going to be easy. They’ve done a lot of redistricting, a lot of gerrymandering, a lot of pick-and-shovel work to make it harder for us to unseat them, but we simply have to. We have to get into this next midterm election and cream them. Anything else isn’t going to save the country.

David Crosby
image by Henry Diltz

RA: I agree with you. I also wanted to get your take on the incredible upswell of public resistance. I was a teenager during the Vietnam War and have vague memories of older relatives and neighbors getting involved in anti-war protests. I see that happening again. I’m a teacher by profession. My high-school students are galvanized like you would not believe.
DC: I see it too, and I see that also. I think that as bad as Washington D.C. is right now, I think it’s going to inspire some good art. I’ve seen some graphics that were brilliant; I’ve heard some music that’s starting to happen that’s pretty good. My own song about Congress, “Capitol”, is (pretty) critical—


RA: —It’s spot on!
DC: I think you’re going to see a lot of that. Hopefully, the artistic community in the United States will step up to the plate, because it’s part of our job. It’s not the whole thing; our job mainly is to make you boogie or take you on an emotional voyage, but every once in a while it’s our job to be a town crier, and say, “Hey, it’s 12:30 and all is not well.” And all is definitely not well, so it’s time for us to step up. Every day, I get messages on Twitter saying that CSNY should get back together again, because they want us to be their voice. We should. We absolutely should. I don’t know if we will, but we should.


RA: You just saved me from asking my next question! The last time we spoke, that was a subject I didn’t broach just out of respect. You’re in the middle of creating some of the most amazing music I’ve ever heard in my life, period. I respect your history, but I also respect your desire to live in the present. I get it. I’ve also had my ears and eyes open and have heard two of the other three members of CSNY start to talk about, “Well, maybe we should … “ so now it’s interesting to hear you say, “Maybe so.”
DC: I know they ask us all the time. Every day, I get messages. I don’t know. It’s not up to me. It’s up to Neil.


RA: So if Neil were to say, “Let’s do this,” that would be something that you would hop on.
DC: Yeah, I’d do it. No question I’d do it.


RA: Where would you find the time? [Laughs]
DC: I think the country needs it.


RA: I think the country would be honored! Shifting back to the present, people who have followed you throughout the years are just blown out by Lighthouse.
DC: [Laughs} I should have gotten the new record to you, because I think you’re gonna love it, too. It’s the same deal, it’s (got) very, very good songs, but it’s totally different production.


RA: Is there a release date for Sky Trails?
DC: Yeah, it’ll be out this summer, while we’re on tour. We’ll be selling advance copies at the show.

image courtesy of David Crosby

RA: Final question for you: As far as the set list is concerned, will be hearing a majority of songs from the new album?
DC: Certainly a lot of it. We’re going to do a bunch of songs from there, a bunch of songs from CSN/CSNY, and a bunch of songs from CPR—that’s the core of this band. Me and Pevar and James are here together again, so we’re going to do some of that material. I love that material!

Jeff Pevar, David Crosby, James Raymond
image courtesy of Jeff Pevar

RA: We’ll see each other in May when you come to Long Island—
DC: Do come to the show, man, because the songs will speak better for me than I can.


RA: Thank you so much for your time today, David! See you in a few weeks!
DC: Thank you, man! I appreciate the help!

image courtesy of Roy Abrams

© Roy Abrams 2017

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Gregg Rolie: The Journey Continues

His sound is instantly identifiable. The groove, both subtle and soulful, represents the touch of a unique musical force. For the past five decades, the words and music of Gregg Rolie have been interwoven into our collective subconscious. A founding member of Santana, The Storm, Abraxas Pool, and Journey (for which he was the original lead singer), Rolie has been on the road with Ringo Starr and his All-Starr Band in recent years and will join his former bandmates in Journey for their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame on April 7th. This is the veteran musician’s second time receiving this honor. Nineteen years after joining the prestigious RRHOF ranks as a member of Santana, Gregg Rolie took some time out of a recent Saturday afternoon to talk about the upcoming award ceremony, and his work past, present, and future.

Gregg Rolie in his element
image by Scott Robert Ritchie

Roy Abrams: It’s been sixteen years since you and I last spoke—

Gregg Rolie: I told Michael (Jensen, President of Jensen Communications), damn, I remember this guy’s name but I can’t remember from what!

RA: It was just prior to the release of Roots. The two us kind of commandeered a table in this nice Italian restaurant in Manhattan that Michael took us to, and we sat there so long talking that eventually Michael came in and said, “Listen, we need to wrap this up!”

GR: [Laughs] That’s awesome. Well, listen, man, it’s good to talk to you again! I feel like Ringo right now … where’s the (time) gone? Forget it! [Laughs]

RA: Congratulations on your second induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame!

GR: Thank you!

RA: Are there any plans for Journey to perform as part of the ceremony?

GR: Oh, yeah! I will play on one song. It’s a celebration of Journey—past, present, and future. It’s kind of like the Eagles; they went through a couple of changes, too, and you can’t negate some of the things that happened earlier on, even though the success has continued—God bless Neal (Schon) for carrying this on as long as he has; finding Arnel (Pineda) …  going through the singers, he’s done a good job of this! I’m going to be playing on one song. I’m not going to divulge which song because it’s kind of up to those guys what they want to do.

image courtesy of Sony Legacy

RA: So, it’s been 19 years between the first induction (with Santana) and now. I remember speaking with you about Journey 16 years ago, and how you emphasized remaining true to one’s musical identity and musical integrity, which prompted your decision to part ways. What specific issues arose that made you decide that you could no longer travel that road?

GR: With Santana, it was a musical difference, for sure, (as well as) personal differences. (It was) too much, too soon. We were all full of ourselves; we didn’t treat each other very nicely. That was a shame, which got rectified on Santana IV. That was a ball, doing that; going back and recording with Carlos and the guys, and with Neal as well. That was last year that we finished that off. With Journey, it was more about being tired of the road. I had built two bands, lived out of a suitcase for 14 years or whatever it was, and I wanted to change my life. I was unhappy; therefore I was making other people unhappy. I just didn’t want to be there anymore! You know, the best way I can put this, which I’ve said before, is that the gypsy life that traveling in a band is, when it’s fun, it’s great! You travel all over the world, you’re playing music for people, and it’s tremendous! And then, when the smell is off the rose, for whatever reason, and you say I don’t want to do this anymore, then you don’t. I think that’s true for any walk of life; anybody that’s had enough, like a stockbroker, sooner or later, (you say) “I’ve had enough of this! All the yelling and the screaming—I just want to get out of here!” [Laughs] That was it, more than anything. I wanted to start a family, and just change my life. I didn’t play seriously for two years! I fooled around on the piano, but I started a family, which is probably my best work to date. I have a great family.

RA: That’s beautiful thing and it doesn’t get better than that! Referring back to the Roots album, I remember how stoked you were to be working with the Santana percussion section … and you just had the opportunity to reunite with the entire band for Santana IV. The reunion was announced in February 2013, and the recording took place during 2014-2015. What were those sessions like? How quickly did everything gel?

GR: People say, wow, it took them two years to do that! Well, that’s not true; everybody was working. I was out with Ringo Starr, Neal Schon was out with Journey, and Santana was being Santana. We got together when we could; in all reality, I don’t think it took more than a few months to really do it. It was all sporadic; we sent things to each other. I wrote lyrics here in Austin and sang a couple of songs in Austin and sent them in. Carlos goes, “These are awesome!” We did it from afar, but the tracking was all done in Las Vegas in a studio that Carlos wanted to use, which was fine. It went fast; every solo of mine on that record is the first take. (Santana drummer) Mike Shrieve goes, “I don’t know what’s going on with you, man, but I love what you’re doing!” I said, “I don’t know, but I accept!” It was rocket fast and enjoyable.  Carlos is the one who says that we just didn’t treat each other very well when we were young, which is really well put. You know, when you’re young and not treating people well and you really take it seriously, and you grow older and find out much of it was nonsense in the first place.

Carlos, Neal, and Gregg
image by Robert M. Knight

RA:  You and the Hammond B3 organ are inexorably linked. It’s a deeply traditional sound in popular music. What are your thoughts on some of the newer keyboard technology? The British musician Jacob Collier is utilizing a prototype called the Harmoniser.

GR: It depends on the song. I’m almost going to have to change my mind immediately, because I’m playing with Ringo and we’re playing Beatles songs with a B3 and there was never one there, but it works because of the way I play it, it’s very subtle, and it fills up the room. Sometimes a B3 is just too big to in a song. On Abraxas Pool, I used a Roland organ substitute because it had a lighter feel to it, and it made it sound lighter. Sometimes an organ is just so heavy that it doesn’t belong. It’s how you approach it. I’ve always been – except for in Santana, where it was really predominant—I’ve always been pretty subtle about the keyboards. And as far as the synthesizer stuff, I love some of the string sounds … there’s some very cool things that go on with it.

RA: When you got the phone call to work with Ringo, what was going through your mind at that point?

GR: “Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?” [Laughs] I mean, Mark Rivera is the music director (of the All-Starr Band). He plays with Billy Joel now, the sax player. He’s a multi-faceted player. At any rate, he gave me a call and I said, well, this is great, but you better give me this material fast because I don’t do this! I haven’t played other people’s music and had to learn somebody else’s music other than to listen to something and make it my own. So, here I am playing “Broken Wings” (from Mr. Mister) and Todd Rundgren’s stuff, and (Steve) Lukather’s, and of course, Ringo! (I thought) What am I going to do with this? I’m not this guy!” I was a little taken aback by it, but (I thought) I gotta do it! Ringo Starr and The Beatles—if it wasn’t for them, I would never be in music! I would have been an architect! That’s what I was going to do, I was going to college, and then Santana happened, and that was the end of that. I just opened the doors and went. It’s the whole key to anything: If the door is there and you see it, and it’s open, you really ought to take a shot at it. [Laughs]

RA: With the hindsight of years, how would you assess the musical contributions of both Journey and Santana to popular music culture?

GR: Santana, number one, is an endless market; it’s like (the) blues. It just doesn’t go away. Santana music is rhythmic … if you listen to Pandora and listen to Gypsy King network it’s got a thing … just like blues! You listen to Muddy Waters now, it could have been 70 years ago, and it doesn’t matter. Santana’s like that, and it will continue, because it is so rhythmic and infectious. Journey is a well-built band that, after I left, penned some very good songs. Neal’s playing, of course, goes without saying, and (Steve) Perry’s voice. It caught a generation. But Santana catches so many generations, it’s crazy. And at the same time, I can say, well, I could be wrong here, because Journey is continuing on, and they’re catching more people. Being a part of building a couple of bands of this caliber, I’m so proud of it, but I never thought about it as we did it; we just (thought), well, here’s the work we have to do! Where you end up is probably from the work. If you’re afraid of work, you shouldn’t be in this business.

RA: What advice would you give to musicians regarding holding a band together?

GR: [Laughs] I don’t know, I haven’t done too well! I guess my best example to date is playing with the All-Starrs, because it is so well-run because it’s so relaxed, but it’s serious, and everybody takes it seriously. The professionalism of the players, of taking other people’s music and playing it as hard as it if was yours, is what’s going on. And the respect that everybody has for Ringo, for much the same reason I stated before:  I mean, I don’t have any stats on it, but they probably started more music in the world than anybody! Music just popped up out of everywhere! I know that’s what happened with me, and I know that’s true of Lukather, too. As far as running a band, though, he runs a band the way I run my own, except it’s on steroids. We travel well; he treats us so great. It is a phenomenal thing that’s happened in my life. The way (Ringo) runs the band is the way I always thought it should be done, and here I am, doing it!

RA: Given your frenetic schedule, do you find the time to check out any new artists? If so, who’s doing it for you these days?

GR: You know, I really haven’t. My education of music nowadays stems from my son, who is a producer and engineer, who did a lot of my vocals on Santana IV. His name is Sean.

RA: Fantastic! That’s so cool! Congratulations, Dad!

GR: When he was eight years old, he was in the studio, so he was just born in this stuff. He just has tremendous ears, and I know it’s my son, and everybody says, “Oh, you’re just blowing a horn for him,” but I wouldn’t use him if he was bad! He is truly awesome. His musical knowledge of stuff—he’s 31 now—he explores it all. He passes on all this stuff to me, and some of it is really cool and some of it is, “Really? I must be old!” [Laughs]

RA: Have you heard of a band called The Lemon Twigs? I recommend them.

GR: Cool! I’ll look them up after I get off the phone with you.

RA: What were some of the most memorable experiences with Santana?

GR: Some of them are hindsight, but they’re true and real. I’ll start with this; it’s an old story, but it’s really honest and true. We were supposed to go on later in the afternoon (at Woodstock). We flew in there on a helicopter, like the kind they used in North Korea, and I remember Barry Imhoff, who worked with Bill Graham at the time, saying, “Look at that (the crowd)!” And I was going, “Yeah!” I had no concept; ants on a hill! It didn’t strike me, it really didn’t. We had played to 30,000 people before, festivals were everywhere and we played few of them. (Anyway), we were supposed to play later on and it was all helter skelter. Bill Graham was signing contracts for the movie for Santana, and he actually wasn’t even our manager. We went, okey doke! Everything was helter skelter and we had to go on early. The story—Carlos has told this—Carlos had taken some mescaline, thinking he was going on later … well, he peaked right at the time where we had to go on, because they changed it on us. I had no idea he’d done that. (I thought), he’s not playing quite the same. He said, “Oh, God, help me through this! My guitar is like a snake—if I could just hold on to it, I’ll never do this again!” [Laughs]

RA: I would imagine!

GR: I didn’t know about that for I don’t know how many years, honest to God.  On top of that, we drove out. I stayed to see Sly Stone, who was awesome; then we drove out of there. It took forever to get through half a million people! We flew in, it took five seconds. If I had driven in, I think I would have been scared to play for that many people. Otherwise, I wasn’t. That’s my hindsight on the whole thing. Of course, getting in that movie, and getting in the center of it, it set the whole career for Santana and really made it take off.

RA: What about standout memories with Journey?

GR: I’ll tell you one of the major things that ever happened was, Herbie Herbert looked at me one day (he was our manager) and said, “Is there anything that impresses you? You just don’t seem to get impressed by anything!” I said, “Oh, yeah, I do. I’m really impressed that we built this band. This was not a phenomenon. This was built.” He just looked at me and went, “Oh, well. I guess I won’t say anything to that!” … We went from the rental cars to the one Winnebago tour, which was a disaster …  Neal and I took our earnings and just flew home. That was the first and last Winnebago tour! To the busses, to the planes, to the stadiums … I mean, all of it, over a period of seven years … My whole point about Journey, for me, is that it is past, present, and future, and without the past, the present wouldn’t have been there, and neither would the future. So, we all built this, and I’m very proud of everybody that’s been in it; it’s been an incredible trip.

Gregg Rolie
image courtesy of Gregg Rolie

RA: What does the present and future hold for Gregg Rolie? Are you currently working on anything?

GR: Yeah, I am! As a matter of fact, I am finally going to finish—with my son Sean, who is helping me to produce this, along with Frenchie Smith—this album that I started before Santana IV. I put it on the back burner (and have) all this music sitting there. I have Steve Lukather playing guitar; Neal played on one track—some phenomenal players, but it’s all my own stuff. I’m trying to get this out this year, and hopefully, because I’ve got a ton (of songs) … the last five years, I’ve never been so busy! I don’t know what happens at retirement—I just kept getting calls that I couldn’t turn down! I have my own band; we’re still trying to get that going and keep it alive. We’ve got a few dates, but nothing to speak of at this point; there’s only about four or five of them. Then I’m going to go out with Ringo again in October.

RA: It’s been great speaking with you again, Gregg! Thank you very much for your time!

GR: My pleasure, man. Take care, Roy.


© Roy Abrams 2017