Only 22 musicians have been inducted more than once into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. David Crosby has received rock’s highest honor twice, as both a founding member of The Byrds and of Crosby, Stills & Nash. The veteran singer/songwriter will appear with a new band at the Uptown Theatre in Napa on Friday, April 28.
Crosby wrote or co-wrote some of the signature songs associated with those iconic groups, and he occasionally sang lead, but his principal role and unique contribution has been as a harmony singer.
Possessed of an extraordinary ear and what is often described as an “angelic” tenor voice, he typically finds the just-right harmonic interval in the middle, sometimes lush, sometimes pleasingly dissonant, between, for example, the lead of Stephen Stills and the very high harmony of Graham Nash.
On the phone last month, Crosby talked about his seemingly effortless vocal gift and the mystery of it. “I started singing harmony, they tell me, when I was about 6 years old,” he said, “and it’s always been a joy to me. I really love it. It’s been part of every band I’ve ever been in and I just have a natural affinity for it. I don’t know why; it just happens. I’m very grateful.
“My family all sing, and we used to sing folk songs together. My brother can sing harmony, he’s a musician. So I kind of guess it sort of ran in the family. It appealed to me right from the start, and I seemed to be good at it, I have a lot of fun doing it, that much I can tell you.”
Like many harmony singers of his generation, Crosby was influenced by the Everly Brothers. “I listened to lots of Don and Phil Everly when I was a kid,” he said, “and they certainly sang beautiful harmonies.”
His most affecting harmony influence, though, was a surprise. “I think the harmony singers that impressed me the most were on a very odd and unusual record of Bulgarian folk music,” Crosby said. “It came out in the ‘60s on Nonesuch Records, probably the most amazing harmonies I’ve ever heard in my life.”
The recording was Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares, a Grammy-winner. “Just choir, Bulgarian people,” he added. “They sang different intervals that I’d never heard before, and they sang stuff that I didn’t even know you could do.”
Those kind of unorthodox choices are evident in Crosby’s singing, whether it’s harmony or lead, as well as in his guitar playing. “What I like to do is not the predictable thing,” he said. “I like to find, as often as I can, non-parallel harmonies that create tension and release and are really fun for me. I really like that.
“I think I’m probably into alternative tunings on the guitar for the same reason. I like adventurous music. When I sing lead, for example, I never sing it the same way twice, which means I’m always improvising a little bit, which means it’s sort of like having your own rocket ship. Each time you take off to do a song, it’s an individual flight.”
At the Uptown, Crosby will take flight with his new touring band, including his son, James Raymond, on keyboards, Mai Agan on bass, Steve DiStanislao on drums, Jeff Pevar on guitar and Michelle Willis on keyboards and vocals.
Friday, April 28, 8 p.m. $51-$96 (VIP packages $245-$595). Uptown Theatre Napa. 1350 Third St., Napa. 707-259-0123, UptownTheatreNapa.com.
Youth Chamber Ensemble this Saturday at Jarvis
In a program of Bach, Beethoven and Gershwin, the Napa Youth Chamber Ensemble performs this Saturday, April 22, at the Jarvis Conservatory. The highlight will be Bach’s Brandenburg #5, featuring soloists Violet M. Grgich (harpsichord), Bethanne Walker (flute) and Ensemble director Yasushi Ogura (violin). 7 p.m. $15. 1711 Main St., Napa. 707-255-5445. JarvisConservatory.com.
Uptown hot tickets – Jay Leno and Judy Collins
It will be an all-star weekend in July at the Uptown – Judy Collins on Friday, July 21 and Jay Leno performing two shows on Saturday July 22. Tickets go on sale Thursday April 20 at www.UptownTheatreNapa.com.