Crosby was born in Los Angeles; the son of Academy Award-winning cinematographer Floyd Crosby, he dropped out of drama school to pursue a career in music, touring the folk club circuit and recording as a member of the Les Baxter Balladeers. Under the auspices of producer Jim Dickson, Crosby cut his first solo session in late 1963; early the following year he formed the Jet Set with Jim McGuinn and Gene Clark, and with the additions of bassist Chris Hillman and drummer Michael Clarke, the group was rechristened the Byrds. Although McGuinn chiefly pioneered the Byrds’ trademark 12-string guitar sound, Crosby was the architect of their shimmering harmonies; his interests in jazz and Indian music also influenced their subsequent excursions into psychedelic.
However, creative differences plagued the group throughout its career, and in 1967 Crosby — reportedly rankled by his bandmates’ refusal to release his menage a trois opus ‘Triad’ — left the Byrds in the wake of their appearance at the Monterey Pop Festival. After producing Joni Mitchell’s 1968 debut LP, Crosby cut a handful of solo recordings and began jamming with ex-Buffalo Springfield singer/guitarist Stephen Stills. In time the duo was joined by ex-Hollies member Graham Nash; with its exquisitely beautiful three-part harmonies, strong individual songwriting contributions, and graceful folk-rock sound, Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1969 debut LP proved a pop landmark, launching all three members to greater fame than they’d experienced in any of their previous projects. The addition of Stills’ former Buffalo Springfield bandmate Neil Young expanded the group to a four-piece, and in August of 1969 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY) made just their second live appearance to date at the Woodstock Festival; 1970’s D_j_ Vu arrived in stores with advance orders numbering over two million, and through the thought-provoking social and political messages of songs like ‘Woodstock’ and ‘Ohio,’ they emerged as generational torchbearers of enormous musical and cultural influence. Following a sellout CSNY tour, the group went on hiatus, and Crosby resumed work on his long-delayed solo debut, releasing If I Could Only Remember My Name in 1971; the following year, he and Nash issued the first of several duo efforts, and he also took part in a short-lived Byrds reunion. Despite continued creative differences, CSNY reformed for a 1974 tour; Crosby and Nash issued Wind on the Water a year later, and in 1977 Stills returned to the fold for the multi-platinum CSN.
However, as Crosby’s longstanding drug problem continued to worsen, he eventually fell out with both Stills and Nash, and a planned second solo album, Might as Well Have a Good Time, was rejected by Capitol in 1980. A series of arrests for cocaine possession and illegal weapons charges hampered him throughout the years to follow, even as he reunited with Stills and Nash in 1982 for the Top Ten hit Daylight Again. After completing the follow-up, 1983’s Allies, the trio did not record together for another seven years. In late 1985 Crosby was sentenced to prison after fleeing the drug rehabilitation clinic he’d entered in lieu of serving out a previous jail term; upon his release the following August, he’d finally conquered his demons, later chronicling the ugly details of his addiction in the fine autobiography Long Time Gone. In 1988 — a full 18 years after the release of D_j_ Vu — Crosby reunited with Stills, Nash, and also Young for American Dream; his second solo effort, Oh Yes I Can, finally appeared the following year as well. After the 1990 release of CSN’s Live It Up, Crosby continued to suffer personal misfortunes — first he was severely injured in a motorcycle accident, and then in 1994 he lost his L.A. home as a result of massive earthquake damage. Months later, he returned to the headlines when it was announced he was diagnosed with hepatitis C and dying of liver failure, undergoing a successful organ transplant in 1995. During the recovery period which followed, Crosby met James Raymond, the son he’d given up for adoption over three decades earlier and a professional musician as well; the two soon began writing songs together, and with guitarist Jeff Pevar they formed CPR, releasing a series of albums and touring regularly. In early 1997, Crosby, Stills & Nash were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Hame; six years earlier, Crosby had first entered the Hall as a member of the Byrds.