By Mike Greenblatt
Singer, songwriter and keyboardist James Raymond has injected some oomph into the latter-day career of Crosby, Stills & Nash. Go see them perform live this summer and fall and you’ll marvel at Raymond’s dynamic songwriting — “Lay Me Down” and “Almost Gone,” a song he wrote with Graham Nash about Pfc. Bradley Manning, who “allegedly released the hundreds of thousands of documents to the world for everyone to see exactly what was being perpetrated around the planet by our military and state departments in our name,” according to Nash. His colorful organ and piano fills propel the action, giving the rampaging lead guitar of Stephen Stills room to move on a wide palette of rock ’n’ roll adventure. Clearly, Raymond is a natural.
On “Croz,” David Crosby’s first solo studio album since 1993’s “Thousand Roads,” Raymond’s touch is everywhere: the writing, the singing, the playing, the producing. Raymond even housing the recording proceedings in his own home. (Crosby reportedly camped out on the couch.) They’ve been playing together since 1997 — about five years after Raymond discovered that Crosby was his biological father.
GOLDMINE: You — along with guitarist Shane Fontayne — are part of a revitalization of a great band, pumping new instrumental and compositional blood behind those three stirring voices and Stephen’s unerring lead guitar. CSN has never sounded better. That has to make you feel really proud, especially considering one of them is your dad.
JAMES RAYMOND: Oh it does, believe me. I’m just hanging on to his coattail. But it is nice to hear that. Very cool. Thank you.
GM: I can’t imagine what it must feel like to be in a band with your father.
JR: It’s pretty awesome, I gotta tell ya. He brings his A-game all the time. It’s fun, because he and I connect on so many different levels. It’s a blast, especially playing his new material. To see stuff that we worked on and wrote together really intensely for a couple of years come to fruition? And now to get to play it live? It’s pretty damn great.
GM: You hadn’t seen your dad in 30 years! How’d you reunite? And how’d that feel?
JR: I did not grow up knowing him. I was adopted. I always knew I was adopted but didn’t search for my birth parents until I was 30. At that point, I found my birth mother, and she told me that David Crosby was my father. One year later, when he was ill, needing a liver transplant, I attempted to get a hold of him, and I did.
GM: Most people, when they find a birth parent, don’t start a band with them, which you did prior to you joining CSN.
JR: [Laughs.] Exactly. That wasn’t the exact intention but, yeah, that’s what we wound up doing. At that point, his health was questionable. I just thought it would be a shame if we didn’t get to meet. He was very gracious when we met. He liked my music. He liked my musicianship. We started writing together, and it just kind of evolved from there.
GM: When your birth mom told you that David Crosby was your dad, didn’t you have a moment when you went, “Holy sh*t: Crosby Stills & Nash? Crosby is my dad?”
JR: Yeah, it was pretty surprising. I’d always assumed my biological parents were in the arts, and probably musical. But, yeah, that was quite a shocker. To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with their music at the time. It wasn’t what I listened to. But after I found out, I kinda went on a musical roots trip to find out what he was about musically. That’s when I realized there was a lot of overlap between his music and mine, especially with harmony. So when we did meet, it was a pretty natural kind of musical fit, especially when we started hanging out together.
GM: Why did you always figure your biological parents had something to do with music?
JR: Because I’ve never wanted to do anything else my whole life. I started piano at 5. Music’s been such a driving force in my life that as I got older I just felt like there had to be a genetic component. My parents sang in choirs and always encouraged my playing of music. I just felt like there was probably a bigger force at work.
GM: Boy, were you ever right! You say that you weren’t a CSN fan. What were you a fan of?
JR: I’ve always gravitated toward synthesizers and music that had a lot of keyboards: Stevie Wonder, Elton John. As a teen, I played in funk and R&B bands. Growing up, I always thought the best musicians were always funk players. There were some older guys who took me under their wing, and I fell right into that. That kind of music had way more interesting keyboard parts than straight rock. That kind of evolved into playing some jazz later, as well.
GM: What were the reactions of your parents when you told them you were the son of the great David Crosby?
JR: Well, you know, they’re of the generation, like my dad says, “We know Bing Crosby but who’s David?” They have always been very supportive. They now have a great relationship with the Crosby family.
GM: Well, it certainly seems you have the best of both worlds.
JR: Yeah, I lucked out.
GM: Can you tell me what your relationship is with your famous birth father?
JR: He likes to look out for me. There’s certain facets of our relationship where he does get to be like a father figure. And then there’s times when it switches, and I’m kinda like the father. But it’s more like brothers in arms. We’re very close collaborators and really good friends. That’s more the dynamic.
GM: 2012 was a bit of a renaissance year for CSN. And they’ve just taken off from there.
JR: You got that right. I’m so proud of these guys.
GM: David’s “Radio” and Graham’s “In Your Name” stand up to anything they’ve ever written, and that’s really saying something.
JR: They continue to push. They continue to write. A lot of time, artists, for whatever reason, their well of creativity dries up. Or they get complacent. But all three of them are still driven to find new things. That’s so inspiring to me. I’m hoping I can keep that fire burning for my own future. GM