Music Is Love: How Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Grace Slick & Others Bolstered David Crosby’s 1971 Solo LP
“The friendship that they showed me and the support that my friends gave me was one of the best things in my life.”
The gatefold inside cover of David Crosby’s 1971 debut solo album resembles a family photo album with pictures of Crosby and the many others who contributed to the record. Though David’s brother Ethan Crosby is the only photograph of an actual familial relation, the rest of the images were of friends that were nothing short of chosen family.
The family album artwork depicts members of the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane and Santana. Grateful Dead members who were part of the recording sessions included guitarist Jerry Garcia, bassist Phil Lesh and drummers Mickey Hart and Bill Kreutzmann. From the Jefferson Airplane camp, vocalist Grace Slick, guitarists Jorma Kaukonen and Paul Kantner and bassist Jack Casady were part of the cast of contributors. Santana keyboardist Gregg Rolie and drummer Michael Shrieve are also shown on the inside album cover, as is Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist David Freiberg.
There are also photos of other contributing musicians Neil Young, Graham Nash, Joni Mitchell and Laura Allen, as well as photographer Henry Diltz, album cover artists Robert Hammer and Gary Burden, managers Ronald Stone and Elliot Roberts, sound engineer Stephen Barncard, and, credited with “direction,” David Geffen.
The album was recorded at Wally Heider Studios in San Francisco. Opened in 1969, it became a de facto headquarters for the late-1960s psychedelic rock musicians that were part of the countercultural revolution of the era. Unofficially labeled the Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra (PERRO) the collective of musicians found themselves at Wally Heider Studios while working in the facility’s various recording studios on their own projects.
Among the records simultaneously being made at the time of If I Could Only Rember My Name were Nash’s solo album Songs for Beginners, the Grateful Dead’s Americana classic American Beauty and Kantner’s sci-fi fantasy Blows Against the Empire. In a 2005 interview with JamBase contributor and David Crosby’s longtime friend Steve Silberman, Kantner discussed the scene at Wally Heider Studios:
Silberman: [A]t some point Blows starts to become the product of a community of musicians – the so-called Planet Earth Rock and Roll Orchestra.
Kantner: We were all in the same spot at the same time, collaborating on each other’s albums. The nexus point was Wally Heider Studios.
Silberman: What was it about Heider’s?
Kantner: The quality of equipment. Wally was very high on good quality equipment and reproduction, tape recorders, microphones and all that. Heider’s became the studio of choice because he did it right. The pianos alone were beautiful. I could sit down at one of his studio-reconfigured pianos and it would sound like Beethoven. You just hit the sustain pedal and hit a chord and it’s beautiful. Any number of us would all be working at the same time, which was critical.
I’d be making Blows in one studio, Garcia would be making something with the Dead down in D, Crosby would be up in C doing vocal overdubs. As in movies, there’s a lot of downtime, “hurry up and wait” time while they’re setting up this or that. So we’d aimlessly, on drugs, wander into each other’s studios, and listen, and say “Oh, I could add something to that.” Garcia would come in and play on a track, Harvey Brooks would play bass, Crosby and [Graham] Nash came in, Mickey Hart, Bill Kreutzmann … and all these people would just be wandering into each other’s studios. It wasn’t planned, it just occurred, just a very natural thing that happened. Mickey’s Rolling Thunder, Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name, it was a very incestuous intermingling of musical variations that was very healthy and made for some great music.
Crosby included a message with the credits printed below the photographs that make up the inside cover of If I Could Only Remember My Name. The simple, direct message reads: “For My Lady Christine Gail Hinton.” Hinton was Crosby’s girlfriend, who sadly died in a car accident in September 1969.
“Christine’s death knocked my ass to the floor,” Crosby told Silberman in 2020. “I was crying and hibernating.”
Crosby was still mourning Hilton’s death while recording If I Could Only Remember My Name and part of that hibernation took place at Wally Heider’s. Crosby revisited the emotionally charged time in the 2016 documentary film named after his solo album, David Crosby: Remember My Name:
“Christine’s death, I couldn’t deal with at all. I was in a terrible place. Pretty freaked out. I’d just finished making Déjà Vu, during which I, a number of times, wound up sitting on the floor, crying. A number of people, Nash in particular, stuck with me for a long time, in order that I not do something really dumb, and give up. [I] was living on my boat in Sausalito and I was going up Tamalpais to this spot I had up there and just crying for hours. And I had these songs because they’d only taken two of my songs for Déjà Vu. And I just stayed in the studio, in Wally Heider’s, because it was somewhere I felt safe.
“It was the most innocent, unplanned, follow-your-heart kind of experience you could imagine. Whoever showed up that night was who was making the record that night and I would sing them a song. Jerry Garcia. He’d just show up. ‘Hey. What are you doing?’ If he and I had two guitars and we would sit in the same room, we were happy. He just wanted it to happen. He wanted to coax it into happening, any kind of way. If it meant get down on the floor and lick the notes off the floor, he’d do it. He’d do whatever. He knew it was waiting to happen right around the edges of the picture and he wanted to invite those notes out. ‘Come on. Come on, little notes. Come on out, come on out.’ He was the most – pure music guy.
“The friendship that they showed me and the support that my friends gave me was one of the best things in my life. That record was a turning point.”
The result of those helpful recording sessions was the sprawling If I Could Only Remember My Name, which consisted of four songs on Side A and five songs on Side B. Included were standouts like “What Are Their Names,” “Music Is Love,” “Cowboy Movie,” “Traction In The Rain” and “Laughing.” Rounding out the album was the anything but traditional arrangement of “Orleans,” the spacious “Tamalpais High (At About 3)” and the album-closing “I’d Swear There Was Somebody Here.”
Released for its 50th anniversary, an expanded and remastered version of If I Could Only Remember My Name came with a bonus disc of unreleased material. Overseen by Barncard, the anniversary edition’s bonus disc compiled 12 previously unavialable alternate versions, outtakes and demos, including tracks Crosby recorded at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Recorders on March 28, 1968 with producer Paul Rothchild.
The bonus set also presents tracks from the sessions Heider’s sessions, notably a take on “Cowboy Song” featuring a Neil Young solo in place of what Garcia added to the version that made the original 1971 album. Stream the expanded version below: