Mr. Crosby did not contribute compositions to the Byrds’ first two albums. But on their third, “Fifth Dimension” (1966), he and Mr. Hillman helped fill a songwriting void left by the departure of the group’s most prolific songwriter, Mr. Clark. Mr. Crosby contributed to the composition of several songs on the album and wrote one himself, “What’s Happening?!?!” His lyrics introduced a Crosbyesque motif: asking unanswered questions. Most famously, Mr. Crosby wrote the band’s hit “Eight Miles High” with Mr. McGuinn and Mr. Clark.
For the Byrds’ next album, “Younger Than Yesterday,” Mr. Crosby contributed “Everybody’s Been Burned,” which idealized the key strategy of his emerging style: pitting dreamy melody against dazed lyrics.
A bolder number helped seal Mr Crosby’s fate with the band. He had written “Triad” for Byrds’ fifth album, and the band recorded it. But the other members were hesitant to release it, preferring instead “Goin’ Back”, written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King. Mr. Crosby vigorously objected to the use of outside writers for a band that already had three, and tension in the band grew. There was also anger about the political speeches he had made between songs when the band had played the Monterey Pop Festival the previous summer. All of this led to his dismissal.
Mr. McGuinn and Mr. Hillman delivered the crushing news. They “said it was impossible to work with me, that I wasn’t very good anyway, and that they would do better without me,” Mr Crosby told UK music magazine Uncut. “It hurt like hell. I didn’t try to reason with them. I just said, ‘This is a shameful mess. … Goodbye.'”
By this time, Mr. Crosby had already started jamming with Mr. Stills, the guitarist and vocalist whose band Buffalo Springfield had recently disbanded. Mr. Crosby wrote his first song with Mr. Stills (with Paul Kantner of Jefferson Airplane) while sailing on a 74-foot boat he had acquired a year earlier. The song, “Wooden Ships”, also recorded by the Airplane, tested the vocal mix that would become Crosby, Stills & Nash’s signature.
Mr. Crosby and Mr. Stills met Mr. Nash in July 1968 at a party at Joni Mitchell’s in the Laurel Canyon neighborhood of Los Angeles. Mr Nash was eager to leave his British pop group, the Hollies, to join the popular folk-rock scene. The three began meeting on their own to perfect their sound, and when Ahmet Ertegun, president of Atlantic Records, heard their elegant three-way vocal braiding, he signed them to his label.