Posts Tagged ‘Paul Harris’

Born Riley B. King, he was nicknamed “Blues Boy” during his time on the Memphis radio station WDIA in the late 1940s, later abbreviated to B.B. But to the many millions who heard him in the years that followed, he was the Blues Man. Sure, others played faster and with greater fury; others may have sung better (and he was happy to share the stage with one, Bobby “Blue” Bland, on a number of tours together). But few if any blues artists (or rockers for that matter) did it all with the regal mix of majesty, gentility and heart implied by his surname. B.B. King earned his crown and wore it well. And though now no longer with us, his music will live on eternally.

From his beginnings on a cotton plantation in Mississippi in 1925 to duetting at the White House with President Obama in 2012, BB King certainly witnessed some changes in his lifetime. But one thing that remained largely unaltered during the course of his 70-plus years as a performer – a career that saw him release 59 albums, 138 singles and pick up countless awards (among them 18 Grammys) – was the essence of his music. If the ultimate goal of anyone who picks up a guitar is self-expression, then BB King is among a very select group of elite musicians who, through countless hours of work, not only perfected the art, but dug ever deeper without feeling the need for reinvention. Eric Clapton said of him: “The character of any great musician is usually identifiable by the individuality of their vibrato. Most players are recognisable by that particular facet of their playing… I can tell BB from one note – most of us can, I think.” Carlos Santana echoed the sentiment: “I can hear BB King with the sound off on the TV, just by looking at his face.” Buddy Guy also summed it up: “The way BB did it is the way we all do it now.” 

B.B King gave his all to blues music, and as a result became its preeminent ambassador the world round. A kind, warm and dignified man, it seems he never forgot his rural Mississippi sharecropping roots and how music raised a boy who was on his own from age 14 out of abject poverty, exploitation and racism. But rather than let the pain of his past fester into anger and resentment, he channelled it into his music. Sadness and anguish suffused his voice, and it could be heard in the sting, sad howls and tearful quivering tremelo within his clean, economical and eloquent guitar lines. His music always bore his own immediately recognizable stamp, yet it blended not only both rural and urban blues but R&B, jazz, big band, classic pop and much more to fuel his wide appeal. Dynamics, phrasing, timing, improvisation, targetting chord notes, vibrato… BB King’s unique playing has influenced countless players and in its finer details, still holds innumerable lessons for guitarists. But the most important one is sadly the least-often heeded: “Notes are expensive,” King once said. “Spend them wisely.” You could spend many words summarizing all his awards, honours and accomplishments and listing the scores of classic rock guitarists who King influenced and inspired – all that is easily available elsewhere. But the best way to honour him is simply to listen to his music. We look at a mere 20 of BB King’s greatest guitar moments only scratches the surface of an exhaustive catalogue of playing; each entry aims to show a different facet of why the playing of the King Of The Blues will always have the power to excite and delight guitarists, regardless of genre and musical style.

20. Lucille

The title track from this 1968 album shows BB King finally putting on musical record what his beloved guitar – or actually a succession of ES-family guitars, all with the same nickname – means to him. Every BB King song foregrounds an aspect of his musicality, and over this laid-back spoken-word blues, it’s how intertwined his voice and guitar playing are. Mixed with King’s crystal-clear tone way out front, rather than the forced showcase of fancy licks that 99 per cent of other players would have indulged in – although there are a few choice jazzy nods here and there and a masterclass in BB’s approach to bends – Lucille’s contribution here is that of the ever-faithful sidekick, purring like a kitten throughout. The original Lucille can be heard on vinyl on the raw, energetic concert LPs Live at the Regal (1965)  – recorded before a lively crowd at a longstanding black Chicago nightspot, and the perfect match between performer and audience, fire and enthusiasm – and Live at Cook County Jail (1971) , both classics of the genre.

The song’s off-the-cuff feel was captured when producer Bob Thiele ran tape as BB was telling him the story of his guitar: “He was idling through some runs and started to tell me the story of Lucille. I grabbed the switch, signalled the engineer, and flipped him on live”

19. The Blues Ain’t Nothing But A Woman Crying For Her Man (Live In Japan)

Two musical titans for the price of one on this 1990 guest appearance in Japan, which features Ray Charles, BB King and a ‘Super Band’ laying down a finale to an evening of perfectly crafted big-band schmaltz. Spectacular enough is Charles dusting off his keyboard’s pitch-bend wheel to skilfully imitate the character of King’s guitar, but when Gene Harris’ big band is eventually unleashed, King takes the spotlight, rolling off the tone control and letting rip over When I Get The Blues I Sit In My Rockin’ Chair with a series of cascading jazz-tinged improvisations that not only show his ability to morph his style to the occasion, but also offer an extended glimpse of the sophistication in his note choices that he would allude to throughout his career.

Charles and King often shared a stage during their careers; to hear them together in the studio, listen to the emotive jamming on Sinner’s Prayer on Charles’ final studio album before his death in 2004, Genius Loves Company

18. Instrumental (Live In Stockholm Konserthus)

With a minute of charming but starchy retrospective interview before the action, this clip from Swedish concert in 1974 is an absolute must for an appreciation of what made BB King’s playing so timeless. Over an extended three-minute solo, he creates mood by varying the dynamics of his solo from tender to strident, perfectly controlling the band’s accompaniment through the nuances of his playing and through subtle gestures: at one point, he unexpectedly silences them, embarks on a stunning jazzy exploration, then smoothly changes key, seemingly at random, before they come back in without missing a trick. Dynamic playing and musical telepathy with his fellow musicians are two qualities BB understood better than perhaps any other blues player before or since – and it’s all here.

At 7:00 in this Guitar Clinic, King explains how horn playing defined his approach to sustain in his phrasing

17. Japanese Boogie

A tireless tourer, King found time in his hectic schedule to record three albums in 1971 while also capitalising on the peak in his popularity – the unimpeachable Live At Cook County Jail, B.B. King In London, unfortunately lacklustre despite its stellar cast of musicians, and Live In Japan, recorded in Tokyo’s Sankei Hall – where this fiery up-tempo boogie is from. It’s a sprawling nine-minute instrumental that begins with a single-string take on the Chuck Berry lick before spending the majority of the rest of the song in the so-called BB box: having an area of the guitar neck named after you proves how much time BB spent in this territory, and this stomping instrumental, with its interlacing horns and piano, shows the endless variation King could summon out of the position on the fretboard he’d claimed as his own.

It’s not all down to B.B King – there’s even a rasping distorted bass solo, courtesy of King’s erstwhile low-end merchant Wilbert Freeman

16. Goin’ South (Calypso Blues)

1991 instrumental compilation Spotlight On Lucille is oft-lauded for illuminating King’s material from the Kent label vaults, from 1958-62, particularly the outstanding version of Louis Jordan’s Ain’t That Just Like A Woman which is an early tour-de-force of his jazz-inflected, horn-influenced and fluid lead style, and Jumpin’ With B.B., where he rides roughshod across an alternate time signature from the rhythm section in his phrasing. Yet its this shapeshifting Calypso instrumental that shows an undercelebrated side of King’s wide-ranging musical sensibilities. Listen out for the diminished runs and the outro, where he really loses himself in the tune, adding rare rhythmic double-stop stabs and controlling the song’s dynamics with a twist of his volume control.

B.B King was an ever-present in the studio in his early days; a boxset of the complete RPM-Kent recordings features over 400 tracks, including alternate takes

15. Days Of Old

2000’s Riding With The King saw 75-year-old B.B king rolling back the years on a collaboration with Eric Clapton that had finally come to fruition after years of mutual appreciation. The record featured five vintage B.B King songs, and on the uptempo Days Of Old from 1958, an elite band with Andy Fairweather-Low, Joe Sample et al offer a perfect substitute for the horn stabs of the original. Clapton pulls out all the stops throughout the record, mimics the intro line and staccato Q&A licks that leapt out of the original, and when it’s Lucille’s turn in the spotlight, King soars above the mix with a push-and-pull solo soaked in expressiveness that draws on all of his years of experience with the song – a highlight from a record brimming with mutual admiration from two guitar greats.

Fans of Texas blues should give Riding With The King a spin for the guest spots from Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II; the latter’s songs Marry You and I Wanna Be are covered

14. Guess Who

The cover image from King’s 1972 album Guess Who shows him laid out on the beach hovering in a state somewhere between relaxation and exhaustion, Lucille by his side – it was his 21st album, after all. But the title track shows there was still plenty more to come, and King transforms the smouldering sentimentality of this piano-blues into a consummate lesson in how his vocal and guitar were two sides of the same coin when it came to dynamics and phrasing. BB uses his full vocabulary of first-finger bends, string slides, passing notes, his magical vibrato and more to subtly transform the song’s basic melody into something only he could play.

King’s oft-imitated rapid vibrato technique relies on lateral movement of the wrist; unusually, the tip of his finger is the only part of his hand touching the fretboard, which contributes to its uniquely vocal quality

13. Don’t Answer The Door

This 1966 single, a cover of a Jimmy Johnson composition, was King’s highest-charting song for six years on release, but its success was modest compared to the smash that his signature song, Thrill Has Gone, became three years later. Undoubtedly, though, guitarists around the world were listening – just as important to the song’s success as the brooding electric organ and King’s impassioned vocal are the bursts of ghostly lead guitar, drenched in pools of sumptuous amp reverb, an effect also put to spine-chilling use by King’s favourite UK bluesman, Peter Green.

Listen also to the brooding live version on the outstanding half-live, half-studio Live & Well album from 1969, part of a set which King proclaimed was the best he’d ever played

12. Chains And Things

“I know the critics always name Live & Well or Live At The Regal as my best albums,” King once reflected, “but I think Indianola Mississippi Seeds was the best album I have ever made artistically.” The record came on the heels of his breakthrough hit Thrill Is Gone, from the Completely Well record, and young Bill Szymcyzk (who produced that album and would later go on to produce Hotel California) gently nudged King away from his well-trodden formula into fresh territory, with exceptional results. Chains And Things, also featuring Carole King on Fender Rhodes, is a case in point: simmering with world-weary minor-key indignation, BB delivers a haunting vocal and his guitar solo, embellished with interwoven string lines, seems to emanate from deep inside him.

The solo’s opening note was a mistake, according to BB: “I played the wrong note and followed it as best I could… then we got the arranger to make the strings follow it”

11. Gambler’s Blues

When you summon BB King’s playing to mind, chances are you’ll hear it floating serenely above a bed of horns of the kind that characterised Live At The Regal. But on the 1966 live album Blues Is King, BB took to the stage in Chicago with a stripped-down band featuring only organ, alto sax and a trumpet in their place, and the results were grittier and far more visceral as a result. There are many six-string highlights, including the stark, spiky lines of opener Waiting On You and the spills of feedback threatening the reverb-coated licks on Night Life (there’s also an unfortunate string break on Blind Love). But Gambler’s Blues is the guitar highpoint – a prowling beast of a performance, so real it feels as though he’s in the room with you.

BB King was in debt at this time due to a bus crash incident that left him personally liable and claims for back taxes from the IRS, hence the stripped-down line-up

10. How Blue Can You Get (aka Downhearted)

A crowd pleasing staple in King’s live sets on account of its clever wordplay, BB recorded the 1949 Jane and Leonard Feather composition twice; once in 1963 as Downhearted, and then in a revamped version the following year, which made the Billboard 100. This version – from a 1979 tour of Russia, filmed in what looks like an aircraft hangar, in Tblisi of all places – is a great watch, firstly for the extreme-close-up camerawork offering us an almost uncomfortably intimate view of his guitar technique, secondly for the noodling in the intro, and finally, for an appreciation of BB King as an out-and-out showman, acting out the lyrics as he goes.

There are many to choose from: definitive live versions are a toss-up between those on Live At The Regal, Sing Sing, Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! and Live At Cook County Jail

9. Blues At Midnight

A towering track included on King’s ABC-Paramount debut album Mr Blues, from 1963 – a record that combines the output of three separate sessions with a variety of groups into a stylistically varied but not entirely satisfying whole – Blues At Midnight enjoys the distinction of having an uncommonly great guitar tone that’s different from much of the rest of his output. Articulate, nasal and sounding almost-out-of-phase, how exactly he came across it remains a mystery. King had a famous preference for Gibson’s Lab series L-5 amps and used Fender models, but beyond that, was seemingly far from a gearhound.

It’s speculated that the tone on this record may be the product of one of the settings on King’s custom-ordered stereo ES-335 with Varitone switch, pictured on the cover

8. Hummingbird

The BB King/Bill Szymcyzk partnership bore further fruit with Indianola Mississippi Seeds’ closing epic, a most uncharacteristic, shapeshifting musical exploration written by singer-pianist Leon Russell, who contributes gutsy piano to the record. Beginning with a loping Albert King-esque  strut and morphing into an ambitious rock-ballad arrangement, Hummingbird would’ve been a standout in King’s discography even without its closing section, where, over a chorus of angelic backing vocals from Sherlie Matthews, Merry Clayton, Clydie King and Venetta Fields, King offers his own unique take on the epic Layla-esque 70s rock outro, wringing almost Stones-y licks from Lucille’s neck for a satisfyingly bitter and earthy contrast to the song’s emotive crescendo.

The surreal cover image, featuring a watermelon guitar complete with pickups, neck and bridge, won a Grammy for photographer, Ivan Nagy and cover designer, Robert Lockart

7. Rock Me Baby

This early BB King song, recorded sometime between 1958 and 1962, was his first to hit the Top 40 in the US, and both it and Muddy Waters’ Rock Me share a common ancestor in Lil’ Son Jackson’s Rockin’ And Rollin’. King’s take is a prowling monster of a recording, bleeding into the red, that pairs a deep, barrelling piano bassline with a manky stray cat of a main lick; but what elevates it is the perfectly formed guitar solo, with its sophisticated manipulation of space, its visceral string rakes, mix of major and minor and its microtonal bends. It’s a rare glimpse of BB King in unadulterated macho-swagger mode and it’s since entered the blues canon.

Hendrix revamped the song somewhat for his mind blowing 1967 Monterey Pop Festival performance and BB King re-recorded the song in 2000 with Clapton for Riding With The King

6. Every Day I Have The Blues

A 1935 song by the Sparks brothers, updated by Memphis Slim, Count Basie And His Orchestra and others, King’s version of Every Day I Have The Blues recorded 20 years later became his “theme” on account of its novel DI’d guitar sound (resulting in extra cuthrough and twang) and “crisp and relaxed” horn arrangements from Maxwell Davis. It was a regular concert opener, opening both Live At The Regal and Live At Cook County Jail, and for all the charm of the original, it’s in performance that it comes to life. Here’s a great hyperactive version from circa 1969-70 where BB slickly sorts out his guitar issues before peeling out a stinging solo that dances around the horn lines and takes advantage of the sustain from his cranked amp.

Though King’s first version was recorded in 1955, it had to wait until 2004 for a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and until 2019 to be inducted into the Blues Hall Of Fame as a Classic Of Blues Recording,

5. Why I Sing The Blues

The closing song on BB’s classic 1969 album Completely Well catalogues the historical and contemporary racial injustices of US society head on, and with simmering dignity. Though the original is a cool slab of funk, driven by a propulsive bassline from Gerald ‘Jerry’ Jemmott, it’s best heard in the sweltering heat of the Zaire 74 concert: 80,000 people watch on as his band up the tempo and the bandleader closes his eyes and coaxes Lucille to sing. When describing his guitar phrasing, BB would often explain his approach in terms of a conversation, constructing complete sentences by repeating themes while varying the dynamics, bends and sustain in his licks; and this is a prime example of how he did it, with a bonus funky outro thrown in just for the hell of it.

King’s right-hand technique is an essential aspect of his sound: he played with a heavy pick and used mostly downstrokes to strike the notes, sacrificing the speed of alternate picking for more control and consistency of emphasis. He also exclusively damped the strings with his right hand

4. Three O’Clock Blues

BB had his first chart appearance in 1951 with a brooding take on Lowell Fulson’s Three O’Clock Blues, restlessly alternating soulful crooning with restless, barbed guitar licks over a bed of soporific horns. The influence of T-Bone Walker on King’s early style shines through here, in the emphatic use of bends and the abrupt, unexpected pauses for thought interrupting the flow of his lead lines to convey emotion through the power of silence. King’s raw and authoritative playing when he revisited the song for 2000’s Riding With The King makes for an interesting comparison: half a century of blues playing is a lot of water under the bridge, but his expressive power is completely undiminished

Beginning life as a Gibson L-30, Lucille took many forms before King settled on his iconic choice of centre block-equipped ES-355 and its less bling sister models, the 335 and 345. At this point in his career, Lucille was an ES-125; a hollow body model with a single P-90 pickup

3. Worry Worry Worry (Live In Cook County Jail)

Johnny Cash’s prison concerts (1968’s At Folsom Prison and 1969’s At San Quentin) set the precedent for BB King to accept an invitation to perform at Cook County Jail in Chicago in 1971, and the experience had a lasting effect on him: B.B King would go on to co-found the Foundation for the Advancement of Inmate Recreation and Rehabilitation (FAIRR) in 1972. The Cook County performance has many fine moments, but Worry Worry Worry, its 10-minute centrepiece, finds him using everything in his power – from spoken-word soliloquys and hummingbird falsetto to band dynamics and verse after verse of spectacularly emotive blues lead – to make a connection with the lost souls staring back at him.

BB King was a passionate advocate for prison reform, and played around 70 prison gigs over the course of his career, including the subject of the 1972 documentary At Sing Sing Prison</strong

2. Sweet Little Angel

Live At The Regal is forever praised as one of the greatest live albums of all time and even though its timelessness ultimately lies in the connection with the crowd and the ensemble performance, it’s also littered with exceptional, enormously varied guitar playing. An undoubted high point for many is King’s playing onSweet Little Angel, a reworking of Lucille Bogan’s1930 song Black Angel Blues. While B.B King had refined his guitar style on singles towards a more minimalist approach out of necessity, onstage, it could be a different story, and so it proves here: from its authoritative, melodic opening phrase onwards, his brief off-the-cuff solo covers so much ground, it’s virtually a song in itself.

At one point in his 60s career, Eric Clapton listened to this album every night before going onstage

1. The Thrill Is Gone

King’s signature song was a hit forRoy Hawkins, its co-writer, in 1951, but B.B King’s ground-up reworking of it reached No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1970 and took his popularity to a new audience, and a new level. Its dramatic arrangment – immersing King’s angst-ridden vocals and laconic, reverb-shrouded stabs of guitar in a sea of heartbreak made up of pensive strings and atmospheric Wurlitzer, provided the established bluesman with an entirely fresh sonic setting. The song was masterminded by Bill Szymczyk, an up-and-coming staff producer at ABC Records who had lobbied hard to allow executives to pair him up with King in the studio. The result of their first collaboration was 1969’s Live & Wellalbum: a half-live, half-studio test exercise. For its follow-up, Completely Well, Szymczyk recruited session players Herbie Lovell on drums, bassist Gerry Jemmott, keys player Paul Harris and guitarist Hugh McCracken and set up in New York’s Hit Factory studio in September 1969. The producer asked string arranger Bert de Coteaux to come up with the song’s distinctive arrangement. Szymczyk told us “The thing I remember most vividly about that session was how BB smiled during it. This had never happened to him before – strings on a blues record. I’m not sure it had ever happened to anyone before.” The atmospheric backdrop stirred up an emotional response from King, whose terse, pent-up lines bristle with dynamic energy, swooping gracefully above and below the other elements in the mix before embarking on an outro that Szymcyk recalls went on a full eight minutes.

BB King recorded the song live with no guitar or vocal overdubs, using a Gibson ES-355 with Varitone through a Fender Twin Reverb, In 1980 Gibson began manufacturing the B.B. King signature “Lucille” model, a variation on the company’s combination hollow- and solid-body ES-355. But it was long before that the original “Lucille” got her name. After rescuing his $30 Gibson L-30 from a burning Arkansas dance hall in 1949, B.B. King learned that the fire was started by two men fighting over a woman named Lucille. He has used the name for each of his guitars since, and while they were all Gibsons, not all of his Lucilles were the ES-355 model with which B.B. is most often identified. The Gibson website points out that “As King’s career flourished, he got a fancier guitar. Launched in 1949, the ES-5 was then one of Gibson’sflashiest and sonically most versatile models – it had three P-90 pickups and came in blonde and sunburst, but B.B.’s was a blonde, with a trio of volume pots and a black pickguard. The ES-5 was discontinued in 1960.” Then came other Lucilles, including the ES-125, the ES-175 even a Gibson Byrdland was Lucille-ized. King has played ES-335s and ES-345s too, but the ES-355 was the one. By the time he became an international superstar, Gibson and King collaborated to create his own, exclusive Lucille model. And this one had to be fit for a King. As well as personalized pearl inlays, B.B. requested that  Gibson remove the F-holes, to reduce feedback. In earlier years, King would often stuff his regular ES-355’s F-holes with cloth to inhibit feedback, so this was a much-needed modification for the bluesman.

Down the Road

Though Stephen Stills’ talents as a singer, guitarist and songwriter are plain to hear on his solo records, he thrives in a collaborative environment, so it’s little surprise that after CSNY dissolved, he formed another band – Manassas. The second and final album under that name, 1973’s “Down The Road” was cut at Miami’s Criteria Sound Studios and Caribou Ranch in Colorado, and features tasty Stills-penned roots rockers like “Isn’t It About Time” and the title track, along with “Lies” by Chris Hillman (who’d landed in Manassas between stints with The Byrds).

“Manassas was such a terrific band. It really had some structure and reminded me of the Buffalo Springfield at its best,” Stills once recalled, so we’ll give the group’s “Down The Road” another spin to wish the two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer a happy 75th birthday.

This was always going to be a 3 or 4 star album because the first Manassas album was almost impossible to match, let alone better. The scope of that work was immense and I really believe it represented the best music Stills has ever produced – even better than the first CSN album. Standouts are “Pensiamento”, quite simply the best Latin rock song in his considerable cannon, the country-rock “Do You Remember The Americans?” and a couple of nice collaborations with Chris Hillman on “Isn’t It About Time” and “So Many Times”. With a band including Paul Harris, Al Perkins and Hillman, the musicianship is always going to be first rate but a couple of songs do let it down a tad, noteably “Business On The Street” and “Rolling My Stone” which sound a little laboured.

A band like Manassas, who were comfortable with rock, blues, country and Latin and stretch out and this album is too short to do them or their songs justice. Manassas were only a 2 album band, there’s little if any chance Stills would get them back together but they were still a million miles ahead of the competition, even in second gear.

By 1972, what we call classic rock was pretty much at its peak though nobody at the time knew it. Except maybe Stephen Stills. The band and the double-album he piloted and released that year both named Manassas now seem pivotal. Manassas brilliantly summed up the remarkable 1960s creative surge that revitalized rock’s roots and encouraged experimentation just when it was at its crest. Predominantly a vehicle for Stills‘ artistic vision, the band released two albums during its active tenure, 1972’s Manassas and 1973’s Down the Road. The band dissolved in October 1973.

The top-flight outfit Stills assembled in late 1971 and named for a bloody two-part Civil War battle (the album’s cover shot was taken on that battlefield) could nimbly navigate damn near every polyglot style rock was evolving– from blues “Jet Set” to bluegrass “Fallen Eagle”, country rock “Don’t Look At My Shadow” to Caribbean beats “Medley”, folk-rock “Johnny’s Garden” to metal “Right Now”. Jamming out complex, textured arrangements in the studio, they successfully translated them to stages in Europe and the US. But Stills always felt that Manassas struggled for recognition because his handlers wanted him back in the gold rush that Crosby Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) had generated.

Whatever the reason, Manassas remains one of rock’s half-forgotten treasures. But it’s arguably the best album and band Stephen Stills ever helmed.

Stills was Born in Texas, raised in Florida, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal Zone as his military family rotated through duty stations. He absorbed all sorts of music along the way, and learned to play them on guitar, keyboards, bass, banjo, and assorted percussion instruments. The rootless kid found his mooring in sound. He beat up his family’s furniture until his dad finally got him drums to go with his drumsticks. After a week of college, he quit to be a musician.

His scuffling path through the folk revival introduced him to dozens of players, like Richie Furay and Neil Young, who would become his creative network. It also put him into play at the onset of rock’s 1960s creative surge. He was in Los Angeles trying to peddle his songs when he turned down a slot with the corporately manufactured Monkees (he recommended Peter Tork instead), and jumped headlong into the exploratory waves with his tempestuous band Buffalo Springfield. The Springfield surfed onto the national Top 40 charts with Stills’s brooding track For What It’s Worth. In the studio, on tracks as radically distinct as Kind Woman, Rock and Roll Woman, and Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing, they probed the new ideas firing young musical imaginations from London to California. Live, the band crackled with guitar-hero firepower, when Stills and Young opened up in redoubtable jams.

His songs were innovative, superbly crafted, stylistically diverse; Bluebird is a stellar example of his fondness for complex structures. His lyrics could be elliptical or nakedly autobiographical; often infused with dark romance (Hung Upside Down, Questions) his confessional story-telling updated his beloved blues. Onstage, he hurled himself at the microphone, when he wasn’t prancing or dancing; he was so intense, his full-throated vocals seemed to come somehow from his entire body. Bandmate Richie Furay called him “the heart and soul of Buffalo Springfield.” Others, in a nod to his multi-instrumental chops, called him “Captain Many Hands.”

The unstable chemistry and battling egos that fired the Springfield’s creative ambitions inevitably blew it apart. But the band had barely disintegrated before Stills was off solidifying his guitar-hero credentials on Super Session, with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. On Season of the Witch, Stills dialed up a distinctive voice on the wah-wah pedal Jimi Hendrix had turned him onto, floating sweet nothings and yearnings tinged with acerbity.

Thanks to his network, a series of accidents drew Crosby Stills and Nash together. Their 1969 debut met with critical hosannas and gold-record status, and marked the dawn of that record-industry supergroup, with high-powered handlers and big-ticket arena tours.

Graham Nash said, “Stephen had a vision, and David and I let him run with it.” Or maybe he just steamrolled over them. A year after Déjà Vu, what was now CSN&Y exploded, and its members released solo albums. Stephen Stills went gold, scored a hit (Love the One You’re With), and was the only album ever to feature both Eric Clapton (on Go Back Home) and Jimi Hendrix (on Old Times Good Times). But it and its followup drew ho-hum reviews; so did his tours. Critics and fans wondered if Stills was yet another self-indulgent rock star running out of gas.

Stills describes himself as “aggressive,” “obnoxious,” and the like, all meaning he’s a control freak—an auteur, if you like. In those days, he was usually packing an enviable pocketful of new tunes. He could out-sing almost anyone and play one-man band if he wanted. You can see how he’d be a hard guy to face off with about creative issues.

Yet he knew he needed feedback. He wanted to improvise with players whose ideas and chops stood up to his own. Then he could let jamming unleash creative interactions to enrich his ideas. That was how he worked during the Springfield’s best days.

A twist of fate gave him his shot. In 1971, he was coasting along on a lackluster but lucrative tour when he happened to cross paths with Chris Hillman. As Hillman recalls, “Stills was playing a concert in Cleveland with the Memphis Horns. I was sitting in the audience, going, ‘Jesus Christ. They’re making 25,000 bucks and they’re shitty. The Burritos are better than this.’ I went backstage, and that’s when we renewed the friendship.”

Their bond dated back to 1960s LA, when Hillman—among the most catalytic figures in rock history—got Buffalo Springfield the gig as the Whisky A Go Go’s house band. That launched them to stardom.

Besides, Stills knew that Hillman was far more than a catalyst. After a whiz-kid run as a bluegrass mandolinist, he played innovative bass, doubled on guitar, sang lead and harmony, and co-wrote songs with the Byrds. When Roger McGuinn unceremoniously dumped his friend Gram Parsons after Sweetheart of the Rodeo, Hillman left, and the Flying Burrito Brothers were born. Parsons and Hillman penned a few matchless songs that other composers would likely swap body parts for, like Sin City and Wheels.

But the Grievous Angel was riding hard on the road to ruin; sloppy business dealings, erratic performances, and over-the-top drug use and boozing got him fired from his own group before Burrito Deluxe was released in early 1970. Hillman tried steering the band, but its personnel kept changing; the near-chaos made the Burritos musically unpredictable and financially disastrous.

So when Hillman and Stills accidentally crossed paths in Cleveland, they both glimpsed opportunity. Stills’ bounteous talents and fierce competitive drive almost ensured he would overshadow nearly any setting he was in, but he was discouraged by his solo ventures. He needed a creative ally he respected, someone who’d push back but not combust or split.

Hillman, who may be rock history’s best-ever second banana, firstly dealing with McGuinn and Parsons were hard-to-beat baptisms of fire was secure enough in his own creativity to deliver. He would co-write two songs for Manassas (Both of Us, It Doesn’t Matter), help Stills wrangle others into shape, and supply his subtle, pure-toned harmonies throughout.

As Stills explained, “I basically wanted a partner, somebody who had a sense of songs. Chris invented the phrase ‘lyric police,’ and was a tremendous help. But I was still on that real powerful, energetic ‘Let’s go, I know what I’m doing’ kinda thing. Chris realized it was my band, and that was OK for him.”

A few weeks later, Stills called Hillman and invited him down to Miami’s famed Criteria Studios, where engineer-producer Tom Dowd had shepherded Derek and the Dominos‘ monumental jam-fuelled Layla sessions the year before. As it happens, the producers for what would become Manassas worked on it too.

The stage was set to replace the sterile studio feel Stills hated with the onstage improvising looseness he loved. He had his co-pilot. So who else would joust with Captain Many Hands? .From the shambling Burritos came two key other talents for the band, Violinist Byron Berline was a bluegrass vet who’d clocked time with stars like Bill Monroe and Dillard and Clark. Fallen Eagle, a breakneck bluegrass protest song against ranchers killing our endangered national symbol, puts his dazzling, keening fiddle and Hillman’s virtuoso mandolin in the forefront.

Al Perkins had learned to play Hawaiian steel guitar at nine, mastered the dobro and pedal steel, performed with country and western bands, then shifted gears to tour his native west Texas as a rock guitar slinger. He supports or duels with Stills on all his axes. On Jesus Gave Love Away For Free, his aching steel solos swell and sigh; on Don’t Look at My Shadow, they glide with glee. On “Jet Set,” he plugs into effects to go grungy and deliver slashing, whiplash blues in Duane Allman fashion to counter Stills’ gurgling wah-wah. He plays both steel and guitar on Song of Love.

Perkins, Stills, and Hillman take their guitar army acoustic for Johnny’s Garden, where their loosely braided, ever-shifting lines gently nudge Stills‘ yearning vocal. The rest of the cast came from Stills‘ solo albums and tours.

Bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels brought the Caribbean feels Stills craved, as the burbling line on “Song of Love” demonstrates. But he could nail the bottom hard on blues-rockers like “Jet Set.”

Keyboardist Paul Harris, a session vet, could play almost any style; with Hillman’s adept rhythm guitar, his keys became the session’s sonic glue.

Latin percussionist Joe Lala co-founded Blues Image (Ride Captain Ride) and sang with gritty, soulful conviction. He vocally challenges Stills on Cuban Bluegrass, and delivers the pulsating Latin rhythms Stills adored throughout.

Drummer Dallas Taylor was Stills’ running buddy—and a wild card. He played on CSN(and sometimes Y)’s first two albums and tours; they fired him because his substance abuse rivaled the Grievous Angel’s. But this bad boy had exactly what Stills wanted on drums: he could float, dance, or slam it home.

The musicians quickly gelled in the studio, and within several weeks had recorded enough material at Criteria to fill a double-LP album release. The band was capable of a wide musical range, with a repertoire including blues, folk, country, Latin, and rock songs. Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, a friend of both Hillman and Stills who visited Criteria during the sessions, was an early fan of the band, at one point expressing an interest in joining. (Wyman would contribute to the sessions by helping Stills re-write his to-date unrecorded song from 1968, “Bumblebee,” as the blues/funk tune “The Love Gangster,” with Wyman also playing bass on the track.) The band christened itself Manassas after Stills, who had a strong interest in American Civil War history, orchestrated a photo shoot for them in Manassas, Virginia, the site of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run.

What was slated to be Stills’ third solo album had morphed completely. The band’s chemistry clicked almost instantly, and its boundless energy and chops meshed with Stills‘ vision and discipline. A few weeks of jamming out arrangements fused the wildly diverse material and sounds into a sum greater than its parts. They came out of it as a fierce, tuned machine. (See for yourself on this high-quality German TV recording, where Stills wails on wah-wah for “Jet Set” and “Treasure of the Oneness.”)

No wonder Bill Wyman, who co-wrote Love Gangster with Stills and played bass for the track, said he’d leave the Stones to join Manassas. Hillman understood why: “We were always more of a band than people thought. Stills wouldn’t have been the same without us, that’s for sure. Manassas was the best band Stills ever played in.”

The album ends with a final stark jolt. Blues Man finds Stills alone with an acoustic guitar, like the host of a wild party sitting amid the wreckage after it’s over. He channels everything he ever absorbed from his revered blues masters into his gritty, anguished vocal and nimble fingerpicking to sketch a raw, painfully dark elegy for three of his friends. Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson (Canned Heat), and Duane Allman had all recently died.

They weren’t the only ones: Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were among the others. Many were wondering if rock’s creative surge had run its course. Did Stills? Who knows? But an era was indeed ending. And nothing Stills has done since approaches the epic scale and artistic heights of Manassas.

After the European leg of Manassas’ 1972 tour, Chris Hillman took several weeks away from the band to record a reunion album with his pre-Burritos band the Byrds, an effort that also included Stills’ ex-CSNY bandmate David Crosby, Manassas then regrouped and quickly completed their second album, Down the Road. Initial sessions for the album were again convened at Criteria Studios, but the band moved the sessions in midstream to Caribou Ranch in Colorado and the Record Plant in Los Angeles after Criteria staff engineers Ron and Howard Albert expressed concern that the sessions were not producing quality results. Down the Road was completed in January 1973. After completing Down the Road, Manassas became dormant for several months. During the break, Stephen Stills married Véronique Sanson, whom he had met in Paris during Manassas’ 1972 European tour.

Stills was greeted by several sources of turmoil upon returning  to regroup Manassas, as, in addition to Hillman’s future commitment to work with Furay and Souther, Dallas Taylor had become severely addicted to heroin, and Calvin Samuels had left the band for personal reasons. Stills dealt with these issues by securing the services of Jefferson Airplane drummer John Barbata (who had previously replaced Taylor in CSNY during their 1970 tour and Kenny Buttrey during Young’s 1973 tour) as a backup for Taylor, and bassist Kenny Passarelli of Joe Walsh’s band Barnstorm to replace Samuels. Samuels would return to the band for the last leg of its 1973 tour. Following the tour’s completion in October, Manassas’s dissolution was complete.

One of Manassas’ last shows, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in early October 1973, was made notable by the band’s being joined onstage by first David Crosby and Graham Nash, and, later in the show, by Neil Young. When later asked about this occurrence, Chris Hillman would comment “I could smell a CSNY reunion.” CSNY would, in fact, regroup for a world tour in early 1974. Following this tour, Stephen Stills would start a new band in 1975 with Kenny Passarelli and Joe Lala, but this was short-lived; Passarelli would soon depart to join the Elton John Band, and Lala would subsequently leave as well. Chris Hillman’s Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, which would also include Manassas members Al Perkins and Paul Harris (and eventually Joe Lala, who would later join Chicago), released its first album in early 1974.

That initial double album, along with Eric Clapton’s Layla stand as the most important and best albums we’ve ever been a part of.” Of the band’s prowess on stage, Stephen Stills has said “Manassas was such a terrific band. It really had some structure and reminded me of [Stills‘ previous band] the Buffalo Springfield at its best. Manassas could play anything.

  • Stephen Stills, vocals, keyboards & guitar (CSNY, ex-Buffalo Springfield)
  • Chris Hillman, vocals, mandolin & guitar (ex-Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers)
  • Al Perkins, steel guitar & guitar (ex-Gram Parsons and Flying Burrito Brothers)
  • Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, bass, backing vocals (ex-CSNY and John Sebastian)
  • Paul Harris, keyboards (performed sessions and toured with John Sebastian during 1968-71, and sessions for B.B. King during 1969-70)
  • Dallas Taylor, drums (ex-Clear Light, CSNY and John Sebastian)
  • Joe Lala, percussion, backing vocals (ex-Blues Image and Pacific Gas & Electric)

Image may contain: one or more people and outdoor

In 1972, Stephen Stills formed a new band called ‘Manassas’ and on April 12th they released their debut double LP of the same name.
The album debuted on the Top LP’s chart for the week ending April 29th, 1972 and eventually peaked at #4 in June. Stills‘ album shared the Top 10 with an album by David Crosby and Graham Nash (Graham Nash David Crosby) and an album by Neil Young (Harvest), and as you know, all were members of the quartet Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.

Manassas marked a critical comeback for Stills, calling it a “sprawling masterpiece” and Rolling Stone saying it was “reassuring to know that Stills has some good music still inside him”.

By 1972, what we call classic rock was pretty much peaking—though nobody at the time knew it. Except maybe Stephen Stills. The band and double-album he piloted and released that year—both named Manassas—now seem pivotal. Manassas brilliantly summed up the remarkable 1960s creative surge that revitalized rock’s roots and encouraged experimentation just when it was at its crest.

The top-flight outfit Stills assembled in late 1971 and named for a bloody two-part Civil War battle (the album’s cover shot was taken on that battlefield) could nimbly navigate damn near every polyglot style rock was evolving– from blues “Jet Set” to bluegrass “Fallen Eagle”, country rock “Don’t Look At My Shadow” to Caribbean beats “Medley”, folk-rock “Johnny’s Garden” to metal “Right Now”. Jamming out complex, textured arrangements in the studio, they successfully translated them to stages in Europe and the US. But Stills always felt that Manassas struggled for recognition because his handlers wanted him back in the gold rush that Crosby Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) generated.

So it all begn when Hillman and Stills accidentally crossed paths in Cleveland, they both glimpsed opportunity. Stills’ bounteous talents and fierce competitive drive almost ensured he would overshadow nearly any setting he was in, but he was discouraged by his solo ventures. He needed a creative ally he respected, someone who’d push back but not combust or split.

A few weeks later, Stills called Hillman and invited him down to Miami’s famed Criteria Studios, where engineer-producer Tom Dowd had shepherded Derek and the Dominos‘ monumental jam-fuelled Layla sessions the year before. As it happens, the producers for what would become Manassas worked on it too.

The stage was set to replace the sterile studio feel Stills hated with the onstage improvising looseness he loved. He had his co-pilot.

Chris Hillman, who may be rock history’s best-ever second banana after dealing with McGuinn and Parsons were hard-to-beat baptisms of fire was secure enough in his own creativity to deliver. He would co-write two songs for Manassas (Both of Us, It Doesn’t Matter), help Stills wrangle others into shape, and supply his subtle, pure-toned harmonies throughout.

As Stephen Stills explained, “I basically wanted a partner, somebody who had a sense of songs. Chris invented the phrase ‘lyric police,’ and was a tremendous help. But I was still on that real powerful, energetic ‘Let’s go, I know what I’m doing’ kinda thing. Chris realized it was my band, and that was OK for him.”

From the shambling Burritos came two key talents.

Violinist Byron Berline was a bluegrass vet who’d clocked time with stars like Bill Monroe and Dillard and Clark. Fallen Eagle, a breakneck bluegrass protest song against ranchers killing our endangered national symbol, puts his dazzling, keening fiddle and Hillman’s virtuoso mandolin in the forefront.

Al Perkins learned to play Hawaiian steel guitar at nine, mastered the dobro and pedal steel, performed with country and western bands, then shifted gears to tour his native west Texas as a rock guitar slinger. He supports or duels with Stills on all his axes. On Jesus Gave Love Away For Free, his aching steel solos swell and sigh; on Don’t Look at My Shadow, they glide with glee. On “Jet Set,” he plugs into effects to go grungy and deliver slashing, whiplash blues in Duane Allman fashion to counter Stills‘ gurgling wah-wah. He plays both steel and guitar on Song of Love.

Perkins, Stills, and Hillman take their guitar army acoustic for “Johnny’s Garden”, where their loosely braided, ever-shifting lines gently nudge Stills‘ yearning vocal.

The rest of the cast came from Stills‘ solo albums and tours.

Bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels brought the Caribbean feels Stills craved, as the burbling line on “Song of Love” demonstrates. But he could nail the bottom hard on blues-rockers like “Jet Set.”

Keyboardist Paul Harris, a session vet, could play almost any style; with Hillman’s adept rhythm guitar, his keys became the session’s sonic glue. Latin percussionist Joe Lala co-founded Blues Image (Ride Captain Ride) and sang with gritty, soulful conviction. He vocally challenges Stills on Cuban Bluegrass, and delivers the pulsating Latin rhythms Stills adored throughout.

Drummer Dallas Taylor was Stills’ running buddy—and a wild card. He played on CSN’s first two albums and tours; they fired him because his substance abuse rivaled the Grievous Angel’s. But this bad boy had exactly what Stills wanted on drums: he could float, dance, or slam it home.

What was slated to be Stills’ third solo album had morphed completely. The band’s chemistry clicked almost instantly, and its boundless energy and chops meshed with Stills’ vision and discipline. A few weeks of jamming out arrangements fused the wildly diverse material and sounds into a sum greater than its parts. They came out of it as a fierce, tuned machine.

No wonder Bill Wyman, who co-wrote Love Gangster with Stills and played bass for the track, said he’d leave the Stones to join Manassas. Hillman understood why: “We were always more of a band than people thought. Stills wouldn’t have been the same without us, that’s for sure. Manassas was the best band Stills ever played in.”

The album ends with a final stark jolt. Blues Man finds Stills alone with an acoustic guitar, like the host of a wild party sitting amid the wreckage after it’s over. He channels everything he ever absorbed from his revered blues masters into his gritty, anguished vocal and nimble fingerpicking to sketch a raw, painfully dark elegy for three of his friends. Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson (Canned Heat), and Duane Allman had all recently died.

On stage, Manassas gained fame for its nearly three-hour shows opening with an opening rock set, followed by Stills playing solo acoustic, Hillman and Perkins playing bluegrass, and the band then returning for country, more rock and an acoustic finish. After touring, Hillman took several weeks away to record a reunion album with the Byrds, his pre-Burritos band.

By 1972, what we call classic rock was pretty much peaking . Stephen Stills along with the band and double-album he piloted and released that year both named “Manassas” brilliantly summed up the remarkable 1960s creative surge that revitalized rock’s roots and encouraged experimentation just when it was at its crest. Manassas marked a critical comeback for Stills, calling it a “sprawling masterpiece” with Rolling Stone magazine saying it was “reassuring to know that Stills has some good music still inside him  .Who knows? But an era was indeed ending. And nothing Stills has done since approaches the epic scale and artistic heights of Manassas.  The four suites of music correspond to the four sides of the album’s original LP release , The Raven , The Wilderness, Consider, and Rock and Roll is Here To Stay. The songs are thematically grouped: part one (side one on the original vinyl release) is titled “The Raven” and is a composite of rock and Latin sounds that the group would often perform in full live. “The Wilderness” mainly centers on country and bluegrass with Chris Hillman and Al Perkins  talents coming to the forefront , with the track “So Begins the Task” later covered by Stephens Stills old flame Judy Collins . Part three, “Consider” is largely folk and folk-rock. “Johnny’s Garden,” reportedly for the caretaker at Stills English manor house and not for Lennon as is often thought, is a particular highlight. Two other notables from the “Consider” section are “It Doesn’t Matter” (later redone with different lyrics by the song’s uncredited co-writer Rick Roberts on the first “Firefall album and “Move Around “ which features some of the first synthesizer used in a rock context. The closing section, titled “Rock & Roll Is Here to Stay,” is a rock and blues set with one of the landmarks of Manassas short life, the epic “The Treasure.” A sort of Zen-like meditation on love and “oneness,” enlivened by the band’s most inspired recorded playing it evolves into a bluesy groove washed in Stills fierce electric slide playing.

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A lot had changed since that surge began. Rock went from being a marginal sideshow for major record labels to a billion-dollar industry. Freewheeling entrepreneurs with “big ears” yielded to corporate types focused on market share and growing profits. “Supergroups” manufactured by producers and agents who headlined arena shows became the standard of success. The top-flight outfit Stephen Stills assembled in late 1971 and named for a bloody two-part Civil War battle (the album’s cover shot was taken on that battlefield) could nimbly navigate damn near every style rock was evolving– from blues “Jet Set” to bluegrass “Fallen Eagle” , country rock “Don’t Look At My Shadow” to Caribbean beats “Medley”, folk-rock “Johnny’s Garden” . Jamming out complex, textured arrangements in the studio, they successfully translated them to stages in Europe and the US. But Stills always felt that Manassas struggled for recognition because his handlers wanted him back in the huge selling rush that Crosby Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) had generated.

Whatever the reason, Manassas remains one of rock’s half-forgotten treasures. But it’s possibily the best album and band Stephen Stills ever helmed.

Born in Texas, Stephen Stills was raised in Florida, Costa Rica, and the Panama Canal Zone as his military family rotated through duty stations. He absorbed all sorts of music along the way, and learned to play them on guitar, keyboards, bass, banjo, and assorted percussion instruments. The rootless kid found his mooring in sound. He beat up his family’s furniture until his dad finally got him drums to go with his drumsticks. After a week of college, he quit to be a musician.

His scuffling path through the folk revival introduced him to dozens of players, like Richie Furay and Neil Young, who’d become his creative network. It also put him into play at the onset of rock’s 1960s creative surge. He was in Los Angeles trying to peddle his songs when he turned down a slot with the corporately manufactured Monkees (he recommended Peter Tork instead), and jumped headlong into the exploratory waves with his tempestuous Buffalo Springfield.

The Buffalo Springfield surged into the national Top 40 charts with Stills’s brooding track “For What It’s Worth” . In the studio, on tracks as radically distinct as Kind Woman, Rock and Roll Woman, and Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing , they probed the new ideas firing young musical imaginations from London to California. Live, the band crackled with guitar-hero firepower, when Stills and Young opened up in redoubtable jams.

His songs were innovative, superbly crafted, stylistically diverse “Bluebird” is a stellar example of his fondness for complex structures. His lyrics could be elliptical or nakedly autobiographical; often infused with dark romance his confessional story-telling updated his beloved blues. Onstage, he hurled himself at the microphone, when he wasn’t prancing or dancing; he was so intense, his full-throated vocals seemed to come somehow from his entire body.

Bandmate Richie Furay called him “the heart and soul of Buffalo Springfield.”

The unstable chemistry and battling egos that fired the Springfield’s creative ambitions inevitably blew it apart. But the band had barely disintegrated before Stills was off solidifying his guitar-hero credentials on Super Session, with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield. On “Season Of The Witch”, Stills dialed up a distinctive voice on the wah-wah pedal Jimi Hendrix turned him onto, floating sweet nothings and yearnings tinged with acerbity.

Thanks to his network, a series of incidents drew Crosby Stills and Nash together.  Their 1969 debut release met with critical hosannas and gold-record status, and marked the dawn of that industry the supergroup, with high-powered handlers and big-ticket arena tours. Ironically, today it can sound like an almost-solo Stills album, so completely did his songwriting and talents he played nearly all the instruments dominate it.

Graham Nash said, “Stephen had a vision, and David and I let him run with it.” Or maybe he just steamrolled over them. A year after the second album “Deja Vu” , what was now CSN&Y exploded, and all its members then released their solo albums. Stephen Stills went gold, He also scored a big hit “Love The One You’re With”and was the only album ever to feature both Eric Clapton guesting on “Go Back Home” and Jimi Hendrix on Old Times Good Times.

Stills even describes himself as “aggressive,” “obnoxious,” and the like, all meaning he’s a control freak—an auteur, if you like. In those days, he was usually packing an enviable pocketful of new tunes. He could out-sing almost anyone and play one-man band if he wanted. You can see how he’d be a hard guy to face off with about creative issues.

Yet he knew he needed feedback. He wanted to improvise with players whose ideas and chops stood up to his own. Then he could let jamming unleash creative interactions to enrich his ideas. That was how he worked during the Buffalo Springfield’s best days.

A twist of fate gave him his shot. In 1971, he was coasting along on a lackluster but lucrative tour when he happened to cross paths with Chris Hillman. As Hillman recalls, “Stills was playing a concert in Cleveland with the Memphis Horns. I was sitting in the audience, going, ‘Jesus Christ. They’re making 25,000 bucks and they’re shitty. The Burritos are way better than this.’ I went backstage, and that’s when we renewed the friendship.”

Their bond dated back to 1960s LA, when Hillman—among the most catalytic figures in rock history—got Buffalo Springfield the gig as the Whisky A Go Go’s house band. That launched them on the road to stardom.

Besides, Stills knew that Hillman was far more than a catalyst. After a whiz-kid run as a bluegrass mandolinist, he played innovative bass, doubled on guitar, sang lead and harmony, and co-wrote songs with the Byrds. When Roger McGuinn unceremoniously dumped his friend Gram Parsons after “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” , Hillman left, and the Flying Burrito Brothers were born. Parsons and Hillman penned a few matchless songs that other composers would likely swap body parts for, like “Wheels” and “Sin City” .

But the Grievous Angel was riding hard on the road to ruin; sloppy business dealings, erratic performances, and over-the-top drug use and boozing got him fired from his own group before the album “Burrito Deluxe” was released in early 1970. Hillman tried steering the band, but its personnel kept changing; the near-chaos made the Flying Burritos musically unpredictable and financially disastrous.

So when Hillman and Stills again crossed paths in Cleveland, they both glimpsed opportunity. Stills’ bounteous talents and fierce competitive drive almost ensured he would overshadow nearly any setting he was in, but he was discouraged by his solo ventures. He needed a creative ally he respected, someone who’d push back but not combust or split. Chris Hillman, who may be rock history’s best-ever second in charge dealing with McGuinn and Parsons was secure enough in his own creativity to deliver. He would co-write two songs for the Manassas “Both Of Us” and “It Doesn’t Matter” , help Stills wrangle others into shape, and supply his subtle, pure-toned harmonies throughout.

As Stills explained, “I basically wanted a partner, somebody who had a sense of songs. Chris invented the phrase ‘lyric police,’ and was a tremendous help. But I was still on that real powerful, energetic ‘Let’s go, I know what I’m doing’ kinda thing. Chris realized it was my band, and that was OK for him.”

A few weeks later, Stills called Hillman and invited him down to Miami’s famed Criteria Studios, where engineer-producer Tom Dowd had produced the Derek and the Dominos’ monumental jam-fuelled “Layla” sessions the year before. As it happens, the producers for what would become Manassas worked on it too.

Image result for stephen Stills Manassas

From the shambling Burritos also came two key talents. Violinist Byron Berline was a bluegrass vet who’d clocked time with stars like Bill Monroe and Dillard and Clark. The Track “Fallen Eagle” , a breakneck bluegrass protest song against ranchers killing Americas endangered national symbol, puts his dazzling, keening fiddle and Hillman’s virtuoso mandolin in the forefront.

Al Perkins learned to play Hawaiian steel guitar at nine, mastered the dobro and pedal steel, performed with country and western bands, then shifted gears to tour his native west Texas as a rock guitar slinger. He supports or duels with Stills on all his axes. On “Jesus Gave Love Away For Free”, his aching steel solos swell and sigh; on “Don’t Look At My Shadow” , they glide with glee. On “Jet Set” he plugs into effects to go grungy and deliver slashing, whiplash blues in Duane Allman fashion to counter Stills’ gurgling wah-wah. He plays both steel and guitar on “Song Of Love”.

Perkins, Stills, and Hillman take their three guitar army acoustic for “Johnnys Garden”, where their loosely braided, ever-shifting lines gently nudge Stills‘ yearning vocal. The rest of the band came from Stills‘ solo albums and tours. Bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels brought the Caribbean feels Stills craved, as the burbling line on “Song of Love” demonstrates. But he could nail the bottom hard on blues-rockers like “Jet Set”.

Keyboardist Paul Harris,was a session vet, he could play almost any style; with Hillman’s adept rhythm guitar, his keys became the session’s sonic glue. Latin percussionist Joe Lala co-founded Blues Image “Ride Captain Ride” and sang with gritty, soulful conviction. He vocally challenges Stills on the song “Cuban Bluegrass” , and delivers the pulsating Latin rhythms Stills adored .

Drummer Dallas Taylor was Stills’ running buddy—and a wild card. He played on CSN first two albums and tours; they fired him because his substance abuse rivaled the Grievous Angel’s. But this bad boy had exactly what Stills wanted on drums.

What was slated to be Stills‘ third solo album had morphed completely. The band’s chemistry clicked almost instantly, and its boundless energy and chops meshed with Stills‘ vision and discipline. A few weeks of jamming out arrangements fused the wildly diverse material and sounds into a sum greater than its parts. They came out of it as a fierce, tuned machine. No wonder Bill Wyman, who co-wrote “Love Gangster” with Stills and played bass for the track, said he’d leave the Stones to join Manassas. Hillman understood why: “We were always more of a band than people thought. Stills wouldn’t have been the same without us, that’s for sure. Manassas was the best band Stills ever played in. Image result for stephen Stills ManassasThe album ends with a final stark jolt.  “Blues Man” finds Stills alone with an acoustic guitar, He channels everything he ever absorbed from his revered blues masters into his gritty, anguished vocal and nimble fingerpicking to sketch a raw, painfully dark elegy for three of his friends. Jimi Hendrix, Al Wilson (Canned Heat), and Duane Allman had all recently died. They weren’t the only ones: Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison were among the others. Many were wondering if rock’s creative surge had run its course.

Who knows? But an era was indeed ending. And nothing Stills has done since approaches the epic scale and artistic heights of Manassas.