Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Stills’

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Let’s takes a look at the best songs of Stephen Stills including a few chestnuts from all aspects of his career. Look at Stephen Stills’ solos albums his work with Manassas, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, and his earlier band Buffalo Springfield. This is by no means a definite list of Stephen Stills songs but rather just a sort of soundbite at some of the most essential songs Stephen Stills has released throughout his 50 plus year career. Neil Young gets far more attention for his contributions to Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young but two-time former bandmate Stephen Stills has created his own niche as a stirring singer, songwriter and instrumentalist. Unfortunately, a sporadic, up-and-down solo career hasn’t always helped his profile.

Our classic Stills songs list is a tough thing to do because Stephen Stills had so much success in the late 1960s and early 1970s with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby Stills Nash and Young and his solo career. I suppose you could have filled a top 50 listing of Stephen Stills songs list from just that early five years period. However Stephen Stills has continued to write and record songs up to 2017 as of this writing. So we have spread this list out over the years the best we could while still limiting it to ten. Every song in this list was written by Stephen Stills.

For What It’s Worth

We open our Essential Stephen Stills songs list with a legendary song written by Stephen Stills when he was a member of Buffalo Springfield. The great Stephen Stills song “For What It’s Worth,” was released on Buffalo Springfield’s second pressing of their debut album entitled Buffalo Springfield. The album was released in 1966. The song “For What It’s Worth,” was originally released as a single and then added to the album on the second pressing.

“For What it’s Worth,” was a huge hit for Buffalo Springfield in 1966 as the song became a top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. Interestingly, every song on Buffalo Springfield’s debut album was either written by Stephen Stills or Neil Young.

Four Days Gone

Buffalo Springfield released three studio albums before the band broke up. In 1968, Stephen Stills left the group to form Crosby Stills and Nash, Richie Furay formed POCO with Jim Messina who would later join with Kenny Loggins as part of Loggins and Messina. Neil Young became essentially solo Neil Young. We would have loved to have chosen more Stephen Stills songs from Buffalo Springfield for our Stephen Stills songs list, but we had so much more to cover which limited our choices. Our second choice was released on Buffalo Springfield’s final album entitled Last Time Around. The great song “Four Days Gone,” also featured great lead guitar work by Neil Young.

Suite: Judy Blue Eyes

If you had to pick one Crosby Stills & Nash sons that you could ever listen to again, tell me it would not be “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” This incredible piece of music was written by Stephen Stills and released on the band’s debut album simply titled Crosby Stills & Nash. The album was released in 1969. the song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” was released as the second single from the album after the release of “Marrakesh Express,” as the band’s debut single. Another deft amalgamation – as the title implies, this is a suite of four short songs written by Stills and seamlessly interwoven. Lyrically it refers to his relationship with folk singer-songwriter Judy Collins. Opening with glistening acoustic guitars, it builds to a searing, Latin-flavoured climax, ending on a repeated ‘doo-doo-doo-da-doo’ refrain of life-affirming joy.

Stephen Stills “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” was exceptionally long for a single,clocking in at over seven minutes. Nonetheless, the song was a top 40 hit peaking at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also became a staple on fm radio becoming one of the most played classic rock songs of all time.

Helplessly Hoping

Stephen Stills’ song “Helplessly Hoping,” was also released on the Crosby Stills & Nash debut album. The song was placed as the b side to the album’s debut single “Marrakesh Express,” which was written by Graham Nash. From an arranging point Stephen Stills dominated that album as he was responsible for almost all the guitar, bass and keyboard parts on the record. Dallas Taylor played drums and Crosby & Nash added some guitar parts here and there, but in the end, most of the instrumentation on the album was performed by Stephen Stills.

Carry On

Neil Young joined Crosby Stills & Nash in 1970 to form the quartet Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The four brilliant musicians would record their first album together entitled Déjà Vu.It must have been really tough choosing whose songs got recorded and released between these four brilliant musicians and songwriters. Stephen Stills got three of his songs recorded for the album including one he co-wrote with Neil Young. Here Stephen Stills brings elements of three different songs into one concise package. He draws on Questions from his old band Buffalo Springfield, plus there’s a jam session with drummer Dallas Taylor tagged on as a delightful free-form coda. And, of course, the yearning harmonies are to die for. The album’s opening track was written by Stephen Stills entitled “Carry On.” The song was released as the fourth single from the record.

Love The One You’re With

While Crosby Stills Nash & Young were enjoying tremendous success with their work together on record, the four talented musicians were also celebrating the releases of their solo albums. In 1970, Stephen Stills released his first solo album entitled Stephen Stills. The album’s leadoff track and first single “Love The One You’re With,” became Stephen Stills most successful solo single. The song reached all the way to number 14 on the Billboard Hot 100. One could not turn on the radio in the early 1970’s without hearing Stephen Stills “Love The One You’re With.”

Stephen Stills’ biggest hit and focus instead on how this one song collects everything that can sum up his career. From its island-inflected percussive elements and utterly irresistible chorus to a vocal so full of unfettered longing and those chunky organ fills (played by Stills), “Love the One You’re With” is the sound of a performer at his tour-de-force peak.

Stephen Stills’ first solo album featured an incredible cast of musicians. Two of the greatest guitar God’s of all time performed on the album. Both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton played on some of the albums songs. Ringo Starr, Booker T. Jones, Rita Coolidge, David Crosby and Graham Nash also performed on the record.

It Doesn’t Matter

The great Stephen Stills song “It Doesn’t Matter,” was released on the album Manassas which was also the name of the new band Stephen Stills band in 1972. The group recorded two albums from 1972 to 1973. While hardcore Stephen Stills and Crosby Stills Nash & Young fans are familiar with Manassas,the groups has not gotten the recognition it deserved on a more mass scale in classic rock history. The group consisted of Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman, Al Perkins, Paul Harris, Dallas Taylor, Calvin Samuels and Joe Lala. The lilting opening track to the Stills-led side project Manassas, “It Doesn’t Matter” was co-written by the Byrds‘ Chris Hillman. But it serves as a sturdy showcase for Stills‘ hoarsely emotive vocal and ringing guitar.

“It Doesn’t Matter,” was released as the album’s single. It registered on the Billboard top 100 but peaked at number 61. The song was written by Stephen Stills, Chris Hillman and Rick Roberts. “It Doesn’t Matter,” opened side three of the two record set.

Dark Star

In 1977, Crosby, Stills & Nash released their second album as a trio. It had been eight years since the band released their debut album in 1969. Of course there was Déjà Vu.with Neil Young in 1970, but the release of CSN in 1977 was surprisingly only the second album the trio had released together. Stephen Stills song “Dark Star,” opened side two of the record. It was never released as a single, but it was a firm fan favourite instantly.

Isn’t It So

Stephen Stills song “Isn’t It So,” is the first Stephen Stills song on this list that was not released in the 1960’s or 1970’s. That’s not to say that Stephen Stills did not continue to release great music from the 1980’s on. It just defines the incredible body of work that Stephen Stills was responsible for in the 1960’s and 1970s.

“Isn’t It So,” was released on the Stills “Alone” album. The record was released in 1991. While bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden were releasing dark music that captivated the rock and roll scene, Stephen Stills was going it alone. Just Stephen Stills on a guitar with a handful of great songs sung in that legendary voice. Keeping it real, keeping it simple and keeping it great.

Judy

We close out our classic songs of Stephen Stills songs list with a great song from his album Everybody Knows. The album was released and billed as Stills & Collins. It was the first time that Stephen Stills and Judy Collins ever released an album together. The album was released in 2017. The song “Judy,” represented the second time Stephen Stills composed a song about Judy Collins, the first being Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.

Treetop Flyer

The darkly intricate “Treetop Flyer” is a rumination by a free spirit, presented in a suitably raw setting featuring only Stills and his imaginative guitar. The album-closing song from 1991’s Stills Alone includes a narrative twist: He’s not flying so close to the ground because he’s some kind of daredevil; he learned that trying to avoid anti-aircraft fire in Vietnam. And it arrives like a punch in the chesthttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=opBe5z0qwRE

Also check out Bluebird or Southern Cross, Black Coral , Rock N Roll Woman, Colorado, Black Queen, As I Come Of Age also from the first Manassas album. So begins the Task.

Thanks to classicrockhistory

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: 4 people, people on stage and people playing musical instruments

Graham Nash was on a helicopter with drummer Dallas Taylor flying into Bethel, N.Y., where their band was scheduled to perform at a festival. As they neared their destination, Taylor asked what lake they were flying over. It wasn’t water, the pilot replied. It was the audience.

The gig was Woodstock. The band was Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The gathering on Max Yasgur’s farm would be only their second-ever live performance, after recently solidifying a touring lineup with Neil Young, Taylor and bassist Greg Reeves. The weekend would prove to be a high point for the counterculture that Woodstock quickly came to represent—and for Crosby, Stills, Nash & (sometimes) Young, the ensemble that was in some ways the house band for the Woodstock generation.

“Their music and their image became indissolubly linked with the fate of the baby-boomer era,” music historian Peter Doggett writes in CSNY, one of two engaging biographies released tracing the band’s fractious history. The other is Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young by David Browne, a senior writer for Rolling Stone magazine.

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Browne covers the full arc of the band’s career, from its members’ musical origins in other groups in the ‘60s to the present. Doggett focuses on the musicians’ early lives and careers through 1974, when David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash and Neil Young toured together for the last time. Though both books cover some of the same ground, Doggett’s is far more detailed about the beginnings of the band and the musicians’ upbringings. Browne takes on the monumental task of summarizing a half-century’s worth of conflict, self-sabotage and, when the musicians managed to get out of their own way, music.

Crosby, Stills & Nash wasn’t intended to be a “band” at all, at least not in the late-‘60s sense of the word, which implied a specific identity, expectations and business commitments. Those things amounted to limitations, in the minds of Crosby, Stills and Nash, who had each dealt with all that in the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield and the Hollies, respectively. They started singing together for the thrill of it, and they quickly realized that they harmonized with an uncommon purity that astonished their friends. That feeling of amazement carried over to the listening public when the trio released Crosby, Stills & Nash at the end of May 1969, thanks to songs including “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Long Time Gone” and “Helplessly Hoping.”

The singers intended CSN to be a sort of “mothership” situation that would, between group efforts, permit solo projects, outside collaborations and plenty of musical experimentation. Yet converting their “party trick” harmonies (Browne and Doggett both use the term) into something that certainly looked like a band, with a record deal and all the attendant obligations, quickly subsumed the idea of singing together for its own sake. If bringing in Young to help flesh out the songs onstage made sense from a musical standpoint, each book illustrates how adding a fourth massive ego also hastened the band’s descent into creative disputes and power struggles.

csny book cover.png

Though both authors admire the group and its songs, the musicians come off as intensely dislikable, especially as money and fame transform them. Stills is a taskmaster perfectionist with control issues. Crosby is a blowhard, a drug-addled hedonist with an attitude toward women that is startlingly chauvinistic, even for the era. Young, who had been part of Buffalo Springfield with Stills, is a cynical opportunist who sees joining CSN as a way to jumpstart his own then-lackluster career. Only Nash sometimes seems sympathetic; the most level-headed, he tries to act as a go-between among warring factions with limited success.

Together (and, just as often, separately), they cut a path through popular music in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Doggett writes vividly about the L.A. scene that produced Crosby, Stills & Nash, chronicling their interactions with Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, Peter Tork of the Monkees, Joni Mitchell (who was romantically involved with Crosby, then Nash), Judy Collins (whose relationship with Stills inspired “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”), Jimi Hendrix, Atlantic Records impresario Ahmet Ertegun, David Geffen and more. Doggett does his best to tame the mythology of CSN, sorting through various stories and inconsistent recollections about when and where they first sang together (Was it at Elliot’s house, or Mitchell’s? The night the Hollies played the Whisky in February 1968, or sometime afterward?) and when various songs were written and recorded.

Browne in many ways has the harder task, as the band’s earlier years were its most thrilling and creatively rewarding. Surprisingly little of the music they made together still resonates; after their first two studio LPs, CSN and 1970’s Déjà Vu with Young, and the 1971 live album 4 Way Street, the Crosby, Stills, Nash (and Young) catalog is a study in diminishing returns. In the latter half of Browne’s book, there’s almost a numb inevitability to the musicians’ fumbling attempts in the ‘80s to contemporize their sound, Crosby’s ever-deeper descent into drug addiction that led to a stint in prison, and Young’s inability to stop dangling the possibility of a full-scale reunion in front of his bandmates, only to flake out nearly every time for inscrutable reasons of his own.

Taken together, CSNY and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young present as full a picture of the group as is ever likely to emerge. It’s not a triumphant story. Beneath the promise of those early songs—and that initial camaraderie—lurks a mostly unwritten, certainly unanswerable question that poses itself again and again: What if?

Much like the dream of the Woodstock generation, the tale of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is awash in senseless vanity, squandered chances and potential left tragically unfulfilled. Yet it’s often hard to look away—just like with any car wreck.

The Dick Cavett Show (1968)

The Jefferson Airplane perform “Somebody to Love” with David Crosby as well as the politically charged anthems “Volunteers” and “We Can Be Together.”

Joni Mitchell was scheduled to appear at the August 1969 Woodstock festival in upstate New York, but her agent, David Geffen, cancelled her appearance there, worried she would not be able to make it back in time for a television appearance in New York for The Dick Cavett Show. It appeared at the time that horrendous traffic congestion and bad weather might make it difficult for her to get back to the city, as filming for the late night show occurred on Monday afternoon. This was Joni Mitchell’s national television debut.

The Dick Cavett Show was a very popular, and culturally important TV show at that time. Cavett’s show ran opposite Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show in those days, and he was somewhat more permissive of his guests’ interaction and expression than Carson, and had a following among the young and literati of that day. For his late-night show following the Woodstock gathering, Cavett had lined up a number of guests who were scheduled to appear at the festival and would come to the city for a Monday afternoon taping of the late-night broadcast.

Her manager saw how bad the traffic was he told her to skip the festival. The scenes of the festival and the stories her then boyfriend Graham Nash told her inspired her to write the song “Woodstock”, which she not only recorded but it also became a hit for both Crosby Stills Nash & Young as well as the group Matthews Southern Comfort

As it turned out for the Cavett show, in addition to Joni, some of those who had performed at Woodstock were able to make it back in time for the Monday afternoon taping – including David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Grace Slick, andthe other members of the Jefferson Airplane. On the show, Mitchell sang several songs, including “Chelsea Morning”, “Willy,” and “For Free,” and also an a capella version of “The Fiddle and the Drum.” The Jefferson Airplane performed “We Can Be Together,” Stephen Stills performed his “4 + 20” song, and David Crosby joined Grace Slick in a version of “Somebody to Love.” Cavett’s “Woodstock show,” as it would be called was seen by many young people who had heard about the festival, or read about it in the newspapers, but weren’t able to get there. When Cavett asked David Crosby about what he had seen at Woodstock and if he thought it was a success, Crosby (who had arrived at Woodstock with Nash and Stills by helicopter, getting quite an overview of the scene coming in) replied: “It was incredible. … It looked like an encampment of the Macedonian army on the Greek hills, crossed with the biggest band of Gypsies you ever saw.”

One of the posters for the “Woodstock Music & Art Fair,” this one identifying some of the scheduled acts to appear at the festival during the three-day, August 15-17, 1969 event.

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From the time they came together as a trio at the end of 1968, to the fall of 1973 when they turned in this impromptu set at Winterland, the three voices comprising Crosby, Stills and Nash had all seen their share of changes: they triumphed with their 1969 self-titled debut, Then joined forces with Neil Young for the follow-up Déjà Vu in 1970, which took their show on the road; by the end of that run, they’d weathered the kind of wear and tear on their hearts and souls that could throw any band off course for good. And yet, whether performing songs from those first two albums or the solo albums like David Crosby’s “If Only I Could Remember My Name”, Graham Nash’s “Songs for Beginners”, Crosby and Nash’s heralded duo album, or Stephen Stills‘ solo albums and the works with Manassas.

In the Fall of 1973, Crosby, Stills and Nash were still slightly reeling from a busy period that followed recording in Hawaii with Young and the passing of CSN&Y roadie Bruce Berry (famously eulogized by Young on “Tonight’s the Night”). Stills had been on the road with his band Manassas, and Crosby and Nash were playing their own shows with an electric band. But when Manassas booked a couple of dates at Winterland on October 4th and 7th of 1973, it was reunion time when Crosby and Nash pulled a walk-on and the trio appeared onstage together for the first time since 1970.

Between the banter and tuning up, the three manage to turn in some prime vocal shots, from a version of the Beatles “Blackbird” to a handful of their group’s and solo works. Nash takes the lead on “Southbound Train” and retreats to piano for “Prison Song,” his protest of tough marijuana laws on the poor population. Stills sings Young’s “Human Highway,” which Crosby characterizes as a song by “our skinny friend;” the live version isn’t quite worked out the way we’ve come to know it, but that’s part of the excitement of this off-the-cuff set. “Wooden Ships” is dedicated to Crosby and Stills‘ co-writer, the Jefferson Airplane/Starship’s Paul Kantner, before the evening is crowned with the vocal trio tour de force with a wonderful version of “Helplessly Hoping.”

These Winterland shows foreshadowed a proper reunion on the horizon: a couple of months later, Young would join Nash and Crosby at an appearance at the San Francisco Civic Arena and, the following year, CSN&Y would be on the road again, playing to their largest audiences ever as a throwback to their early days when the vocal giants were just a trio, this Winterland night is a historic footprint on CSN’s trail of rock & roll.

Crosby, Stills & Nash started off their October. 2nd, 1973 concert at San Francisco’s now-defunct Winterland venue as a trio. But, again, mirroring their career trajectory, they were joined by none other than Neil Young halfway through the show, to the crowd’s uproarious delight. The first show of an impromptu two-night stint at Winterland, which hauled double duty as an ice skating rink and music venue in its seven-year lifespan, the October. 2nd show saw the trio reunited on stage for the first time since 1970. It was an unexpected reunion, as Stills’ newly formed band Manassas had booked The Winterland for dates on October. 2md and 7th, but, as the run’s commence, Nash and Crosby piled on stage (only later to be joined by Young).

The three friends spend the show cutting up on stage, exchanging pleasantries with the crowd and serving up their solo hits and band numbers alike, Informal, joking, and pleasingly loose, the three friends seemed to truly enjoy singing together, despite the occasional onstage bristling and ropy moments. Crosby sarcastically refers to “our usual slick Hollywood show,” explaining away the presentation’s unrehearsed nature as “more fun this way for us.” Stills answered his band mate’s quip drolly with, “Anything you say, David, anything you say.”

They opened the show with a pair of songs from Crosby, Stills & Nash’s 1969 debut, “Helplessly Hoping” and “Wooden Ships,” Then they played The Beatles’ “Blackbird” and Stills’ “As I Come Of Age” before Young appears as if out of thin air, joining the band for renditions of his own “Roll Another Number (For the Road)” and “New Mama” as well as a few more CSN hits. Young’s cameo would foreshadow a CSN&Y tour the following year, in which the quartet played to some of their biggest crowds ever.

Again, watch the video of Crosby, Stills & Nash performing “Wooden Ships” Crosby, Stills & Nash – Lee Shore Recorded Live: 10/7/1973 – Winterland – San Francisco, CA

Buffalo Springfield Album Art

Before playing their final show on May 5th, 1968, Buffalo Springfield released three studio albums on ATCO during an intense, two-year creative burst. Those albums – Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again, and Last Time Around have all been newly remastered from the original analog tapes under the auspices of Neil Young for the new boxed set: WHAT’S THAT SOUND? THE COMPLETE ALBUMS COLLECTION.

The set includes stereo mixes of all three albums, plus mono mixes for Buffalo Springfield and Buffalo Springfield Againand all  will be available on June 29th from Rhino Records as a five-CD set. High resolution streaming and downloads will be available through www.neilyoungarchives.com.

On the same date, the albums will also be released for the first time ever on 180-gram vinyl as part of a limited-edition set of 5,000 copies . The 5-LP box features the same mono and stereo mixes as the CD set, presented in sleeves and gatefolds that faithfully re-create the original releases.

Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin played their first show together as Buffalo Springfield in 1966. The same year, the band recorded and released its self-titled debut, which included the iconic protest song, “For What It’s Worth,” featuring lyrics as poignant now as they were then, in addition to standouts like “Burned,” “Do I Have To Come Right Out And Say It,” and the band’s first single, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.”

The group spent the first half of 1967 making Buffalo Springfield Again, which was the first album to feature songs written by Furay (“A Child’s Claim To Fame.”) Stills and Young both contributed some all-time classics with “Bluebird” and “Rock And Roll Woman” from Stills, and “Mr. Soul” and “Expecting To Fly” from Young.

When Last Time Around came out in July 1968, the band members were in the midst of transitioning to new projects: Stills famously joined David Crosby and Graham Nash in CSN; Young went solo; and Furay started Poco with Jim Messina, who produced Last Time Around and played bass on two of the songs. Highlights abound on the album with Young’s “I Am A Child,” Furay’s “Kind Woman” and Stills’ “Uno Mundo.”

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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.

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A deep rift defined the early relationship of guitar gods Stephen Stills and Neil Young. It complicated their first band, Buffalo Springfield, as well as their subsequent four headed-monster, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The conflict worked to their great advantage, however, in their fiery instrumental interplay. Their dynamic came to a thrilling head on the classic CSNY live album, 4 Way Street  , released in 1971. While the first disc of the double set focused on acoustic tunes, the second saw the band charge through a sustained electric foray. All the songs in the second half featured glorious solos but the greatest, and longest, could be found in 13 and 14 minute takes on Neil Young’s “Southern Man” and Stills “Carry On”. Throughout each, the guitarists thrust and parry, using their instruments as emotional swords. Stephen Stills would spin a dominant solo over the riff while Young would answer back with sniping licks. Then they’d reverse those roles. At times, the players chime, at others clash, creating a play of synchronicity and tension as compelling as a pas-de-deux.

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Love the One You’re With” is a song by folk rocker Stephen Stills. It was released as the lead single from his debut self-titled studio album in November 1970. The song, inspired by a remark Stills heard from musician Billy PrestonStills then wrote the song after being inspired by the tag line — “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with” which was a frequent remark by the musician ,  Stills asked him for permission to use the line in a song and Preston agreed . It became his biggest hit single in early 1971.  David Crosby and Graham Nash, Stills’ fellow members of Crosby, Stills & Nash, provide background vocals on the song. The song has been covered by a number of artists .

His conventional, blues-informed voice seems slight compared to the more distinct, upper register harmonies demonstrated by the rest of the vocal powerhouse. Despite demonstrating his immense songwriting talents both with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young and its predecessor Buffalo Springfield, the industrious Stills struggled to shake the inferiority complex saddled on him by others in the ‘70s.

Released via Atlantic Records, Stephen Stills debut solo album boasts a droolworthy list of players helping to bring Stills’ vision to life: Eric Clapton, Rita Coolidge, Mama Cass Elliot, Jimi Hendrix, Booker T. Jones, Ringo Starr. Crosby and Nash also appear and, given their joint contributions, polyamorous hit single “Love The One You’re With” and the empowering Earth anthem “We Are Not Helpless” deserve consideration if not automatic inclusion in the CSN discographical canon. Bookending the album, both are big, bright, and beauteous pop imbued with all the exuberance of this period in music.