Thursday, February 15, 2018

Stephen Stills

I was a little too young to appreciate Buffalo Springfield in their day, but by Crosby, Stills & Nash I was well aware of Stephen Stills. A tremendous guitarist, a talented songwriter, and a powerful singer whose voice can alternate between the sweet and the grit, he was also a strident spokesman for the generation, a voice that could be counted on to boldly speak out against the injustices of the U.S. government, the Vietnam War, and the American political machine.

On CSN's debut album in 1969, Stills wrote the incredible opening track "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and two other memorable songs: "You Don't Have to Cry" and "Helplessly Hoping." He also co-wrote "Wooden Ships" and the lyrics to "49 Bye-Byes."

The group added Neil Young for their brilliant second album, Déjà Vu, which opened with Stills' harmony-laden "Carry On" and included a beautiful acoustic folk-blues song, "4 + 20." Stills and Young co-wrote the record's memorable final track "Everybody I Love You."

I remember excitedly ripping open the Christmas wrapping and unveiling Stills' first self-titled solo album. The front cover had a photo of Stills playing his acoustic guitar in the snow, sitting on a stump.

How could one not be excited by Stills' debut? It opened with the hit "Love the One You're With" and delivered one great song after another, including "Do for the Others," "Sit Yourself Down," "Black Queen" and "Cherokee." The album was a stew of rock, folk, blues, and gospel and featured a stellar cast of guest musicians including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Cass Elliott, Booker T. Jones, John Sebastian, Rita Coolidge, and Claudia Lennear. A bit self-indulgent, maybe Stills, like McCartney and Lennon, needed someone to just say 'no,' namely Neil Young, but who's to say.

Though released less than a year after his first solo full-length, Stephen Stills 2 was even more expansive and exploratory. Veterans from the prior album's sessions, particularly Eric Clapton, David Crosby, and Ringo Starr, all returned, joined by Nils Lofgren and Billy Preston, as well as a pedal steel guest slot from Jerry Garcia on "Change Partners." Stills appeared to enjoy the various metaphorical costume changes, be that in psych troubadour mode for "Fishes & Scorpions," the bluegrass twang of "Know You Got To Run" or the honkytonk of "Marianne." The bleating brass and proto-gang vocals of "Ecology Song" may have seemed heavy-handed to some, but it jives with the coinciding jazz fusion of the times. The aforementioned overindulgence would serve as a prelude to Stills' next endeavor, Manassas. The new band including Stills' touring bandmates and disgruntled members of the Flying Burrito Brothers, including Chris Hillman.

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