The Sunday Dozen: Stephen Stills

I’ve always identified with Stephen Stills, especially as I’ve aged. My hairline has receded, and my belly has grown just like Stills. If only I had his talent.

Stephen Stills’ musical career has been erratic but at his best nobody does it better. He has cool sideburns as well.

Stills is fine songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. He’s the most underrated guitarist of his generation. The man can shred.

Stills has been involved in many fine albums, but his masterpieces came early in his career: the eponymous Crosby, Stills & Nash debut album and Manassas. His music has never soared quite that high again, but he’s come close on many occasions. There’s a touch of genius to everything he does.

One of the first rock concerts I attended was Stephen Stills on a solo tour at the Berkeley Community Theatre. My favorite cousin and her then beau Henry took me. It was a great show and a great time.

I’ve seen CSN and CSNY multiple times over the years. They were never quite as good live as on record. Those close harmonies are hard to replicate in concert. But they were always fun. I got close enough once to see Stills give Young a dirty look. Neil shrugged and went on doing his own thing. So it goes.

The most unusual Stills set I saw was in the French Quarter in New Orleans, He was an investor in a friend’s restaurant and put on a street concert to celebrate its grand opening. It’s a jinxed location so the eatery failed but it was a helluva show.

This was a tough dozen to assemble because of Stephen Stills’ long and distinguished musical career. I started off with 30 songs and commenced to winnow. I do a bit of cheating and slot covers of some of his best songs in the lagniappe section of the post. The man himself sings two of the numbers but the albums were released under other names. What’s a bit of lagniappe cheating among friends?

As always, the songs are arranged in chronological order and reflect my own taste. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my opinions or choices. I do expect everyone to laugh at the jokes. I’m needy that way.

For What It’s Worth was written when our hero was 21 years old. It’s a remarkably mature song. If Stills had not gone on to a long and glorious career, it would still be remembered. It’s that, uh, memorable.

We have two versions for your listening pleasure: the studio original and CSN live at Woodstock 1994.

Bluebird is one of six Stephen Stills tunes that have been Saturday Odds & Sods theme songs. It features some of Stills’ finest playing. It feels Byrdsy to me. Perhaps it foreshadowed the songwriter’s work with OG Byrds David Crosby and Chris Hillman. Or maybe Stills just loved The Byrds. Who doesn’t?

Despite being played to death by classic rock radio, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes is Stephen Stills’ masterpiece. I never get tired of the three-part harmonies and the great acoustic guitar picking. It’s still da bomb as the kids of an earlier generation put it.

You Don’t Have To Cry is another gorgeous song that has been known to make me verklempt. Sorry, sir.

Carry On is one of those songs that I have to sing along with. My cats have always dug the high harmonies. Me, I like the transition to Questions. That’s all I have got; questions that is. Sorry if I got carried away…

Love The One You’re With is a great record. It’s also a fabulous live set opener. The lyrics are a bit hippie dippy for my taste, but the arrangement is killer. Stills was ahead of his time when it came to percussion. Most Sixties artists didn’t know how to swing: Stephen Stills did.

Stills was a military kid. He moved around a lot gathering musical influences in his travels. Black Queen is a Delta blues influenced song with some of the finest acoustic guitar playing this side of Richard Thompson. Stills is *that* good.

Manassas remains one of my favorite albums. It showcases Stills’ manifold talents as a player and songwriter. It was hard to select a song from this album as it’s so tightly sequenced. In the end, I went country.

The recording sessions for the second Manassas album, Down The Road, were a legendary shitshow. There’s still some great music on that record including the opening track Isn’t It About Time, which I used in a recent malaka of the week post.

I’m a Deadhead but I prefer CSN’s Dark Star to the Garcia-Hunter song. Sue me.

Southern Cross is Dr. A’s favorite CSN song. I like it too despite the nautical theme. I get seasick easily. It’s a sad commentary for someone whose bloodlines include seafaring Norwegians and Greeks. Oh well, what the hell.

So Begins The Task first appeared on the Manassas album. Stills re-recorded it 45 years later with his ex Judy Collins. Yes, *that* Judy blue eyes.

That concludes the Stephen Sills Dozen. We’ve got a whole lotta lagniappe for you.

Stills, David Crosby, and the Airplane’s Paul Kantner co-wrote Wooden Ships. It’s a song that has stood the test of time. It’s a guitarists dream be it Stephen Stills or Jorma Kaukonen.

Here are my 13th Ward homies The Neville Brothers funking up a certain Stills classic at a Halloween concert. Dr A and I were there. I don’t recall if we costumed. I was not fully assimilated into New Orleans culture at that time. So it goes.

The great Flaco Jimenez was looking for a commercial breakthrough in 1992. He worked with various singers including Stills on an album called, appropriately enough, Partners. Change Partners is the first track on the album.

Kevin Moore DBA Keb Mo and I have some mutual friends. Helluva nice guy. I really dig his version of FWIW.

Stephen Stills knows from super groups. His most recent one is The Rides featuring him, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and keyboard legend Barry Goldberg, Here’s a rocking version of Word Game, which first appeared in acoustic drag on Stephen Stills 2.

I promised a whole lotta lagniappe. I hope I delivered.

The last word goes to Stephen Stills and Judy Collins in 2017. Long may they run.


3 thoughts on “The Sunday Dozen: Stephen Stills

  1. I have this weird fascination for difficult people who make great music. I love a lot of them. The Davies, The Ramones, Fleetwood Mac, Keith and Mick, John Lennon, Roger Waters (to be clear, as you pointed out, the quality drops off markedly outside of Floyd), etc. Stills is certainly in that category.

    Really, if he retired after For What It’s Worth, that would be a career most can’t say they’ve had. He kept making great music for decades, and I am right with you on CSN’s version of Dark Star.

    Haha, the stuff I’ve read about the recording of the second Manassas album…they could make a movie about it. I like it a lot though.

  2. Actually 3/4 of CSNY were difficult; everyone but Nash. Stills at least mellowed with age.

  3. Fellow Stephen Stills fan here. I love all your choices on this list, and I’ll check out the ones I haven’t heard before (which aren’t many). He really is a national treasure, and his music never seems dated to me (even though I was born in a later generation).

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