Stephen Stills Hits the Fillmore Solo on Saturday
For Stephen Stills, 1968 was a particularly good year. Sure, his band Buffalo Springfield had imploded in a mass of clashing egos. But the Byrds had also recently kicked David Crosby to the curb, and the latter, Stills's old pal, was looking for a collaborator.
Crosby had taken to the Florida coast in order to chart his next move, and it was here, aboard a 59-foot, twin-mast schooner called The Mayan, that he and Stills got together to compose. The pair's first effort would result in the song "Wooden Ships." And once the two were back in Los Angeles and Graham Nash was added to the equation, history would become theirs for the making.
Indeed the next year's eponymous Crosby, Stills and Nash would not only spawn two Top 40 singles ("Marrakesh Express" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"), it would mark the beginning of a legacy that endures more than four decades later. Call it a legacy of song. In addition to the aforementioned hits, that milestone album also included the tunes "Helplessly Hoping" and "Long Time Gone," either of which any American of a certain age can undoubtedly sing in his or her sleep.
Hell, a simple striking of the first chord of any of that first LP's collection of songs has the power to rouse a crowd. And Stills, who wrote or co-wrote most of them and played most of the instruments on all of them, is still thrilled when that happens. "It's second only to having [the audience] go nuts after a guitar solo," he says by phone from his Los Angeles home. And after almost five decades in the public eye, having the crowd go nuts is something Stephen Stills has become very accustomed to.
Stills's career truly kicked off at Woodstock, and includes a double induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and collaborations with some of the biggest names in the music business. Yes, there's Crosby, and there's Nash, and, subsequently there's Neil Young. But there's also George and Ringo.
Stills backed Ringo Starr on his George Harrison-produced hit "It Don't Come Easy." And he also wrote and produced Starr's "You've Got a Nice Way" off 1981's Stop and Smell the Roses. Starr, in turn, returned the favor on 1970's Stephen Stills and "As I Come of Age" (off 1975's Stills).
After all, Stills started out as a session man, and though that was a long, long time ago — "you're talking 40 years, pal" — he still fondly recalls some of that early work. "There was one particular session with Jimi [Hendrix] that was really fun. And there was also some studio work that I did between bands," he recalls, "where I worked with Glen Campbell on a whole bunch of records that were big hits at the time. I sat behind Carol Kaye, the bass player. I was one of the rhythm guitarists, and I always had a terrific feel."
Stills and Hendrix, who were also close pals, actually played together a lot. And a couple of years ago, Stills unearthed an album's worth of material recorded shortly before Hendrix's death that he had simply forgotten about. Then there's the above-mentioned Stephen Stills, which is reportedly the only album in history to feature the guitar work of both Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
But L.A. and New York weren't the only cities on Stills's record-making map. The Stills-Young Band's Long May You Run was recorded at Criteria in North Miami, as was "all of the Manassas stuff. And more recently I did the Stills Alone album [there]."
Despite a rather addled time here, Stills can still savor our city. "I love Miami. I'm from Florida, and if you're from Central or Northern Florida it's always 'I want to move to Miami,'" he says. "I spent three years there, and it got pretty skanky. The best places were down in the Grove then, and it was hard even getting to the freeway from Bird Road."
And despite their solo efforts and unsteady history, Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young have never officially disbanded. And rumors of a reunion remain rife, though hardly certain. "You have to ask Neil," says Stills. "He's always the key. We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. I don't want to do another tour like the last one in this climate."
Rather than wait around for a maybe, Stills is back on the road supporting his Live at Shepherd's Bush CD/DVD. And it's primarily that collection of classics that he and his three-piece band will be bringing to the Fillmore.
But as keen as Stills is on the current roadwork, he's even keener on a very surprising development. And, believe it or not, that development involves Cypress Hill, Marc Anthony, Pitbull, and Jim Jonsin, Miami's own hip-hop heavyweight.
"Cypress Hill, who I met at Woodstock '94, took a little piece at the end of the 'Suite' — which was originally supposed to be a different song, but we tacked it on because we needed an uplifting ending," he says. "[They] used those changes and that melody, and Marc Anthony sang the shit out of it. They wrote the song that I wanted to write at the time.
"It's the most exciting record I've heard in years," adds Stills, "and after I received the song, my message back to them was, 'Do not fuck this up.' It's gonna be the song of the summer."
The song is called "Armada Latina." It's on the Cypress Hill album Rise Up. And it's scheduled for an April 20 release, but is already racking up hit after hit on the Internet.
So excited is Stills that he's vowed to "rework my old Spanish songs until I get a whole album." Meantime he's just reveling in the song's impending success. Perhaps Pitbull and the boys will join him at the Fillmore, perhaps not. Either way it's good to know that the man's long run will be continuing indefinitely.
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