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Artist: Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

Bio

Stephen Arthur Stills is an American guitarist and singer-songwriter best known for his work with the Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Stephen Stills was born in Dallas, Texas on January 3, 1945 to a military family. Moving around as a child, he developed an interest in blues and folk music. He was also influenced by Latin music after spending his teenage years in Costa Rica and the Panama Canal Zone, where he graduated from high school. Stills dropped out of the University of Florida to pursue a music career in the early 1960s. He played in a series of unsuccessful bands including the Continentals, which featured future The Eagles guitarist Don Felder. Stills eventually ended up in a nine-member vocal harmony group, the house act at the famous Cafe Au Go Go in NYC, called the Au Go Go Singers (Rick Geiger, Roy Michaels, Michael Scott, Jean Gurney, Kathy King, Nels Gustafson, Bob Harmelink, Richie Furay & Stills) where and when he met Richie Furay. This group also did some touring in the Catskills, and in the South, released one album in 1964, then broke up in 1965. Afterwards, Stills, along with four other former members of the Au Go Go Singers: Geiger, Michaels, Gurney & Scott, formed The Company, a folk/rock group. Immediately prior to performing in the Au Go Go Singers, Stills could be seen singing solo in Gerde's Folk City, a well-known coffee house in Greenwich Village. The Company embarked on a 6-week tour of Canada where Stills met a young guitarist named Neil Young. On the VH1 CSNY Legends special, Stills would say that at that time, Young was doing what he always wanted to do, "play folk music in a rock band." The Company broke up in New York within four months, opening up the way for Geiger to join a light opera company in Los Angeles; Michaels to link up with Jimi Hendrix, Gurney to go on to college while doing TV commercials, and Scott to tour with a retro-Highwaymen. Stills did session work and went to various auditions (including an unsuccessful one for The Monkees). In 1966 he convinced a reluctant former Au Go Go Singers, Richie Furay, then living in Massachusetts, to move with him to California. Solo years In the wake of CSNY's success, all four members recorded solo albums. In 1970, Stills released his self-titled deb
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Articles

Stephen Stills: Crazy After All These Years NME, Jul 1983

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MR STILLS and I are watching a video of some playing by Crosby, Stills And Nash. The composer leans back in his chair, a whisky glass in one hand, and nods a trifle blearily to the music.

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They are doing 'For What It's Worth (What's That Sound)'. Stills resembles a computer technician, Nash an aerobics instructor, Crosby an auditioning grandfather gnome.

"I get up and get to play rock'n'roll music real loud in front of a whole bunch of people! And everyone has such a good time, everybody." Stills' voice has familiar sandpapered growl, a man running to a middle-aged bulk ("Could lose some weight" is his first comment on the video).

"Those kids who musta been about three in 1968 are coming along and screaming and they know all the songs.

Isn't that a little pointless? It they know them all they could just stay at home and sing along with the records. Ritual.

Stills pauses in lighting a massive cigar which he's just stuck in his mouth. "You shee shumthing wrong in that?"

Crosby, Stills And Nash are still a towering force in American noise, for good or ill. As skinny as their music may be it commands an allegiance that is intimidating. Its position isn't easily assailed by upstarts like A Flock Of Seagulls. Before we compliment ourselves on throwing off this ancient spectre let me remind you that they are also able to fill out Wembley for two nights this month.

Stephen Stills is their galvanic force. Although it's hard to resist a sneer when he says "We've never been known to put out pap, particularly", I know what he means. Stills could write good anthems, and by a peculiar twist he could find himself back on a freshly-stoked gravy train as a crypto-protest singer with them holocaust blues again.

"Sometimes we have put out pap. Yeah! Unadulterated crap, as far as I'm concerned. Meaningless..."

Why did he ever do a thing like that?

"Because we were young and dumb and doing what was done at the time. Because a song sounded nice then doesn't mean it will today."

"I keep updating the worthwhile ones. It's senseless to be provocative for the sake of it, as far as I'm concerned – that's equally inane. And out music's got a place in people's lives just as today's music will mean things to people now in years to come. There's a place in the middle where everyone can have a good time, and that's what we're all about."

"There's a lot of stuff that's milktoast," he says, relighting his cigar. "And if people consider us as milktoast I intend to kick enough ass to change that. If Stephen Stills cooking as hard as he can is milktoast to the English then I'll hear it from the audience."

I wonder if he will...

"Well," he returns grouchily, "in another sense I don't particularly give a damn. I'm at an age where I won't be bullied into being embarrassed about what I do and I'm not going to be denigrated for trying to put together thoughtful music. I do in fact function and play as hard as I can. I have a real problem with the generalisation that I'm a boring fart."

What is it about CSN that provokes him into carrying on with the enterprise?

"Will, Nashy and I decided it was time to make another record," he says, chewing on the giant Havana. "I thought it was kind of soft myself."

"SOFT," he grunts loudly as if I hadn't heard him. "You know, if you don't like it, don't buy it. But don't spit on it."

I wonder instead if a man with the crowd-count muscle of Stills has his agitprop carbine loaded. Nukes, wargames, Capitol Hill distortions – all grist to a senior commentator in the protest ring. What can he do with his chords of fame?

"As a performer you're like a troubadour, a mirror. As a citizen you can say what you think. I don't like mixing the two that much. I'll work my butt off to actualize some of these things and do my bit. If a performer can involve people in a debate it's worthwhile. You have to get into an educational atmosphere where governments must realize it's in their best interests to be concerned with people who live around them. Ronald Reagan is a great lesson for our country because he is a very passionless man. He has no compassion at all, a belligerent jerk."

Stills looks askance at the now soggy end of his cigar – a rich man with a troubled mind. "This is a war. The point is to win the motherfucker, and if I've got to put on a three-piece suit and go pound the halls of Congress I'll do it. If everybody'd do their little bit we might be able to fix this shit. I think your estimate of me as a conservative rock'n'roll figure is one that should be reexamined because it's so simplistic."

Does he believe in revolutions?

"I grew up in Latin America, and I've seen 'em. Everybody just ends up starving to death and shooting at each other all the time. They turn into demagoguery and chaos and violence for its own sake. Easy prey for anyone who wants to manipulate for their own profit."

How has Stills' world changed since he cut the misty diamond of 'Rock'n'Roll Woman' in 1967?

"It's dirtier. Harder. Just as myopic. The waste is catching up with us. The incomplete decisions that were made back then and which set up on this course are cropping up and again."

Stop – what's that sound?

Stephen Stills: Behind The Malicious Rumours NME, Oct 1973

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EVER SINCE he wrote 'For What It's Worth' Stephen Stills has had his share of criticism. And oddly enough it's often been more personal than musical. Ego trips, drugs, stubborn fights – he's been accused of it all.

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Then there've been accusations of pretension – which is strange considering that Stills seems to remain both honest and vulnerable in his lyrics and stage presence.

However, despite all the slating, and despite the fact that Stills had just read yet another article presenting him in the same old ugly light, he was quite willing to talk after a recent concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan, about himself and his band Manassas.

"Despite what you read in the papers," says Stills, "Manassas are alive and well. And I really don't have any idea why everyone insists on knocking me. It gets you down after a while. You'd have to be real callous not to let it bother you."

However, the criticisms haven't dampened his musical ardour.

He announced: "We've been trying to get Crosby, Stills and Nash together again to do an album, and we were in Hawaii for a month doing some recording. But Manassas will stay together – it's too much like home for us to break up.

"Despite the fact my name is pushed forward,", Stills emphasises, "Manassas are a band. They're more of a band than CSN&Y ever were."

To emphasise this "everyone's equal" aspect, he points out that Chris Hillman and Al Perkins get their own spots in the acoustic part of the show.

"Chris is going to do an album with Richie Furay (of Poco) while I do the CS&N thing, then Manassas will make another album and go back on the road. I still really enjoy playing on stage."

Recently Manassas have been doing a lot of university concerts. Does Stills prefer these to regular rock gigs?

"Yeah," he agrees lazily. "The audiences are a lot friendlier. I don't know what I'd do with the rock scene...it gets so ridiculous. These kids aren't coming in with a whole lot of subjective opinions. They're much more open to what actually happens."

And what sort of reaction have they been getting?
"When we stink," says Stills rather plaintively, "we stink. But it's very seldom. And you can rely on the audience to let you know by their reaction. The way we work it, even if the magic isn't working we can still get people high, get them off. But when the magic works, we fly.

"We don't try to depend on that magic always being present, which I think is important. A lot of bands rip people off by trying to fly when they can't. They haven't the professionalism to have a stock set to depend on – a set of changes to fall back on. To me that's important.

"The first number we do is a good twenty minutes long, and it took weeks to learn. I really enjoyed putting the whole thing together. We come on strong in the first number; it's all there. Then we fold back a little, and gradually bring the pace back up again."

The conversation changes to horse riding, which Stills seems to prefer to anything else, and this leads to the subject of his huge estate in England.

"I sold that house for 100 per cent profit," says Stills, pleased with the whole thing. "Everybody gave me so much heat about buying the house, you wouldn't believe it. They went nuts. You idiot, they said.

"I just told them to wait and see what happened to the dollar when Britain joined the Common Market. Everyone said, kid you don't know what you're talking about.

"It was a hunch and I was betting a bunch. Sure enough it happened, and I made a profit. And everybody said, why you little fucker."

Stephen finds this most amusing and keeps on laughing and laughing.

Now he's based in Colorado, and I ask if he has his own studio there.

"I'd love to have a studio, Ernie can I have a studio?" he grunts, looking up to the heavens. "Listen, five years ago I saw this place in Colorado and I thought, boss place to have a studio. But I didn't have the money.

"So I went out and worked and came back and guess what," Stills says, excited like a little kid, "Jim Guerico bought it and I thought god damn. So I'm still looking for a place."

We talk about an old Chuck Berry song, 'You Can't Catch Me', that Stills does at the end of Crossroads.

"If Hendrix had written better songs," says Stills, changing the subject, "he would have been so hot, because without a doubt he was the hottest guitar player around. Oh was he hot!"

I mumble something about the new Stones album, about how Mick Taylor's wah-wah style is quite similar to Stills'.

"Man that dude is great. I'd love to play with him but he's a star ya know. What can I do? He's really good, and Billy Wyman is hot too. Keith Richard" – Stills pauses – "Keith's got the capacity. I dig him man, it's awfully hard.

"But pretty soon a bunch of kids are going to come along and change all this and then no one'll want to know about the Rolling Stones or any of us.

"It'll probably be three 12-year-olds with moog synthesizers."

Stills gets up and proposes to leave. No friends, he's not lying incoherent on the floor, or babbling away in unintelligible nonsense. And he doesn't look wasted beyond his years either.

Despite what they say Stills most definitely carries on. The man who once wrote 'Don't Look At My Shadow It's Behind Me' is alive and kicking.

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Top Albums

Stephen Stills cover art

Stephen Stills

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Stills cover art

Stills

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Manassas cover art

Manassas

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Illegal Stills

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Demos cover art

Demos

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Top Songs

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Love the One You're With

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Turn Back The Pages

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So Begins The Task

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Song of Love

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Johnny's Garden

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Colorado cover art

Colorado

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Go Back Home cover art

Go Back Home

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