Stephen Stills Biography

3 January 1945, Dallas, Texas, USA. This often dubbed ‘musical genius’ is better known for his work with the pivotal 60s band Buffalo Springfield, and for many years his association with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young. After the Buffalo Springfield’s break-up, Stills, at a loose end, joined with Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield for the million-selling 1968 release Super Session. His session contributions included Donovan’s ‘Season Of The Witch’, on which he played one of the decade’s most famous wah-wah guitar solos.

Stills’ solo career began during one of Crosby, Stills And Nash’s many hiatuses. Then living in England at Ringo Starr’s former home, Stills enlisted a team of musical heavyweights to play on his self-titled debut which reached the US Top 3 in 1970. This outstanding album remains his best work, and is now viewed by many as a modern classic. In addition to the irresistible hit single ‘Love The One You’re With’ the album featured a healthy mixture of styles, all demonstrating Stills’ considerable dexterity as a songwriter, guitarist and singer. The solo acoustic ‘Black Queen’ for example, was reputedly recorded while Stills was completely drunk on tequila slammers, and yet his mastery of the (C.F.) Martin acoustic guitar still prevailed. All tracks reach the listener, from the infectious ‘Old Times Good Times’, featuring Jimi Hendrix to ‘Go Back Home’, featuring Eric Clapton; it is unfair to single out any track for they are all exemplary. On this one album, Stills demonstrated the extent of his powers. The following year’s 2 was a similar success, containing the innocently profound ‘Change Partners’, a brass re-working of Buffalo Springfield’s ‘Bluebird’, and the brilliant yet oddly-timed blues number ‘Nothin’ To Do But Today’.

For a while it appeared that Stills’ solo career would eclipse that of his CSNY involvement. His superbly eclectic double album with Manassas and its consolidating follow-up made Stills an immensely important figure during these years. Ultimately, though, he was unable to match his opening pair of albums. While 1975’s Stills was an admirable effort, the subsequent live album and Illegal Stills were patchy. His nadir came in 1978 when, following the break up of his marriage to French chanteuse Véronique Sanson, he produced Thoroughfare Gap, a collection riddled with uninspired songs of self-pity. Only the title track was worthy of his name. No new official solo release came until 1984, when Ahmet Ertegun reluctantly allowed Stills to put out Right By You. While the slick production did not appeal to all Stills aficionados, it proved to be his most cohesive work since his second album, although appealing more to the AOR market. The moderate hit ‘Can’t Let Go’ featured both Stills and Michael Finnigan, exercising their fine voices to great effect.

Since then the brilliant but erratic Stills has continued his stop-go career with Crosby, Nash, and occasionally Young. As a guitarist, his work in the 90s with a rejuvenated Crosby, Stills And Nash was quite breathtaking, demonstrating that those early accolades were not misjudged. It was a great pity that his songwriting, which was so prolific and so brilliant in the early 70s, had seemingly deserted him. He released a solo acoustic self-financed work in 1991. Stills Alone was a return to his folk and blues roots and featured hoarse-voiced cover versions of the Beatles ‘In My Life’ and Bob Dylan’s ‘The Ballad Of Hollis Brown’. In 1998, the Stills’ Buffalo Springfield classic ‘For What It’s Worth’ was recorded by rap artists Public Enemy for the Spike Lee movie He Got Game. Stills sessioned on the track, which became a substantial hit.

The new Stills era began in 2005; not only with the birth of a child at the age of 60 but with the release ofMan Alive!, an unexpected album that delighted his fans but missed the mainstream audience by a mile. The album mixed Latin, rock, blues and folk, with notable tracks including ‘Ole Man Trouble’ and the highly topical ‘Feed The People’, a song written in 1979 yet completely relevant following the same year’s Live 8 concert.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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