Ten Songs by Stephen Stills That Continue to Delight
Stephen Stills has had an amazing history in the music business, first introduced to us through Buffalo Springfield and then Supersession before the explosion that was Crosby, Stills, and Nash… and Young. He has recorded numerous solo albums and many, many memorable songs. Since we gave his former partner Neil Young a shot recently, we thought we would highlight ten songs that zero in on his decade of recording from 1966 to 1976.
“For What It’s Worth” is the universally known anthem from Buffalo Springfield’s debut in 1966. The next year, another fine Stills composition emerged in “Bluebird” on Buffalo Springfield Again. It rocks out to begin, Stills on electric guitar. Later, he switches to acoustic for some fine picking. The tune almost comes to a halt, and then, suddenly he pulls out the banjo to make the tune a really country beauty.
Two stories about that. There was that time that Cousin Brucie on WABC in New York cut the song right before the banjo part (OMG). And then, on their double-album retrospective, also titled Buffalo Springfield, there is a nine-minute version; when they get to the part where the banjo enters, there is instead a six-minute guitar rave-up!
You Don’t Love Me (1968)
The album Supersession was a real revelation when it appeared. The unifying factor was Al Kooper, leader of The Blues Project and then Blood, Sweat and Tears through their first album, Child is Father to the Man. On side one, Kooper is paired with Mike Bloomfield, guitar star of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Stills is featured on side two, including a monstrous 11-minute take on Donovan’s “Season of the Witch.” Stills absolutely kills on the Willie Cobb song “You Don’t Love Me,” featuring that trippy phasing sound. Kooper handles the vocals.
Old Times Good Times (1970)
Stills’ first solo album, self-titled, is regarded as a match for the first two CSN&Y albums, properly so. The “hit” tune was “Love the One You’re With,” and there is a fine acoustic outing called “Black Queen” and a jazzy “Cherokee.” The heart of the album comes from the last two song on side one. “Old Times Good Times” is a killer rocker. Stills crushes on Hammond B3 and vocals. The oh-so-tight rhythm section of Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, bass; Conrad Isedor, drums; and Jeff Whittaker, conga, lays down a great groove. And, in a blindfold test, you would certainly have pegged Jimi Hendrix as guitarist by the time he soloed, if not before.
Go Back Home (1970)
From that way-uptempo groove, Stills shifts it down to a slow blues walk. The rasp in Stills voice is perfect. Samuels is back on bass, joined by Johnny Barbata on drums. Those two were the rhythm section for 4 Way Street. Also on drums is Dallas Taylor, who played on CS&N and Déjà Vu. Barbata’s signature drums are unmistakable, and Samuels’ bass line is perfect. Stills plays “basic guitar” and keyboards. The outstanding vocal chorus is courtesy of Rita Coolidge, Priscilla Jones, Claudia Lanier, John Sebastian, Cass Elliott, and David Crosby. And the guitar slinger this time is Eric Clapton, and Stills just turns him loose.
Carry On (1970)
If “For What It’s Worth” was a song that helped define the ’60s, then “Carry On” was the logical follow-up to usher in the ’70s as the lead track on Déjà Vu. Neil Young was now in the fold, and those great acoustic guitars strumming with Stills’ incisive electric league equal in the mix. Greg Reeves has a dynamic bass line, and Dallas Taylor is credited with both drums and percussion; the drums don’t kick in until almost halfway through. The vocal harmonies are incredible.
The song shifts gears entirely just before the 2-minute mark; this is one of the finest rock transitions on record, a match for Fleetwood Mac’s “Sands of Time.” The vocals sparkle throughout, and Stills on electric is the master here. The long version on 4 Way Street is a blast as well with great long guitar solos.
Nothing to Do but Today (1972)
Stephen Stills 2 wasn’t quite a match for his solo debut, but it’s a fine record best known for “Change Partners” (lotta that going on, it seemed). This is a bouncy tune with early reggae sensibilities; it was recorded at Criteria in Miami, where Clapton would later record 461 Ocean Boulevard. Stills’ vocals are on point with Crosby backing. Samuels is on bass, and both Taylor and Isadore are listed on drums. Jury’s out on keyboards: Dr. John or Billy Preston.
The Treasure – Take One (1972)
Stills had planned for the second album to be a double, but Atlantic insisted on a single, so he had a lot of songs in the can or ready to record. He put together a band called Manassas. The group included Chris Hillman of The Byrds, Samuels, Taylor, Paul Harris, Al Perkins, and his Tampa buddy Joe Lala on percussion. The band’s first album, self-titled, was a double, each side focusing on a particular style. “The Treasure – Take One” is from the “Rock and Roll is Here to Stay” side. Stills’ plaintive vocals are perfect, harmonies of the band spot on. After the first couple stanzas, Stills puts his wah-wah pedal through its paces, and the song shifts even further uptempo. Perkins rocks the lap steel guitar here.
Crossroads/You Can’t Catch Me (1975)
Stills is also a brilliant acoustic player. On the 1975 album Stephen Stills Live, one side of the album is with a full band, the other solo acoustic. This track combines the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads” with Chuck Berry’s masterful “You Can’t Catch Me.” His voice has that seasoned bluesman quality, and the playing is magnificent.
Make Love to You (1976)
Long May You Run was an odd album, with the pair splitting songwriting duties. This is all Stills; Young takes a brief guitar solo, but the song is driven by Stills on great vocals and guitar. The band featured George “Chocolate” Perry on bass, Joe Vitale on drums and flute!, and Jerry Aiello with some brilliant Hammond B3 work.
Treetop Flyer (1976)
Those of a certain age can remember distinctly certain songs that premiered — or so we thought — on Miami Vice. The song would play at the beginning of the show, and you knew precisely what the plot would be. Such was the case with Glenn Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues.” Ditto for Stills’ song “Treetop Flyer” about flying contraband in under the radar. An early version surfaced — almost 40 years later — on an album called Just Roll Tape — April 26th 1968. This version was supposed to appear on Illegal Stills but did not.
This version of “Treetop Flyer” is the only one not included in our Spotify playlist below.