Stephen Stills is one of my most favorite musicians and, like with Steve Winwood, I’ve enjoyed tracing his career through different ensembles and solo ventures and musical styles and phases. Somehow lesser-recognized today than bandmates David Crosby and Graham Nash, Stills was the guitar and vocal muscle that drove and textured CSN’s harmonies. Even though it eventually left him, relatively speaking, Stills’ songwriting muse burned bright in those early days too.
I could write another essay just on Manassas, my favorite Stills band, and their two albums, the first of which has been called “a sprawling masterpiece akin to the Beatles’ White Album, the Stones’ Exile on Main St., or Wilco’s Being There in its makeup.” Stills also played a critical role in bringing to life Al Kooper and Mike Bloomfield’s Super Session, which, like Sgt. Pepper’s, “ushered in several new phases in rock & roll’s concurrent transformation.” Even before all of that, he had penned one of the most lasting 1960s protest songs, “For What It’s Worth,” for Buffalo Springfield. While Crosby and Nash were off on one of their collaborations, he got together with Neil Young for the underappreciated Long May You Run, a quiet offering that ultimately failed to hold Young’s interest, as Winwood and Blind Faith ultimately failed to hold Eric Clapton’s. Although the strength of his later solo recordings wavered over the years, I enjoy his self-titled solo debut, which coyly hides guitar offerings from Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. I also enjoyed his 2005 solo-comeback-of-sorts, Man Alive!, with its cameos from Nash, Young, and Herbie Hancock. In 2007, Stills issued one of the few truly insightful and valuable archival releases in recent memory, and if you’re still with me at this point, you’ll want to read more about Just Roll Tape.
For all this, though, there’s no better Stills winter record than 1975’s Live, a somewhat brief offering with an electric A side and an acoustic B side. (And by “winter record,” I mean a disc to which you repeatedly turn when you’re trying to use the CD player to kickstart your Blazer’s chronically dysfunctional heater core in January in Michigan.) Today is Stills’ sixty-ninth birthday. Here’s the meat of that A side: