Happy Birthday to the great Stephen Stills, who celebrates his 76th birthday on Monday, January 3rd. The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Famer will forever be remembered for his legendary work with Buffalo Springfield; Crosby, Stills, & Nash; Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young; Manassas, and on his own. Stills last grabbed headlines for his string of sold-out shows with former girlfriend Judy Collins, along with the pair's critically acclaimed 2017 joint album, Everybody Knows. In recent years, Stills successfully rebounded from prostate cancer.
Earlier this year, Stills teamed up with entertainer Billy Porter to motivate voters by releasing their recent collaboration, “For What It’s Worth (Something Happening Here Remix).” Proceeds from the song went to benefit Michelle Obama's When We All Vote, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization that closes the race and age voting gap by shifting the culture around voting.
Aside from his brilliant ability to play nearly every instrument he's ever touched, Stills is above and beyond one of the key songwriters of his generation as well as a groundbreaking acoustic and electric guitarist. His songs came to help define his times starting with the Springfield's “For What It's Worth” and “Bluebird,” CSN and CSNY's “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Helplessly Hoping,” “49 Bye-Byes,” “You Don't Have To Cry,” “Wooden Ships,” “Carry On,” “4+20,” “Dark Star,” “See The Changes,” “Southern Cross” — along with his signature solo anthem, “Love The One You're With.”
Stephen Stills told us that his musical style comes from studying three distinct genres: “My sense of syncopation comes from two places; the first is seeing the night time Zulu parades with the full Indians in their headdresses in New Orleans from the night before Mardi Gras — I think I was six. And the other is growing up surrounded by salsa when I was a teenager. And also my best friend and I discovered real old blues. And so those three come together and it's where my feet are planted.”
Graham Nash recalls being amazed at Stephen Stills' pure musical ability when he, Stills, and David Crosby were recording CSN's debut album: “Stephen was amazing on that first record — because he played most of the instruments. Me and David played rhythm guitar on our songs — but the rest was Stephen. Stephen played electric guitar, he played rhythm guitar, he played bass, he played (Hammond) B-3 organ, he played piano, he played percussion (laughs). That's one of the reasons we got Neil (Young), I mean who can do all that live on stage yourself? So we had to get somebody else to play 'em.”
Over the recent years, Stills has slowly been working on his autobiography. When we last caught up to the singer/songwriter we asked him if he's happy with the way the memoir is progressing: “Yes. I started it 10 years ago and then realized it was premature. My writing skills are pretty good. I finally got a completely dedicated computer to it. I finally at that point where I'm just writing vignettes and stories, and. . . but I'm looking for a thread that's gonna make this worthwhile. Y'know, not just a summation of a ghostwriter's interview.”
Apart from all of her amazing accomplishments, Judy Collins will never not be known and beloved as the muse for Stephen Stills' masterpiece, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.” Collins revealed to us that the song remains truly a snapshot of her and Stills' relationship at that exact moment: “There are a lot of lines with what was going on in my life and his. And, y'know, in that sense, it's pretty (laughs). . . it has some reality in it that's unmistakable. I mean, he was on the West Coast — I was on the East Coast. He hated New York and therapy and I was in both — and you can hear it in the song. I was with a bunch of therapists that didn't believe in dating one person, so you hear — 'Tuesdays and Saturdays.' That's, that's from real life. That's not made up. But, I heard the song originally when he came to sing it to me to try to get me back (laughs).”
In 2013, Stephen Stills along with old friend and keyboardist Barry Goldberg, and blues guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd formed the Rides, releasing two albums — that year's Can't Get Enough and 2016's Pierced Arrow — and hitting the road behind both sets.
Stills told us that he made sure that the Rides avoided the pitfalls that seem to plague bands getting together from different environments to make music. He explained the ground rules for a successful collaboration in the studio: “If we have one rule, besides 'be on time — please,' and 'quit early — please,' is that all of those considerations and debates that bands have, can we dispense with that, please? And check your ego at the door. And we're gonna sit down and get in a circle and play. And it's going to evolve naturally. So, we recorded very, very old school. Analog tape — two-inch tape. The amplifiers with top notch microphones on them and there's bleed and stuff, which can get problematical, but everything worked.”
Stephen Stills says that ultimately his music's longevity is the greatest honor for him as a musician: “There's a great honor in having this music last so long and continue to transport people. It's amazing to me.”