Back The Pages.....
an interview with STEPHEN STILLS
by Robert Silverstein
During the course of this interview, a slight contention arose as
to when exactly Stephen Stills exactly recorded the tracks on his
2007 Rhino CD, Just Roll Tape. With me and my family on vacation
from New York, I had the amazing forturne, as a 14 year old,
to see Stills play one of the final concerts with The Buffalo Springfield
Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach on April 14, 1968. The Just
Roll Tape CD cover says that the music was recorded in a NYC studio
on April 26, 1968the same day that the Buffalo Springfield box
set tour chronology has Stills playing a date in Arizona on that same
Spring 68 concert tour with the Springfield. Of course, the
exact recording date of the Just Roll Tape sessionspossibly
just a few weeks or a couple months offdoesnt matter much.
What does matter is that these songs that Stills recorded in
NYC in the aftermath of that last Springfield tour, would by
Summer 68 lay the musical foundation for one of the great
supergroups in 20th century American musical history. The origin of
songs that would appear on the first Crosby Stills & Nash album,
the first two Stephen Stills solo albums and the first Manassas album,
Just Roll Tape provides prime insight into one of Americas
greatest living rock poets and guitarists. Its coming up on
forty years since Stills laid down those Just Roll Tape songs
in a NYC studio but they sound as influential as ever, as do tracks
from the most recent Stills studio album, Man Alive!, released
on Miami-based Pyramid Records in 2005. For this September 17, 2007
interview with Robert Silverstein of 20th Century Guitar magazine
and MWE3.COM, Stephen Stills reflects on classic moments from his
early career and brings it up to date with his Man Alive! album.
(This interview with Stephen Stills first appeared in the November
2007 issue of 20th Century Guitar magazine. Here is the uncut, unedited
version, with expletives delighted - editor May 10, 2008)
RS: Stephen! Greetings from Little Neck just here on the Queens Nassau
border of Long Island. Near where you guys used to play at the Nassau
SS: Nassau Coliseum? My god, that was aeons ago.
RS: Youre in L.A. right now?
TCG: Are you on the road right now?
SS: I did fifty shows for the summer and Im pretty much...thats
enough for an old guy like me.
RS: I always wanted to tell you that the first concert I ever saw
live was when I was 14 I saw Buffalo Springfield at the Jackie Gleason
Theater in Miami on April 14, 1968. You guys were so great that night.
SS: Jackie Gleasons what in Miami? With The Beach Boys?
RS: In fact, that whole concert was amazing, you guys were so great...
with Strawberry Alarm Clock, and the Beach Boys headed up the show!
SS: Yeah! Thats the tour where Mike Love was talking Neil into
quitting the band, just because he thought it was cool to be able
to talk anybody into anything. But that was an interesting tour. I
just saw some pictures from somebody from Gainesville, which is one
of my hometowns. Gainesville, Florida. I have a picture of myself,
theres a picture of me playing behind my back! (laughter) And
I also forgot that Id played drums for one song while, Dewey
sang. Id forgotten that.
RS: Who did you say had tried to talk Neil into quitting the Springfield?
I just didnt get that.
SS: Mike Love! Because Mike Love and Neil, both being Scorpios, became
inseparable on that tour. And it wasnt long after that tour
that Neil quit the band.
RS: I just remember that show cause it was the first concert
I ever saw. I also remember Bobby Goldsboro was there with his sit
down shtick and some local group who opened and I think they played
I Am The Walrus! That Miami concert I was lucky enough
to see back in April 68 interestingly ties in with the new Rhino
historic release of Just Roll Tape, which was recorded on April
SS: Thats what it said on the tape box...when was the Miami
RS: Im pretty sure it was April 14, 1968. Is that possible that
it was only less than two weeks after the show?
SS: I dont know, I might be wrong on the date. Thats when
I thought it was. Geezy! I thought that Beach Boys was the year earlier.
Now youve got me all fucked up! It might have been September
or August. Maybe that was the end of tour and I went and saw Crosby
and then flew back to New York to visit Judy. Cause Crosby might
have just gotten his boat or something...Fuck, but that doesnt
make any sense. I thought that first tour was in 67.
RS: I know I saw you guys play in 68, cause my family
drove down from New York to Florida.
SS: Well, its possible...you saw the Buffalo...was it with The
Beach Boys, in Miami? Fuck, youve got me at a disadvantage.
Ive either got the month wrong or the year wrong. And youre
sure it was 68, not 67?
SS: That doesnt sound right! Does not sound right. Ill
double check. I guess you have a specific memory because you graduated
from High School that year or something?
RS: I was just 14 when I saw the Springfield in 68. On Just
Roll Tape, it sounds like you had a explosion of creativity that
came forth in such rapid succession.
SS: Oh, my briefcase was like falling apart and I had to get it all
down before I forgot it! You know what I mean?
RS: Were all those songs on Just Roll Tape all written around
the same time.
SS: Yeah, it wasnt that long cause that was the last shows
with Neil and then Monterey happened later in the summer. That time
period is very difficult for me pick up on the chronology. I think
they may have misprinted the date on my...if what you say is true,
then they must have misprinted the date. On my tape it might have
August or September, but I know it was 68 because me and David
and Graham were just getting together. Fuck! Youve completely
fuckin thrown me a loop.
RS: Sorry bout that (chief!)...
SS: I havent seen the original tape box in a while. So anyway,
I had all the songs and half of them ended up on my solo albums as
well cause they werent right for the group.
RS: Im really glad they were able to get that out there.
SS: Well, my voice is certainly different now. Its got more
range and depth. And I did that in such a hurry, it was kind of finding
an old photograph of yourself and sharing it with everybody. But it
was also the first time that a lot those songs got on tape. Wooden
Ships had literally been written a few days before.
RS: I hear that Just Roll Tape is just the start of archival
remasters youve got planned.
SS: Yeah, Im finally going through my vault and to say I have
a wealth of material is a vast understatement. So putting together
a box set is gonna be...it may take two because I dont want
to repeat myself, but at the same time Ive got a lot and I dont
want to put out some huge thing that nobody can afford. I found some
great first mixes and stuff before I put a bunch of overdubs on. Some
of the Manassas stuff and things like that, I take it down to the
bare bones to just make the song go and its really refreshing.
RS: Can you remember what acoustic guitar you used recording the Just
Roll Tape tracks, or is that nit-picking?
SS: No, I remember it quite well because, somebody walked into my
cabinet in Colorado and walked out with it while I was out for the
night. But it was a 1935 D-28, a herringbone and someone had taken
and put in the D-45 masthead on the pick guard and somebody stole
that many, many years ago. I made the first CSN and then I got my
D-45 which sounded just as great. But that original D-28, its
out there somewhere. And theres nothing like it because someone
put the D-45 headstock on it, you know the way thats it written?
On a D-28, so its very unique. So, if anybody spots it, someone
stole that out of my cabinet in Colorado in the 70s!
RS: Man oh man, thats a bummer.
SS: Oh, thats not the least of it! The guitars that have grown
legs out of my collection include an original DAngelico and
not one, but two rosewood J-200s, pre-war. Cause I made
the mistake of allowing Guitar Player magazine to do a whole story
on my collection and put them all on the cover. So, the criminal element
said, aha! Thats where to go steal some great guitars.
I wont let anybody take pictures of my guitars anymore, havent
RS: Speaking of the Martin guitars, what kind of input did you have
on your CF Martin OOO45S Stephen Stills Limited Edition Acoustic
SS: They didnt know what hit em! Cause I used to
work at a guitar shop and Im pretty knowledgeable. And I went
to every station at the factory and made sure and saw what they were
doing and then compared to how they used to do it and made them go
back to all the original specs from the 30s, on everything.
And everythings the same except we have the fake stuff instead
of elephant, instead of ivory. Its fake ivory. And it actually
works just as good, they really did a good job. Its not an organic
material, like an elephant, but then were running out of elephants.
Theres a whole warehouse full of confiscated, from poachers
from Kenya, there was a big debate about whether or not to buy them
up but then, that would just encourage the poachers, so we decided
RS: So you only play your signature Martin now?
SS: No, I dont take the old ones on the road, because the security
is too hard. I dont know how Neil gets away with it because
he has Hank Williams D-28 that he plays on stage. I play my
old ones on the records but I play signature ones on the road.
RS: Man Alive! from 2005 was being called your first solo album
in 14 years. What took you so long?
SS: Every time I get a new batch of songs I make the mistake of playing
them for David and Graham and we do another CSN album or a CSNY album.
There were five or six different albums between the solo albums. Why
the record company decided to make such a big deal about it I dont
know? It basically was kind of an accident. So what? (laughter) Ive
got a live album of my last tour. I did fifty shows by myself that
was half acoustic and half electric. And I hope I can put em
out cause we really played great all year.
RS: How would you describe the chemistry between you and Man Alive!
co-producer Joe Vitale, hes a great drummer.
SS: Joes very patient and he built my studio as well. So we
were building my studio and making the record over a long period of
time. So I mean, Joes invaluable. We have a lot of fun.
RS: How about Russ Kunkel, another famous drummer, hes played
SS: Russell was the way to make sure, lets get this done. He
taught me how to make a really good list that kind of forces you to
finish the record. He played on a couple of these, but mainly he oversaw
the completion of this album
RS: What Man Alive! cuts are your favorites?
SS: Oh, I love the opener, Aint It Always, its
a great song to start...if you have to take the kids or you have to
start driving the car. Itll pump you right up and get you going.
I love the opening track. The track had been cut a few years before
but the guitar solo I did right here in my house and its one
of the best I ever done on record.
RS: How come you didnt print the lyrics with the record?
SS: Because theyre too small! No one could read them. You can
look them up online.
Nobody prints the lyrics with the record anymore. Think about it.
Who do you know that puts the lyrics on the album anymore? Honestly
on CDs it seems kind of worthless. It would take two more pages
of stuff and that quadruples the cost of printing the cover so the
record companies start bitching and on and on.
RS: Are you going to work with Pyramid Records Alan Jacobi again
on a follow up to Man Alive!
RS: Because Rhino is more in sync with your past releases on Atco
SS: Yeah, well they also do a pretty good job. I did a tour last year
where we played with CSNY, where we played for at least 15,000 people
in every city that we went. I could not find that record anywhere.
So, thats an indication that who ever distributes, i.e. Universal,
i.e. Alan Jacobi, doesnt know what the fuck theyre doing.
You couldnt find it! And we were in town with a great big tour.
I mean what kind of moron lets that happen?
RS: Sorry to bring his name up.
SS: Well, if you wonder why, go back to Rhino, thats why. Cause
they wouldnt let that happen, because they have a couple of
people with a couple of brains in the outfit that say, oh, theyre
playing in Tampa, maybe we ought to service the big store in Tampa.
And send them ten copies because people might go to the show and then
want to buy it. Cause he just filled the arena. Its A
plus B equals C. Its still the common sense agenda.
RS: How was reuniting with Neil for two tracks on the Man Alive!
album, Different Man and Round The Bend.
SS: Hes the one who talked me into using that song cause
I thought it was a little too much like Oh, Brother Where Art
Thou? But he really liked it and I was doing it too fast and
he got me slowed down on it. And then he wanted to play on that song
that was about us, Round The Bend.
RS: Theres a bunch of guitars on the Man Alive! CD cover
art, is that a vintage Strat on the inner cover art?
SS: Yeah, oh yeah. Thats the real thing. It might have been
the 54. Ive got a 54, a 56 and a 57.
But I also have guard dogs that live around them.
RS: What Man Alive! songs feature the Strat?
SS: Virtually all of them. I think I played the Flying V on one song.
Of course I have the Ramirez, the classical guitar and my Martins.
But mostly on the electric, its either the Strat or, I have
a 53 Esquire and I have a Super 400 from 1960, I think.
RS: Can you say something about your signature 1958 Gretsch White
SS: I play that on stage. I leave the old one at home cause
its worth too much money.
RS: What got you started in playing Gretsch guitars?
SS: I went to a workshop in 1957 in Tampa, Florida where Chet Atkins
was showing the new Country Gentleman and the White Falcons off. So
Im a Gretsch fan from when I was 15, 16, 17...somewhere in there.
RS: Speaking of Strats, Hank Marvins name is mentioned on the
back of Buffalo Springfield Again album jacket.
SS: Well, I always liked him. He played real clean and simple
and melodic. Hank B. Marvin, hes just an influence. The Shadows
were a great band. Neil was big on it too, because being English of
course they sold a lot in Canada.
RS: I had a chance to rediscover some of your Columbia releases from
the 70s on a cool CD from Raven Records in Australia, Turnin
Back The Pages. Have you seen that?
SS: No I havent but those were good records and Im glad
they did that. Having something out there is really cool. (laughter)
Believe me, at this point. And I found a whole other, another record
of unreleased acoustic demos, going through my tapes of songs that
were turned into electric songs, or songs that nobodys heard.
So I may put that out, depending on how this one does.
RS: It would be great to do a box set on your solo stuff.
SS: Obviously, I have to. Ive got a lot of material to go through.
Its going to take a lot of work.
RS: Turnin Back The Pages is excellent. Just one great
song after the next. The song you did with Ringo, As I Come
Of Age is great.
SS: Well, thank you.
RS: Speaking of the Turnin Back The Pages, collection,
that CD also adds in a couple songs that feature your your guitar
playing on from the famous 68 Super Session album with
SS: That kind of happened by accident. Mike Bloomfield took off and
I think I was fourth or fifth on Al Koopers list of guitar players
that were close by. So we went up and we worked for a day and that
was the album and it turned out to be a big album. It was kind of
throwaway, but Mr. Fantasy was really good on that.
RS: Theres a famous Yes cover of your song Everydays.
SS: Did Yes do that? Oh, thats really nice. Ive never
RS: So when is your next album coming out?
SS: I dont know when its going to be. Im trying
to write some new songs. I kind of got beat up this summer but Im
starting to recover and Ill start to play guitar and listen
to some music and get my head back in it but mainly, I have a three
year old, hes pretty energetic! So I got my hands full.
RS: You said its great to play your solo stuff live cause
Crosby wasnt there and you can actually be funny and tell a
few jokes too.
SS: Well yeah, its like Crosby pretty much monopolizes that
when its the three of us, so it was nice to rediscover my ability
of actually developing new material. If you can believe that. (laughter)
But I really love doing that... I love making people laugh.
RS: Thanks for the interview Stephen.
SS: If I clear up those dates for you, Ill have somebody call
you back. But Im almost certain that those two events are separated
by more than that. So I gotta double check that to make sure we didnt
fuck up or that youve got the wrong year. (laughter) Okay? Ill
talk to you, bye bye.
Thanks to Stephen Stills @ www.stephenstills.com
and to Susan Stewart @ Jensen Communications