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conducted by Robert Silverstein for 
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TURN BACK THE PAGES
an interview with

STEPHEN STILLS


 

 

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Turn 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 at the 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, 1968—the 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 sessions—possibly just a few weeks or a couple months off—doesn’t 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 America’s greatest living rock poets and guitarists. It’s 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 expletive’s 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 Coliseum.

SS: Nassau Coliseum? My god, that was aeons ago.

RS: You’re in L.A. right now?

SS: Yes.

TCG: Are you on the road right now?

SS: I did fifty shows for the summer and I’m pretty much...that’s 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 Gleason’s 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! That’s 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, there’s a picture of me playing behind my back! (laughter) And I also forgot that I’d played drums for one song while, Dewey sang. I’d forgotten that.

RS: Who did you say had tried to talk Neil into quitting the Springfield? I just didn’t get that.

SS: Mike Love! Because Mike Love and Neil, both being Scorpios, became inseparable on that tour. And it wasn’t 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 26, 1968.

SS: That’s what it said on the tape box...when was the Miami show?

RS: I’m pretty sure it was April 14, 1968. Is that possible that it was only less than two weeks after the show?

SS: I don’t know, I might be wrong on the date. That’s when I thought it was. Geezy! I thought that Beach Boys was the year earlier. Now you’ve 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 doesn’t 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, it’s possible...you saw the Buffalo...was it with The Beach Boys, in Miami? Fuck, you’ve got me at a disadvantage. I’ve either got the month wrong or the year wrong. And you’re sure it was ‘68, not ‘67?

RS: Yeah.

SS: That doesn’t sound right! Does not sound right. I’ll 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 wasn’t 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! You’ve completely fuckin’ thrown me a loop.

RS: Sorry bout that (chief!)...

SS: I haven’t 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 weren’t right for the group.

RS: I’m really glad they were able to get that out there.

SS: Well, my voice is certainly different now. It’s 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 you’ve got planned.

SS: Yeah, I’m 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 don’t want to repeat myself, but at the same time I’ve got a lot and I don’t 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 it’s 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, it’s out there somewhere. And there’s nothing like it because someone put the D-45 headstock on it, you know the way that’s it written? On a D-28, so it’s very unique. So, if anybody spots it, someone stole that out of my cabinet in Colorado in the ‘70s!

RS: Man oh man, that’s a bummer.

SS: Oh, that’s not the least of it! The guitars that have grown legs out of my collection include an original D’Angelico and not one, but two rosewood J-200’s, 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! That’s where to go steal some great guitars.’ I won’t let anybody take pictures of my guitars anymore, haven’t since really...

RS: Speaking of the Martin guitars, what kind of input did you have on your CF Martin  OOO45S Stephen Stills Limited Edition Acoustic Guitar?

SS: They didn’t know what hit ‘em! ‘Cause I used to work at a guitar shop and I’m 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 everything’s the same except we have the fake stuff instead of elephant, instead of ivory. It’s fake ivory. And it actually works just as good, they really did a good job. It’s not an organic material, like an elephant, but then we’re running out of elephants. There’s 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 not to.

RS: So you only play your signature Martin now?

SS: No, I don’t take the old ones on the road, because the security is too hard. I don’t 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 don’t know? It basically was kind of an accident. So what? (laughter) I’ve 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, he’s a great drummer.

SS: Joe’s 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, Joe’s invaluable. We have a lot of fun.

RS: How about Russ Kunkel, another famous drummer, he’s played with everybody...

SS: Russell was the way to make sure, let’s 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, “Ain’t It Always,” it’s a great song to start...if you have to take the kids or you have to start driving the car. It’ll 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 it’s one of the best I ever done on record.

RS: How come you didn’t print the lyrics with the record?

SS: Because they’re 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 CD’s 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!

SS: No.

RS: Because Rhino is more in sync with your past releases on Atco Atlantic...

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, that’s an indication that who ever distributes, i.e. Universal, i.e. Alan Jacobi, doesn’t know what the fuck they’re doing. You couldn’t 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, that’s why. ‘Cause they wouldn’t let that happen, because they have a couple of people with a couple of brains in the outfit that say, ‘oh, they’re 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. It’s A plus B equals C. It’s 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: He’s 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: There’s 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. That’s the real thing. It might have been the ‘54. I’ve 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 Martin’s. But mostly on the electric, it’s 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 Falcon guitar?

SS: I play that on stage. I leave the old one at home ‘cause it’s 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 I’m a Gretsch fan from when I was 15, 16, 17...somewhere in there.

RS: Speaking of Strats, Hank Marvin’s 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, he’s 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 haven’t but those were good records and I’m 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 nobody’s 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. I’ve got a lot of material to go through. It’s 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 Al Kooper.

SS: That kind of happened by accident. Mike Bloomfield took off and I think I was fourth or fifth on Al Kooper’s 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: There’s a famous Yes cover of your song “Everydays”.

SS: Did Yes do that? Oh, that’s really nice. I’ve never heard it.

RS: So when is your next album coming out?

SS: I don’t know when it’s going to be. I’m trying to write some new songs. I kind of got beat up this summer but I’m starting to recover and I’ll start to play guitar and listen to some music and get my head back in it but mainly, I have a three year old, he’s pretty energetic! So I got my hands full.

RS: You said it’s great to play your solo stuff live ‘cause Crosby wasn’t there and you can actually be funny and tell a few jokes too.

SS: Well yeah, it’s like Crosby pretty much monopolizes that when it’s 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, I’ll have somebody call you back. But I’m almost certain that those two events are separated by more than that. So I gotta double check that to make sure we didn’t fuck up or that you’ve got the wrong year. (laughter) Okay? I’ll talk to you, bye bye.

Thanks to Stephen Stills @ www.stephenstills.com and to Susan Stewart @ Jensen Communications










 
 
 
 
 

 

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