By Dean Goodman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – With his caustic demeanor and
diverse musical influences, Stephen Stills helped elevate
Crosby, Stills & Nash beyond a mere hippie folk trio.
The man behind such tunes as “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” and
“Love the One You’re With” started working with David Crosby
and Graham Nash more than 35 years ago, and they still bring
their close harmonies to the world’s stages.
At 60, Stills says he loses 10 years when he walks out to
perform, but the touring is “awful.”
“If it wasn’t for the audience, it wouldn’t be worth doing
at all,” he said during a recent interview at a radio studio.
“You can be in a $2 million bus, but after three days it’s a
Welcome to the difficult world of Stephen Stills, who has
been described as “a tormented artist” and “his own worst
enemy” by Neil Young, his longtime friend, frequent
collaborator and occasional rival.
But with his first solo album in 14 years to promote,
Stills is on his best behavior and even apologizes for a cold
that has exacerbated the deafness in his left ear.
“I wish I felt better because we could joust a little
better, the verbal swordplay,” he said with a genial cackle.
He also effortlessly disarms any potential antagonists by
noting that his 10-month-old son, Oliver, just took his first
step earlier that day. How could anyone be so heartless as to
give the proud papa a hard time?
Stills’ album, “Man Alive!” (Pyramid Records/Universal), a
typically eclectic effort that features collaborations with
Young, Nash and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock, has been in the
works for more than a decade. Songs destined for the album were
often diverted to Crosby, Stills & Nash projects until Stills
put his foot down. Far from having any lofty goals with the
album, his aim was simply to “finish it,” he joked.
The new, improved Stills is detailed on “Different Man,” a
traditional track with fresh lyrics in which he reveals, “I got
young, though I’m older now/Fear and anger have no power over
me.” Young contributes guitar and harmony vocals.
Stills credits his third wife, Kristen, the mother of two
of his seven children, with tempering his anger.
“I just don’t have the energy for it anymore,” he says.
“You look at a picture of us back then, and I know that guy —
he’s certainly more attractive — but it’s like I don’t know
that guy. We’re larger and wiser people now.”
He even gets misty-eyed and nostalgic on his other
collaboration with Young, “‘Round the Bend,” which recalls
their time together in Buffalo Springfield, the pioneering
country-rock group they co-founded in 1966.
The partnership between Stills and Young is one of rock
music’s classic love-hate stories. Stills wrote Buffalo
Springfield’s biggest hit, the protest anthem “For What It’s
Worth,” but his fight for control with Young tore the band
apart by 1968.
Stills joined forces the next year with Crosby and Nash,
refugees from the Byrds and the Hollies, respectively. They
achieved instant success with their self-titled debut album,
which has sold more than 4 million copies to date, and became
one of the biggest touring acts of the 1970s.
Young recorded and toured with the lineup from time to
time, though the collaborations were fraught with tension. He
and Stills also tempted fate by working together, and their
relationship hit a low point in 1976 when Young abandoned him
midway through a tour.
But the old men cannot bear a grudge: Stills and Young are
like brothers these days, and Stills marvels at his partner’s
“He writes songs and has to pull over on the side of the
road. I haven’t been able to do that in years.”
Maybe Stills is being modest. “Man Alive!” kicks off with
“Ain’t It Always,” a rocker that dates back to a session from
the 1990s. Stills dusted off the track, wrote some new lyrics,
played tennis for an hour, and then sang it in one take.
Perhaps the biggest shock is not his songwriting prowess,
but the fact that the roly-poly rocker engages in physical
“Although you wouldn’t know it to look at me. I haven’t
played (tennis) in a while,” he says, allowing only that he
weighs more than 200 pounds (91 kg), and has to watch his blood
Stills the activist surfaces on “Feed the People,” which
has its origins in an unfinished song that he wrote years ago
for his friend Jimmy Carter, “the last honest president of the
United States.” He completed it last year as calls were growing
for debt relief for African nations.
Stills has a long history of political and social
involvement but has no wish to compete for the spotlight with
U2’s Bono. “I don’t have the glasses, and I can actually play
the guitar,” he says.
(LEISURE-STILLS; Editing by Cynthia Osterman; Los Angeles