Stephen Stills’ consummate, innovative musicianship has established him as an eminent solo performer and as the cornerstone of the supergroup Crosby, Stills and Nash.
For four decades, Stephen Stills’ music has spanned generations and cultural borders, entertaining millions of listeners throughout the world. His unique guitar style and phrasing has garnered Stills a well deserved spot among the best players in the world.
Born in Dallas, Texas, Stills was reared in Illinois, Louisiana, Florida and Central America. Inspired by the first music heard in church, Stills began taking piano lessons as a youngster, later developing an interest in drums and guitar. High school was completed in the Republic of Panama and Costa Rica, where Stills’ musical roots were heavily influenced by Latin music.
After a short stint at the University of Florida, Stills decided a higher musical education was more in line with his interests, and began playing in a succession of bands throughout the state. One of the bands included the Continentals, featuring future Eagle Don Felder. Stills soon gravitated to New Orleans, playing the folk music circuit on Royal Street.
But it was in New York City where Stills began to define his musical style. A guitarist named Fred Neil became Stills’ musical mentor, introducing him to folk rock and to the versatility and full sound of the twelve-string guitar.
In Greenwich Village, Stills sang with a nine-member vocal group called The Au Go Go Singers, featuring Richie Furay.
While in Canada performing with an offshoot of The Au Go Go Singers called the Company, Stills shared the stage with Neil Young and The Squires. The two hit it off and agreed to work together, but by the time Stephen had everything set up, Neil Young couldn’t be found.
One day in 1966, Stills and Richie Furay were driving around Los Angeles when they spotted a hearse bearing Ontario plates. Behind the wheel was Neil Young, next to him bass player Bruce Palmer. With the addition of drummer Dewey Martin, Buffalo Springfield was born.
Stills and Young proved to be a fiery combination working with and off of each other’s distinct guitar styles.
Their self-titled album was released later that year with all tracks written by Stephen Stills or Neil Young. But it was Stills’ For What It’s Worth that captured the essence of a generation and became the anthem of the sixties.
Buffalo Springfield went on to record two more albums, Buffalo Springfield Again in 1967 and Buffalo Springfield: Last Time Around in 1968. The band’s music continues to find new audiences and a “best of” album, Retrospective, has sold over one million units. In 1973, the band released Buffalo Springfield, a 23-song compilation album.
As the sixties evolved, so did rock and roll. After Buffalo Springfield broke up, Stills began collaborating with David Crosby, who has recently been expelled from The Byrds. Graham Nash, disappointed with the creative direction his band, The Hollies, was eager to find a greater musical challenge.
The three first sang together on a summer day in Los Angeles in 1968. Nash joined in on two songs Crosby and Stills were working on, Helplessly Hoping and You Don’t Have to Cry. When Crosby heard Nash put on the third harmony, he said, “I thought I was gonna die. I thought my heart was gonna jump right through my mouth. It was about the rightest thing I ever heard.” The music of Crosby, Stills and Nash together was also “the rightest thing” the public heard. Their first album, Crosby Stills and Nash, sold over two million copies the first year. The popularity of the classic Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, has helped the 1969 album sell over four million albums to date.
Whether working with or without David Crosby and Graham Nash, Stephen Stills continued to find musical success wherever he turned his attention. His 1969 collaboration with Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper, Super Session, sold over one million units.
Later that same year Neil Young joined Crosby, Stills and Nash to perform their first live show. Not long after, in only their second live performance, CSN & Y appeared before 400,000 people at the Woodstock Music Festival in upstate New York.
In 1970, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young released the Deja Vu LP. The recording was voted album of the year by Billboard Magazine. 4 Way Street, a live, double album capturing several 1970 concerts was released a year later.
Although CSN & Y drifted apart during the early seventies, the band continued to record in different combinations as well as individually. During his many sabbaticals away from CSN, Stephen Stills’ work as a guitarist and solo performer independently forged his place in rock and roll history as one of its most innovative and successful artists.
His first solo album, Stephen Stills, featured such superstars as Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Ringo Starr. Love the One You’re With sold millions of singles and the album itself went platinum.
Gathering momentum, Stills’ second solo effort was Stephen Stills 2. The 1971 release contained the classics Change Partners and Know You’ve Got to Run. His first national tour featuring the Memphis Horns was a critical and commercial success.
When Stills returned to the studio he was joined by Chris Hillman of The Flying Burrito Brothers and pedal steel guitarist, Al Perkins. The result of their collaboration, Manassas, is arguably some of Stills’ finest work away from CSN & Y. In March, 1972, the first performance of Manassas was televised inter-nationally from Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw. A tour of Europe, Australia and the U.S. followed, with the group returning to the studio in 1973 to record their last album together, Down the Road.
When Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young reunited in 1974 it became one of rock music’s most successful tours. Playing to SRO stadium audiences throughout the U.S. and Europe, the tour culminated in a sold-out performance at London’s Wembley Stadium.
During that time, So Far was released. The album featured a compilation of CSN & Y hits and immediately shot to number one on the charts. As of 1995, So Far has sold over six million units. Stills returned to the studio again in 1976 to record his third solo release, Stills. The album launched the hit single, Turn Back the Pages, a major summer tour and a surprised reunion with Neil Young during a Stills’ performance at UCLA.
The two continued their reunion in the recording studio and the result was the Gold album, Long May You Run. Stills and Young followed the album’s release with a summer tour in 1976.
After completing concert dates with Young, Stills embarked upon a solo acoustic tour, the first of his career. His fourth solo album, Illegal Stills, was released toward the end of 1976.
In 1977, Stills rejoined David Crosby and Graham Nash in a Los Angeles studio, seven years after recording 4 Way Street. The result was well worth the wait. CSN went multi-platinum , yielding three hit singles: Just A Song Before I Go, Fair Game and Dark Star. The band toured intermittently throughout 1977 and 1978, with Stills finding time to return to the studio to record his fifth solo album, Thoroughfare Gap.
In 1979, Stills found himself with a rare opportunity to share his passion for Latin music with a country that had barred American citizens for over twenty years. The Cuban government invited him to perform in the first Cuban-American music festival since Fidel Castro came to power. Stephen Stills received a wildly enthusiastic reception at the Havana Jazz/Rock Festival held at the Karl Marx Theatre on March 4, 1979. It was there that Stills debuted “Cuba Al Fin” (Cuba at Last), a song written especially for the visit.
Inspired by the festival and the talent of the musicians, Stills returned to the U.S. with the top Cuban jazz/rock band, Irakere, as the opening act for his East Coast Tour. In 1980, Stills followed up with his major California Blues Band tour of the U.S. and Europe.
In 1982, the paths of Crosby, Stills and Nash crossed again. This time the magical combination produced Daylight Again. The album soared over the three million mark. Armed with the smash single, Southern Cross, CSN took to the road again with a tour so successful that a second leg had to be added to accommodate the overwhelming demand. The tour spilled into 1983 and resulted in another top selling album, Allies. The live recording featured Stills’ critically acclaimed and chart-topping single, War Games.
After recording his sixth solo album, Right by You, in 1984 with Manassas partner Chris Hillman and Led Zeppelin’s legendary Jimmy Page, Stills continued to perform live with Crosby and Nash. The band’s increasing popularity culminated into two of the most successful tours of their careers.
Firmly established as a brilliant solo performer, and a vigilant supporter of the environment, free speech and human rights, Stephen Stills continued to grow both as a musician and as an activist for social and political change.
In 1984, he turned his attention to film and television scoring, writing two songs for the CBS-TV series Twilight Zone and the theme for Tri-Star pictures film Amazing Grace and Chuck along with Graham Nash and David Crosby.
Through the mid-‘80s and into the ‘90s, Stills continued to lend his support to countless benefits. Along with Crosby and Nash, he performed at the Live Aid benefit in 1985, the Welcome Home concert for Vietnam Veterans at RFK Stadium and the Hungerthon for UNICEF and Children of the Americas. The band even appeared at the dismantling of the Berlin Wall to celebrate the liberation of those living behind the Iron Curtain.
In 1988, the combined talents of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Graham Nash and David Crosby produced yet another musical gem. American Dream, quickly went platinum, featuring two more hit singles, American Dream and the Stills-penned Got it Made.
After touring acoustic for most of 1988 as a trio, CSN ventured into the studio once again, releasing the highly successful LP, Live It Up in June 1990. A massive US/World tour took the band on a two-year odyssey through Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Europe.
The nineties have taken Stephen Stills to a new level. As one of rock music’s statesmen, Stills’ stature in the political arena is widely respected. His work as a songwriter, guitarist and a performer has never been better.
In 1991 alone, Stills toured with CSN, launched an eight-week solo tour, appeared on David Letterman’s Late Night with Crosby and Nash, and on a special segment of Late Night with Bob Costas. Somewhere in between, Stills raced offshore power boats as a navigator in the “Spirit of the Amazon” Competition. His team won.
He also found time to perform benefits on behalf of Florida Governor Lawton Chiles, record and produce a solo acoustic effort, Stills Alone, on his newly formed Gold Hill Records and together with Crosby and Nash, recorded the John Sebastian song, Where Have You Been? for the Nintendo “sampler” CD to benefit the Bobby Brooks Foundation.
Crosby, Stills and Nash also released a 77-song historical compilation boxed set in 1991, titled CSN. The Box set was certified Gold soon after it was shipped. Later that year Stills appeared with David Crosby and Graham Nash at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco for the PBS television special, “Crosby, Stills and Nash, the Acoustic Concert”.
In 1992, Stills performed over 60 dates throughout the U.S. in support of the Box Set, including numerous benefit performances on behalf of President Clinton. After hurricanes devastated parts of Florida and Hawaii, Stills organized a benefit with Gloria Estefan to raise money for the Miami hurricane relief fund, appearing at the concert with Crosby and Nash. He then performed three concerts in Hawaii to support the relief fund for the survivors of Hurricane Iniki.
In response to increasing racial tensions in Los Angeles, Stills performed a new song entitled, It Won’t Go Away on a special segment of the Arsenio Hall Show. He also toured Europe twice with CSN to sold-out audiences in England, France, Italy and Germany.
Earlier in 1993, Stills was asked by the Presidential Inaugural Committee to perform at not one, but four, Democratic events including the Inaugural Opening Ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial; the Official Arkansas “Blue Jean Bash” with Bob Dylan, Dickie Betts, Don Johnson and the Band; the CBS Presidential Gala with Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Greg Philinganes and Nathan East; and the Democratic Presidential Finance Dinner Event.
Crosby, Stills and Nash combined forces once again in Crested Butte, Colorado, to benefit former President Jimmy Carter’s Atlanta Project and Cities in Schools, and performed to a sold-out crowd of the country’s top corporate executives. Stills also performed a special tribute to the legendary rock promoter Bill Graham on the worldwide broadcast of the American Music Awards.
To fill out his schedule of touring events in 1993, Stephen co-headlined a national summer tour of Amphitheaters in support of his acoustic album, Stills Alone.
Crosby, Stills and Nash celebrated their 25th anniversary in 1994 by performing over 60 dates during a summer tour, including headlining the Second Woodstock Music Festival and also released After The Storm, an album of new material, on Atlantic Records. This critically acclaimed tour found Stills playing some of the best guitar of his career.
Additionally, CSN was also asked to appear at the White House for President Clinton’s birthday, and performed for the President and his staff on the White House lawn.
In 1995, Stills performed a duet with Luther Vandross of Love the One You’re With on the 1995 Grammy Awards telecast and appeared with Gary Wright on The Tonight Show. He also organized and headlined a benefit concert to establish an educational fund for the orphans of the Oklahoma City bombing. “We came out of the sixties with a few really wonderful ideas, and one of them was the sense of community,” Stills explains. “I mean, for all that trash that came out of that era as well, the beauty that we came away with was this sense of community. And that just doesn’t permit us to lay back and be uninvolved.”
In early 1996 Stephen composed lyrics and music for the highly acclaimed family series Second Noah for ABC Television. Stephen also completed a 70-city summer tour with Crosby, Stills and Nash.
In May of 1997, Stephen Stills joined fellow guitar player alumni, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, in the prestigious Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The date also marked the first time that an artist was inducted into the Hall of Fame twice in one night; as a member of Buffalo Springfield and also with Crosby, Stills and Nash. Stills is the only Inductee to receive such an honor. In addition to an entire summer of touring with Crosby and Nash, including a six-date, sold-out run at the historic Fillmore Ballroom in San Francisco, Stephen recently completed a theme project for the Animal Planet Network that will air during 1998.
In 1999 Stills teamed with bandmates Neil Young, Graham Nash and David Crosby to record the critically acclaimed album, Looking Forward. The band then set out on the road in 2000 to perform a sold out tour of the U.S. playing to over 600,000 fans which was one of the highest grossing tours of the year.
April of 2001 saw the release of the much anticipated Buffalo Springfield boxed set on Rhino Records, one of the fastest sellers to date for the label.
Count on Stephen Stills to continue to record and perform his music. Count on him to continue to be socially and politically active. You can bet that Stephen Stills will remain involved, and that his best work is still ahead of him.