Posts Tagged ‘Stephen Stills’

(As noted in my first Essentials entry, this is an occasional series in which I spotlight albums that, in my estimation, everyone should experience at least once.)

Most fans know – or should know – the story behind Crosby, Stills & Nash’s Daylight Again album, which was released on June 21, 1982: It began life in 1980 as a collaboration between Stephen Stills and Graham Nash. The two had performed together at a political benefit in Hawaii and enjoyed themselves so much that they decided to try their luck as a duo.

At about the same time, erstwhile comrade David Crosby was recording his own album; but Capitol Records, his label home, was underwhelmed by what he turned in. According to Dave Zimmer’s Crosby, Stills & Nash: The Biography, the album included wordless jams and – in the label’s estimation – no marketable single. Crosby says that “[t]hey didn’t like it. They felt it wasn’t rock ’n’ roll enough, wasn’t like Devo or Elvis Costello.”

Stills and Nash’s project was rejected by Atlantic Records, too, though for different reasons. Although the songs were strong, and vocalists Timothy B. Schmidt (of Poco and the Eagles) and Art Garfunkel had helped round out the vocal sound, the label feared few fans would buy a Stills-Nash LP. In the Zimmer bio, Nash explains that Atlantic “wanted a Crosby, Stills & Nash album. They knew that as a combination, CSN would sell more than anything me and Stephen might have together.” And “sell” is something Stills and Nash needed the album to do: They had funded the project themselves and were some $400,000 in the hole. 

Nash also says that, as he thought it through, the more he agreed with Atlantic: “I started to miss [Crosby]. I missed his vocal quality. I missed his unique musical contributions. And I missed David as a person.”

Once Crosby came on board, the project turned into something of a jigsaw puzzle, with the threesome figuring out how to fit Crosby into a nearly complete picture. In some instances, such as “Southern Cross” and the title cut, the decision was made to leave him off. The songs were perfect as-is.

The genesis of “Southern Cross” is interesting. Stills’ manager played him a never-released song by the Curtis Brothers called “Seven League Boots”; he liked what he heard, but thought it could be better. He reached out, received permission to tinker with it, and before long a truly wondrous song was born. (For more on that, read this entry on the Disc Makers blog.)

In addition to figuring out where to fit Crosby’s harmonies, the re-formed trio had to decide which of Crosby’s solo tracks would work on “the album that wouldn’t die,” as some of those involved called it. The ethereal “Delta” was an obvious choice; Stills and Nash added some harmonies, but with or without their contributions the song was and is a stunning musical epiphany. 

Nash, too, has his moments, most notably on “Wasted on the Way,” in which he laments the time he and his pals had wasted through the years. The genius of the song, however, is that the lyrics apply to you and me, too. Everyone, at some point in their life’s journey, looks back with regret about missing out on something.

Anyway, although the album was released in 1982, I didn’t discover it until January 6th, 1984. (I can say so with certainty thanks to my desktop calendar.) In my Essentials piece on the Pretenders’ Learning to Crawl (which I bought 11 days later), I mentioned that much of the music entering my collection in late 1983 and early 1984, when I was an 18-year-old college freshman living the commuter-college life, stemmed from previous generations. The albums included a slew of Neil Young releases, including Times Fades Away, American Stars ’n’ Bars and Comes a Time, as well as Deja Vu, the album he released in 1970 with Crosby, Stills & Nash.

I’d love to say Deja Vu , which I acquired in November, immediately won me over. It didn’t.

Mind you, I owned the Woodstock album and – if memory serves – had watched the concert documentary a time or two on Prism, a premium cable channel native to the Philadelphia area. I liked and loved a fair bit of ‘60s music, and often joked that I’d come of age in the wrong decade. Overall, however, rock critic Dave Marsh’s brutal assessment of CSN in the 1983 Rolling Stone Record Guide was enough for me: “Limpid ‘adult bubblegum’ rockers.” Or, as Neil himself called them in “Thrasher” on his classic Rust Never Sleeps, “dead weight.”

I should back up, just for a moment: Living the commuter-college life sans a car, which wouldn’t come for a few more months, wasn’t easy. One bus from Hatboro to the mall in Willow Grove. A second bus to Abington. And then a 10-minute hike to campus. Such was my life. I slipped the headphones of my Walkman clone over my ears, and lost myself in music. The return home, however, was much easier: Any of several friends usually gave me a lift.

It was during just such a journey home one December day – just a few weeks after buying Deja Vu – that the melody of “Southern Cross” slinked from the tinny car’s speakers like a purring Persian cat and wrapping its paws – claws kneading – around my heart. The song’s chorus, an unabashed cry of an unfulfilled romantic, appealed to me, too. That same week, I picked up the live Allies album – by mistake. And while the bulk of it was so-so, the two studio tracks, “War Games” and “Raise a Voice,” were quite good. A week later I came home with Daylight Again; and by the time I left the commuter-college life for the Penn State mothership in the fall of ’85, it had become one of my favorite albums.

In the decades since, I’ve come to hear it as a solid – but not spectacular – album that possesses glimmers of greatness, notably “Delta” and “Southern Cross.” Stills pretty much dominates the proceedings (six of the 11 tracks are his), with the bluesy opener “Turn Your Back on Love” and one-two punch of “Since I Met You” and “Too Much Love to Hide” being additional highlights.

I should add that the album didn’t receive stellar reviews at the time or at any time in the years since, really, aside from some fans. Rolling Stone’s Stephen Holden, for example, wrote that “[t]heir voices, drifting on little watercolored islands toward a misty shore of meaninglessness, evoke a kind of perfection. For the blend is more powerful than any tune it attempts or any lyric it essays. The blend simply floats….”

From where I sit, the main drawback is this: It’s less a CSN album and more a Stills, Nash and Friends set.

The track listing:

As I write, Diane and I are at a foldable table in the dining area of our new, and still empty, apartment in North Carolina. She’s sitting in a $20 chair we picked up at Wal-Mart. I’m in an armless chair lent to us by the apartment complex’s overseers. Our belongings, meanwhile, are stuck on a trailer somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.

We wanted a delivery date of the 27th or 28th. Our plan was to spend Christmas with family, then drive down on the 26th or 27th, spend a night in a hotel, and unpack over the long holiday weekend. When we met with the moving company’s rep in early December, however, he said no. He insisted that delivery be on December 24th. “That way my people can be home for Christmas,” he explained.

We ultimately agreed to his timetable.

He reinforced the 24th when he checked in with Diane later in the month. She said to him, in the presence of a friend, that the most important thing was the Monday delivery; he agreed, and promised that our stuff would be here. The contract that he then sent over, and that Diane signed, gave a window of the 24th to 31st, but his insistence on the 24th…well, we take people at their word. If I’d seen that stretch of days on the contract, I would’ve assumed it was a CYA move to cover for a snowstorm.

And, in fact, his people were indeed home for Christmas. We, on the other hand, footed an over-priced bill for a buffet-style dinner at a restaurant, returned to an empty apartment, and raged against the rep, who avoided our calls and only apologized, via email, for what he dubbed “a miscommunication.” Diane even emailed the company president, who replied to say that he talked to the rep, and we should expect to hear from him soon. Two days later and…

Yeah, you guessed it. He’s a punk. Our stuff won’t be here until the 30th.

That’s all to say: It’s been a bad week. A bad month. A bad year.  Yet, as always, hope is to be had. The development we’ve landed in seems great, thus far. Good restaurants are nearby, as are a nice (if overpriced) market, and even a coffee shop, which I stopped in this morning. We’ve had to purchase a few things we shipped to ourselves, obviously, but we’ve also bought items we would’ve needed to get, anyway. Tyler the Cat is doing exceptionally well; the wide open spaces within the apartment are, to him, reasons to frolic. And, after a test run, my commute to work seems less onerous – if more convoluted – than my old one. (I’ll know for sure next week, when I head into the office for real.) 

And, with that, here’s today’s Top 5: Hope, Luck & Perseverance…

1) Wings – “With a Little Luck.” 

2) Rumer – “Here Comes the Sun.” 

3) Stephen Stills – “Thoroughfare Gap.”

4) Linda Ronstadt with James Taylor – “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine.”

5) Stone Foundation with Paul Weller – “Your Balloon Is Rising.”

And two bonus tracks…

6) Harriet – “You Get What You Give.”

7) Bruce Springsteen – “The Promised Land.”

Who doesn’t want to review records?

Growing up, I certainly did. I devoured Rolling Stone, Record, Creem, Musician and other music periodicals less for the articles and more for the reviews, which I usually read first. Due to the lag between a record’s release and the review, on occasion I already owned an LP (or cassette) before I read the critic’s take. One thing that fascinated me: Why I sometimes liked something the reviewer didn’t. Another thing that fascinated me: the reverse. 

The former irked me, the latter made me feel smug. But neither changed my opinion on the necessity of reviews. I was always on the lookout for something new (or new-to-me), and the magazines covered things that never made the playlists of my local radio stations, MTV or VH1. As a result, I often bought things based on a review, with new releases discovered via the magazines and catalog items from the Dave Marsh-edited Rolling Stone Record Guide. Few were four- or five-star reviews.

Over time, I came to recognize the names of said reviewers. Some found folk sanctimonious and others thought prog-rock priggish, and even more treated pop like a dirty word. (I generally subscribe to the second myself.) But the only bad reviews were those that didn’t delve beyond the rudimentary yea or nay to explain or defend the assessment, and also didn’t detail the artist’s journey. Everyone has their own criteria for what is and isn’t good music, after all, and it’s easy to be dismissive of what one dislikes. (I’ve been that in the past, though not often in these pages.) Some fans want technical precision. Others seek emotional resonance, a melody they can hum along to, and/or lyrics that shed light on the human condition. And yet others are happy with just about anything that has a good beat that they can dance to…

As I’ve matured, I’ve come to the realization that there is no right or wrong. Not really. There’s preference and personal peccadilloes – aka so-called “guilty pleasures.” That’s about it.

Anyway, I still lean on reviews – both online and in print. Whenever my wife and I visit a B&N, I pick up the British music magazines Uncut and Mojo, buy a high-octane coffee drink in the cafe, and read the reviews of the new releases and archival reissues. What I look for is tailor-made to my tastes: Is it dreamy, upbeat, reflective, melody-centric, reminiscent of the Beatles, Byrds, Flying Burrito Brothers or the Velvet Underground? Joni, Linda or Neil?

Unlike yesteryear, of course, it doesn’t cost me more than my Apple Music subscription to check out whatever I’ve just read about. (Though, since I rarely use headphones, I have to wait ’til we’re in the car going home.) That happened last week with Melody’s Echo Chamber’s latest release, Bon Voyage. It’s the brainchild of Melody Prochet, who’s akin to a French Hope Sandoval with an airier vibe.

(Sometimes, of course, I stumble upon cool artists through other means – Erin O’Dowd, who I discovered on Kickstarter, springs to mind. Nichole Wagner, who I found via a Nanci Griffith fan group on Facebook, is another. Both are worth checking out.)

All of which leads to this, one of my first reviews to make it to print – on September 18, 1984, in the Ogontz Campus News, the newspaper for what’s now known as Penn State Abington. I doubt if anyone beyond the newspaper staff and contributors read it. (And I was just a contributor; I’d pop into the office, find the editor of the entertainment section, and turn something in. On spec. Sometimes it made it into the paper; sometimes not.) Reading it now makes me laugh and cringe at the same time – but it was the first step in the journey to me launching the original Old Grey Cat website and, then, this blog. (I post-corrected a few glaring errors that slipped through the newspaper’s crack proofreading squad…)

While digging through my digital archives, I came across this 1997 email interview I conducted, for my old website, with Canadian rock music historian John Einarson, author of such respected tomes as Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied, Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, and Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, about his then-current There’s Something Happening: The Story of the Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth.

It was, and remains, the best book on that influential band.

**********

To my way of thinking, despite recent acclaim and their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Springfield remain one of the most overlooked and under appreciated bands that the 1960s produced. That’s an arguable fact, I’ll grant you. After all, “For What It’s Worth” is the song de rigueur used in movies to echo the mood of the ’60s … yet, blank stares still grace too many faces whenever the band is mentioned. “Buffalo who?”

Hell, the day of the Springfield’s entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I listened in horror as a disc jockey at a local, respected music station reported the news and then went on to describe the band’s lineup as including “Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and David Crosby.” Excuse me? Crosby!? Yeah, he did hang out with Stephen Stills; he’s said to have come up the guitar lick Stills based “Rock & Roll Woman” on. He sat in with them at Monterey Pop, joined them at a couple other gigs. But a member of the band?

You’ve gotta be kidding me.

The David Crosby “saga,” such as it is, receives its rightful mention in John Einarson and Richie Furay’s book, There’s Something Happening: The Story of the Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth, with colorful quotes from Bruce Palmer (“Crosby stunk to high heaven”) and fill-in guitarist Doug Hastings. The same can be said for every other important event in the band’s lifespan and beyond, including an ill-fated “reunion” in 1988 that Neil Young skipped at the last minute. Einarson does a deft job of documenting these moments, interspersing a crisp narrative with first-hand observations from some, if not all, of the participants.

Aside from delving into the inner-group dynamics that drove (and ultimately broke up) the band, the book is thankfully respectful of private lives. This is no tell-all/groupie-laden chronicle, in other words, but a serious examination of the Springfield’s career. That’s not to say you don’t get clear pictures of the principles. Stills, for example, comes across confident and cocky, a young man sure of himself and his talents. He strove not only to write and sing the songs, but play lead guitar, too. In short, he saw the band as his. Neil Young, on the other hand, didn’t just doubt his role in the Springfield; he doubted the group itself. That he skipped out on the eve of their biggest break – an appearance on The Tonight Show – says it all. He possessed (still does) a distinct vision of what rock music should and shouldn’t be. And in the shadows of those two opposites stood the good-natured Richie Furay, not necessarily content with his role but accepting of it all the same.

OGC: What led you to write a book about the Buffalo Springfield?

John Einarson: The idea to do a Springfield book stemmed from several factors, really: the subject seemed logical given that I covered Neil’s career up to that point in a previous book [Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied]; I have always had a great appreciation and fascination with the Springfield’s music and troubled history; and because there is a strong Canadian connection and all my previous books tend to have that thread through them. But besides that, I’ve always been a Springfield fan. I’m probably dating myself here but I first got into the Buffalo Springfield in late 1966/early 1967 when I first heard their debut album on the radio here in Winnipeg. Neil was home for Christmas and he brought a copy with him and a local deejay played it (actually Neil only lived up the block and one street over from me). I was fascinated with the Springfield sound because I was into folk rock and I found their style unique from the Byrds and other folk-based groups at the time. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” ranks as my personal all-time favorite song.

OGC: What role did Richie Furay play in the book’s creation?

Einarson: Richie was my main source on the group. I found him extremely open, receptive and eager to get the Springfield story documented accurately and completely. The group holds a very special place in his heart and he didn’t want a toss-off book. I spent four days with him in Boulder, Colorado in intense interviews, plus several lengthy follow-ups by phone. Throughout the entire research and writing process, Richie was directly involved and approved the final manuscript. Given his participation, the book becomes the authentic, authorized story of the Springfield. Richie and I first hooked up back in 1992 at Neil Young’s suggestion when I was researching Don’t Be Denied. When I decided to pursue a Springfield book, I first contacted him because I viewed his participation as pivotal to the book’s development. We renewed our friendship and took it from there. He is a man of integrity who had no particular agenda or axe to grind. He tells it like it was. And you couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Richie. He also provided me with contacts to interview other people associated with the group and loaned his scrapbooks and rare collection of photos which appear throughout the book.

OGC: While doing your research, did you discover anything that surprised you?

Einarson: TONS!! Where to begin? It’s all in the book I guess. When I undertake a project, whether an article or a book, I immerse myself in research in order to be well-prepared for interviews, Actually Richie was knocked out at my detailed knowledge and chronology. However, given that I had a more than casual knowledge of the group’s checkered history I was still overwhelmed with the volume of new information I discovered. For example, Neil’s epilepsy was a far greater issue than ever assumed and affected the band several times (even being the catalyst for “Mr. Soul”). I never envisioned the enormity of the Stills-Young rivalry. The attempt to oust Dewey for Skip Spence. The influence of two Moby Grape songs on “For What It’s Worth.” The whole Au Go Go Singers and Company story. The sheer volume of songs recorded yet left unreleased (and still languishing in vaults unheard). The problems putting Last Time Around together. That the group considered going on as a 4 piece on two occasions. Neil’s self-indulgence and lack of commitment. Bruce’s many drug busts. The fact that their bass position was far more in flux than I realized. The fact that the group had decided to break up long before their May, 1968 swansong. The ineptitude of their managers…. and on and on. It was quite a revelation, albeit pleasant.

OGC: Were you able to interview all of the principles? What were they like?

Einarson: I interviewed just about everyone in or associated with the group plus key contemporaries at that time. As well, I interviewed people associated with several members’ previous groups like the Au Go Go Singers, and Squires. I had interviewed Neil Young a few years back while researching Don’t Be Denied and we had talked about the Springfield so I had that already, a lot I hadn’t used in that book. Stephen Stills was a different story though. He refused to cooperate. Richie, who collaborated with me, was disappointed that Stephen refused all entreaties to cooperate even after he personally attempted to break through. It seems Stephen doesn’t share the same regard for the past as some others do and I was informed that he was planning his own book down the road sometime. But by collaborating with Richie, it gives the book a unique perspective because he was the man in the middle between these two creative yet often combative factions, Stephen and Neil. His insights into their personalities are quite revealing. I did manage to interview several dozen key people such as Dickie Davis, Dewey Martin, Doug Hastings, Bruce Palmer, Miles Thomas, Rusty Young, Chris Hillman and notorious manager Charlie Greene.

OGC: Don’t Be Denied covers Neil’s early years. For What It’s Worth picks up with the Springfield. Do you have plans to document the next “chapter(s)” in Neil’s career

Einarson: No, I’ll leave that to others more knowledgeable about his later period. My expertise is in the early years and every book written on Neil Young since Don’t Be Denied was published has borrowed from my research and acknowledged my work. That’s where my interest lies. I’m currently collaborating on a European CSNY book that will cover each of the four members from the earliest years up to today. Several writers are involved and I’m doing Young and Stills’ early period up to the end of the Springfield.

OGC: Are you a fan of Neil’s post-Springfield work? Stephen’s? Richie’s?

Einarson: I like some things from each of them. I liked Neil’s work through to the end of the 70s but sort of lost interest since 1990, the godfather of grunge period. I loved Richie with Poco and the Souther Hillman Furay Band. I still think he has one of the best country-rock voices around and hope he gets back to performing. I guess out of the three I followed Stephen’s solo career less, though I love Crosby, Stills & Nash, still do. That debut album was phenomenal.

OGC: The portion of For What It’s Worth that dealt with the possibility of David Crosby’s joining the band fascinated me. Do you really think he would have joined if Stills had asked? Or, as he claimed on a radio show a few months after Monterey Pop, was his sitting in with them just in keeping with the times?

Einarson: David denied it again when I posed the question to him while researching the book but I think that he might have jumped ship if the timing had been right. If Stephen had asked at the point when the Byrds kicked Crosby out, in the fall after Monterey, I think he might have accepted. But by then Neil and Bruce were back and it was full steam ahead. There’s no question that once the Springfield members had decided to call it a day, Stills phoned Crosby first. Chris Hillman still maintains that Crosby wanted to be a Buffalo more than a Byrd by 1967. Certainly the Springfield were more creative than the Byrds by then. Who knows. Interesting that for a brief time three Buffalos–Stills, Young, & Palmer–were together with Crosby and Nash in CSNY. But David didn’t like that very much.

OGC: Would you agree with the assessment that the Springfield was “Stephen’s band”?

Einarson: Yes. Now that’s not to negate the contributions of the others but from the outset Stephen Stills set the course, arranged the music, made most of the major decisions, conducted most of the interviews as spokesman, and wrote the most commercially successful songs. To the average person at that time, the Buffalo Springfield was the voice of Stephen Stills. And he hung on until the end still trying to make the group work. One can see how someone as singularly focused as Neil Young could have problems with that, especially after “For What It’s Worth” became a hit.

OGC: Overall, where would you rate the Springfield in the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll?

Einarson: Right near the top. Their influence shaped the sound and style of so many other artists that followed them. The Springfield’s folk rock was quite different from the Byrds or anybody else at that time, drawing instead on an earlier folk tradition that incorporated acoustic and electric guitars together laying down intricate lines woven around each other. Theirs was a truly unique sound that later found success in groups like The Eagles. As well, their emphasis on developing individual singer/songwriting styles within one group, as evidenced by their Again album which is highly diverse, helped set that whole singer/songwriter trend of the early seventies and the whole California country rock/soft rock genre. Their induction into the Hall of Fame, a group who really only scored one Top Ten hit not even a Number 1 record in a brief two year lifespan, is testament to their importance to the development of rock music. Almost all their recorded work was never fully appreciated because it was ahead of its time. That masterpieces like “Bluebird,” “Expecting To Fly,” and “Rock And Roll Woman” could fail to crack the Top 40 remains bewildering. Unfortunately when people think of the Springfield, they tend to focus on who came out of it and the success achieved by the individual band members following the demise of the group.

OGC: What’s the next project on tap?

Einarson: That’s always a secret. I just might take on a project in a completely different direction. I currently have a couple of offers and some irons in the fire. Doing the Buffalo Springfield story was a personal dream of mine that I am very pleased to have fulfilled. I hope it brings many more people back to their music and maintains their legacy.