View Full Version : Stephen Stills

Michael Jefferson
9.15.07, 9:00 AM
http://rcm-images.amazon.com/images/P/B000002J6H.01.TZZZZZZZ.jpg (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002J6H/w3pgcoffeeroomss) Stephen Stills
Self Titled First Album (http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B000002J6H/w3pgcoffeeroomss)
4.5 out of 5 stars
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

After playing virtually every instrument on Crosby, Stills & Nash’s harmonious debut, spending nearly 700 hours producing its more corporately aligned follow-up, “Déjà vu,” then going out on tour with his combative band of brothers, one would think Stephen Stills would take a well deserved rest. Instead, Stills cashed in his chits, assembling an All-Star extravaganza for his self-titled solo debut, which illustrated he was much more than just the volatile middle child in one of rock’s super groups.
Stills scored his biggest hit with the album’s opener, “Love the One You’re With,” a top ten calypso smash that served as a mantra for the post-Woodstock generation: “If you can’t be with the one you love honey, love the one you’re with.” Stills proves adept at handling the steel drums and pounces on the Hammond organ for a high grade solo as thick and soulful as Felix Cavaliere’s hopped up R & B romps for the Rascals. Jeff Whitaker (later a part of Peter Green’s 80s return from rock and roll obscurity) completes the percussive circle on congas, and a celebrity chorus comprised of Graham Nash, David Crosby, Pricilla Jones (wife of Booker T), Joe Cocker back up singer Rita Coolidge and Lovin’ Spoonful leader John Sebastian help to enrich the tune’s festive intent. The sensual soul version cut by the Isley Brothers in 1971 shimmied its way to #18 on the charts. Other artists, including The Jackson Five and Aretha Franklin later waxed their own versions, but Stills’ definitive original is the lone survivor on the airwaves nearly 40 years later.
“Do For the Others” was originally written with the angelic harmonies of Crosby, Stills and Nash in mind, and it bears their mellow stamp, with Stills triple tracking his back ups against gently massaged acoustic guitars. Stills assumes his role as “Captain Many Hands;” mixing the guitars, bass and percussion together with emotive, layered background singing, creating an acoustic heaven.
Preacher Stills leads the congregation for “Church (Part of Someone),” and by the time the open throttle organ is through climbing a righteous path to heaven, Stills and his sanctified back up singers sound like they’re ready to be fitted their wings: “You know it’s my thing to be part of someone, as a true friend is part of me.” Instead of the hippie chorus headed by Crosby & Nash, Stills goes for the full gospel effect, employing Judith Powell, Liza Strike, Larry Steele and Tony Wilson to back him up. You’ll say amen.
Had Stephen Stills’ manager passed on a note from Jimi Hendrix asking him to be the bassist for The Experience, who knows how much better their albums would have sounded? Stills and Hendrix reportedly jammed together for hours while this album was being recorded, and “Old Times Good Times” is the result -- the last recording Hendrix ever made. From his standpoint it’s a push. If Hendrix’s name wasn’t listed in the credits you wouldn’t know he was working the fret board. His guitar is turned down to a barely audible level, and his solo just manages to keep up with Stills overdubbed “I’m A Man” arrangement propelled by drummer Conrad Isador (misidentified as “Isedor”) and Stills Winwood-ish swipes on organ. Hendrix may be adrift in the mix, but the rest of “Old Times, God Times” cooks with a double-timed combination of rock and gospel.
Every musician remotely interested in the guitar should listen to “Go Back Home.” It’s what a synthesis of and rock and blues should sound like; grizzly bear mean, with the effect of a steamroller flattening a 98-pound weakling. It starts out with Stills choking out sharp B.B. King licks on guitar. Calvin Samuels creeps in, prodding out a fat bottomed beat on bass as drummer Johnny Barbata chops at his kit. Barbata, Stills and Samuels were spympatico from playing many a gig with Crosby, Nash and Young. It takes only a few notes for the trio to lock in as Stills spits out dirty a vocal in a growl that would make Howlin’ Wolf cower, while he turning out solos that slash the air like lightning in a summer storm. And it gets better…As the song gathers steam, Stills drops out as the lead guitarist and Eric Clapton takes over. I’ve always thought Eric’s more “creative” (read endless) solos were a bit overrated, but as you may have guessed by now, I’m hard on them gee-tar players anyway. This is by far my favorite Clapton solo – he’s concise, a fire-breathing rapid-fire whirlwind, an inspiration to a generation of air guitarists. Recorded during his I-can’t-have-Patti-Harrison-so-I’ll-do-heroin phase, “Slowhand” generates more giddy up than his career defining solo on “Let It Rain.”
“Sit Yourself Down” reassembles Stills rock gospel chorus of Coolidge, Nash, Crosby Sebastian and Jones, tacking on Joe Cocker back up singer Claudia Lanier and pre-ham sandwich victim Mama Cass Elliot. (Just kidding. Choking on a ham sandwich didn’t kill Mama Cass, although the dreaded snack was on a table beside the bed. Its better that Cass is remembered for her work with the Mamas & Papas as well as being the person who introduced Nash to Crosby and Stills.) The addition of Lanier and Elliot’s meaty vocals (aha, another cruel fat joke) and Stills’ carnivorous solos assures you won’t be able to sit still (or Stills).
Arguably Stills most beautiful ballad (he didn’t do a lot of them), “To A Flame” features a warm, tear-producing string section blended with flickering, moody vibes. “Richie” (Ringo Starr) is a pleasant surprise drumming with creative sensitivity. Away from The Beatles, Starr displays his distinct, yet seemingly simplistic style that helped make their sound the best ever committed to record. In a recent interview, Starr gave away his secret, saying, “I always played to the singer.” (Most drummers follow or overwhelm the bass or another instrument.) Starr shadows Stills’ bereaved vocal, rattling the traps like a tympani player, his touch proving that less is indeed more. By 1970 Stills had been burned by many of the women in his life (the worse was yet to come), including Judy Collins and Rita Coolidge, who was spirited away from Stills by Graham Nash, instituting a period of acrimony between the two singers that would last for nearly half a dozen years. “To A Flame” shows that even the outwardly hostile Stills armor of invincibility could be penetrated: “Drawn to a flame, she is far away, out of reach. Will she burn her wings, I can only watch, out of touch, out of my mind.”

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