Stephen Stills

The new disc, Live At Berkeley 1971 is out now.   I got it yesterday and it's on repeat.  I am biased I am sure, but I think he is one of the best singers, songwriters, musicians of my generation.  Plus he plays Sugar Babe on this disc, a favorite of mine, from SS2.



To me, it’s a great example of how different music moves different people. I had a hard time even getting through it, with his horrible guitar strumming and the lyrics that sounded "poetic" but didn’t really seem to make sense.

I prefer "the Old Laughing Lady" off that album. I find it deeply evocative and emotionally engaging but don’t ask me what it’s about! The chord changes, melodic contour, use of space and resonance of the open tuning combine to shape my internal state in a pleasing manner. Dylan’s "Visions of Johanna" has a similar effect. Having a clear sense of narrative somehow isn’t of critical important for me in such songs.

However, if the formal elements are themselves off-putting, then it’s game over from the start. You mentioned "horrible guitar strumming". In my case, it’s the classically trained voice. You want to torture me? Lock me in a room and force me to listen to opera! As to why we have these preferences, who knows? Music affects us many different levels -- not all of them conscious-- and we can have very (!) strong likes and dislikes. We may try to justify our preferences with quasi-objective rationales but I can’t help but suspect we don’t fully understand what’s going on beneath the surface.


I agree with you on that. I said that the lyrics of that Neil Young song meant nothing to me, but I love the lyrics of other songs by early REM, Duran Duran and Roxy Music which are also obscure and don't necessarily have a clear meaning, and yet I find those words very evocative as you said, and they have deep meaning for me.

I too pickup his “new” album, Live at Berkeley — it’s classic Stills from razor sharp guitar licks to his soulful voice.

I’ve seen he and “the boys” (C,N,&Y) on several occasions and they rarely disappointed. The last time was a bit hard — they’re all getting on in years and poor Stills has lost his hearing and, as a result, his voice.

But they’ll go down as one of the all-time great bands — IMHO of course!

Stephen Stills - Creem Magazine - "I ain’t no Dylan, you know. I haven’t got the gift of the language, I don’t think. In my opinion, I think I’ve written some really nice phrases, but it’s inconsistent. What happens to me is that I want to hear the music so bad that I’ll write bullshit lyrics… cruddy lyrics. And I’ve gotta get out of that somehow, but I’m not happy with my lyrics lately. And also, I don’t want to write… I don’t even want to talk politics. I don’t want to write any of that. And I find it hard writing happy songs and I’m a little too happy to write so much blues. I’ve written some funny songs this time. I wrote a song where the changes are… I’ve used them twice before in two different songs and it’s called “This Is My Favorite Set of Changes”. I’ve already used them in a couple of songs before and thought I’d play them one more time. I’m just trying to tell some stories is all. Not trying to be some great lyricist. Now Neil Young is a great lyricist. If you really wanted to hear some great songs, Neil Young would write words and I’d write the music. It would just be out-a-site. ‘Cause he’s an incredible lyricist, he really is.

Neil and I used to have guitar wars on stage that were really stupid. It was really funny. I wouldn’t play the game except every once in a while when I’d get in a mood. It was just pathetic. I started playing lead guitar in the Buffalo Springfield and it was okay. I never played anything that was really bad, other than that I played too loud. The fights started getting really good and I guess that fights started becoming a little too much to take or something. ‘Cause it got weird."

I saw Stills in Boston years ago, doing a solo acoustic concert.  I splurged on box seats.  It was the best concert ever.  He has amazing talent as a musician, singer and songwriter.