Stephen Stills says “the domino effect” is the reason he’s continuing to tour as a solo act this year.
Usually he spends summers on the road with longtime partners David Crosby and Graham Nash — and, on rare occasions, Neil Young. But illness forced Crosby off the road for the first part of the year, leaving Stills with some time on his hands — which he’s happily wrapping around a guitar.
“I’m out for one week longer than my rule, which is four weeks,” says Stills, 62, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash.
After more than 40 years of touring, Stills reports, “it gets loud for me ... my ears just get tired and start ringing really ba d. I have to really clamp down on (the volume).
“I just don’t let it get overbearing. I’ve got a whole pile of amplifiers up there but only use one or two at a time — different voices for different guitars. I make it work, but I have to be careful.”
Touring and hearing maintenance are hardly Stills’ only concerns these days, however. The Dallas native, who now keeps homes in Los Angeles and Florida, has a number of projects in various stages of completion, which is keeping him much busier than he usually is when CSN is inactive.
First up is “Just Roll Tape — April 26th 1968,” a collection of 13 demos Stills recorded 39 years ago in a New York studio, after recording some music with then-girlfriend Judy Collins for the soundtrack to the film “The Subject was Roses.” Finishing early, Stills asked the engineer “ ‘Can I buy you for an hour?’ He said, ‘Sure,’ so I peeled off a couple hundred dollars and said, ‘Just roll tape,’ and I recorded every song that I could think of.”
The set, which comes out July 10, includes early versions of Stills favorites such as “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Helplessly Hoping,” “Wooden Ships” and “Change Partners,” along with a bonus rendition of “Treetop Flyer” that was recorded at another session.
“There was most of the first (Crosby, Stills & Nash) album and my first solo albums and things that didn’t quite make the cut,” Stills recalls. “I had a feeling that these were good. This is the first time I got them down coherently, but I felt like I was onto something.”
The story of how Stills acquired the tape is almost as good as the music.
The tape was housed at the studio and was considered long lost. But when the studio closed in 1978, a musician named Joe Colasurdo found the Stills demo reel amid a box of tapes that were being discarded. He took it and spent 25 years trying to get it to Stills until 2003, when Colasurdo finally was able to pass it onto Graham Nash, who subsequently presented it to Stills.
“(Colasurdo) didn’t want anything for it; he told (Nash) ‘I just want it to get to Stephen Stills,’ ” Stills recalls. “Graham takes it, doesn’t tell me, takes it into the studio and puts it up and just sort of crossed his fingers and closed his eyes and pressed play, and the thing ran across beautifully. That’s truly rock ’n’ roll legend.”
“Just Roll Tape” isn’t Stills only archival endeavor, either. A live album and DVD from CSNY’s 2006 Freedom of Speech Tour is in Young’s court, but Stills is actively planning a series of retrospectives chronicling different aspects of his career, probably starting with an anthology of Manassas, his band with former Byrds bassist Chris Hillman.
“The wonderful thing’s gonna be all of these outtakes and beginnings of songs or (tapes) of me getting guitar sounds, just absolutely face-melting guitar licks,” Still says. “There’s a lot of stuff there.”
He’s also “fiddling around” with a memoir, though Stills notes that’s a particularly challenging proposition. “My problem is sequence — when everything happened,” he says with a laugh. “There’s a few years in there that are really compressed; no one remembers anything the same. It’s kind of a trial in thinking. I’m probably just going to write little stories rather than a straight-up (narrative).”
Stills does have some things he wants to clear up in the book, however.
“Remember that biography of Neil Young (‘Shakey’)? Reading that, apparently I didn’t ... write anything. I didn’t have anything to do with anything,” Stills says. “I’d like to straighten that out. I think Neil himself would like to straighten that out.”
But, he quickly adds, “What I’d really like to do is make (the book) funny. It really is pretty hilarious, this whole familymoves-west-and-makes-good kind of career I’ve had.
“At 62, I feel it’s only just the time to start really trying to write a memoir. I still think I’ve got a lot more to do, so I may even have to write a second one at some point.”
Stephen Stills performs Tuesday (June 19th) at the Royal Oak Music Theatre, 318 W. Fourth St., Royal Oak. Tickets are $35-$59.50. Doors open at 7 p.m. Call (248) 399-2980 or visit www.royaloakmusictheatre.com.
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