Music Memories: Happy Birthday, Stephen Stills!

Keith Chaffee, Librarian, Collection Development,
Stephen Stills is singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist.

Stephen Stills was born on January 3, 1945. Stills is a singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who has performed as a solo act and with several different bands. He's best known for his work in the late 1960s and early 1970s with Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

Stills was born in Dallas. His father was in the military, so the family moved around a lot when Stills was young. They spent most of their time in the southeastern United States but also lived for a while in the Panama Canal Zone and in El Salvador.

After dropping out of college, Stills played in a variety of short-lived bands, and eventually wound up in New York. The club Cafe Au Go-Go was putting together a revue of the history of folk music in America, and Stills was hired to be part of the vocal ensemble for that show. America Sings ran for only two weeks, but the Au Go Go Singers stuck together for a while. They toured briefly in the eastern United States, and released one album before breaking up in 1965.

A few of the Singers formed a band called The Company, which toured Canada for a few weeks, and it was on that tour that Stills met Neil Young. The Company fell apart after only a few months, and Stills convinced his fellow Au Go Go alum Richie Furay to move with him to California. Stills and Furay connected there with Young, and the three formed the band Buffalo Springfield.

In the summer of 1966, Buffalo Springfield spent about two months as the house band at the West Hollywood club Whisky a Go-Go, which got them a lot of interest from record companies. Their first album came out in late 1966, and it included their biggest hit single, “For What It’s Worth,” inspired by the Sunset Strip curfew riots. Over the years, many people have come to believe that the song was a response to the shootings of college students by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, but those shootings didn’t happen until 1970. And by 1970, Buffalo Springfield had released two more albums—Buffalo Springfield Again and Last Time Around—and been broken up for two years.

In 1969, Stills formed what we would now call a supergroup, joining David Crosby (formerly of The Byrds) and Graham Nash (formerly of The Hollies) in Crosby, Stills & Nash. For their debut album, Stills played almost all of the instruments. Crosby and Nash handled lead guitar duties on the songs they’d written, but all of the bass and keyboards and much of the percussion were Stills.

3 albums by Stepehn Stills

The trio became a quartet for its second album Déjà Vu in 1970, with the addition of Neil Young. The singles from those first two CSN/CSNY albums were only modest chart hits at the time, but they are now staples of rock radio—“Marrakesh Express,” “Teach Your Children,” “Our House.” The group broke up later in 1970; Stills’ cocaine and alcohol abuse was a problem, and Stills and Nash had gotten caught up in a painful romantic triangle with Rita Coolidge.

Stills recorded his first solo album, which also came out in 1970. He recruited an impressive group of musicians to help him. Crosby and Nash both provided backing vocals, as did Coolidge, John Sebastian, and Cass Elliot. Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton both showed up on guitar, Ringo Starr played the drums on a couple of tracks, and Booker T. Jones helped out on keyboards. The album generated Stills’ only major hit single as a solo act, ”Love the One You’re With.”

In 1971, Stills formed yet another band, with yet another former member of a major 60s band, Chris Hillman of The Byrds. Manassas released two albums, Manassas and Down the Road. The albums were more successful critically than commercially, and some critics argue that Manassas is one of the most unfairly overlooked bands of the 1970s.

By 1974, the members of CSNY had resolved their differences sufficiently to go on tour together, and they began recording an album in 1976. Crosby and Nash abandoned the project midway through, going so far as to erase the vocal tracks they’d already recorded. Stills and Young kept working, and released Long May You Run, credited to The Stills-Young Band. (Meanwhile, in the same Miami recording studio, the Bee Gees were working on songs for Saturday Night Fever; Stills popped in to lay down some percussion tracks on “You Should Be Dancing.”)

Crosby, Stills, and Nash (without Young this time) reunited again in 1977. Their next two albums, 1977’s CSN and 1982’s Daylight Again, gave them their only top ten pop singles, “Just a Song Before I Go” and “Wasted on the Way.” The group continued to record an album every few years—sometimes joined by Young—until the mid-2010s, with occasional success. The 1988 CSNY album American Dream sent the single “Got It Made” to #1 on the Modern Rock chart.

In 1979, Stills became one fo the first artists to record an album digitally, but Southern Cross was never released; his record label thought it was too uncommercial.

Stills gained a unique distinction in 1997, becoming the only person to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame twice on the same night, as Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills & Nash were both honored.

In 2005, Stills released Man Alive!, his first solo album in 14 years. And in 2013, he formed one more band; The Rides are a blues band, and they’ve released two albums so far.

In the mid-2010s, another round of personal conflict broke up Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Nash said he thought that the group would probably never perform together again, but in more recent interviews, Young has suggested that the group could someday reconcile.

Stills’s most recent album was released in 2017. Everybody Knows is a duet album with Judy Collins, taking Stills almost full circle to the beginning of his career; the song “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” from the first CSN album, was inspired by the late 60s romance between Stills and Collins.