The only member of CSN&Y that I interviewed at length during my MM years was Steve Stills who always called me ‘English’, the name he coined for me when I saw the whole group in Denver in 1974. Two and a half years later he remembered me and was still calling me ‘English’. He was very friendly, which always augurs well for a decent interview, and he spoke candidly about the undulating relationships between CSN&Y. This interview took place in his room at the Carlyle, a lovely old (by US standards) hotel on Madison Avenue where he was staying, and which was only a few minutes stroll from my flat on 78th Street between Park and Madison. It is in two parts, second half tomorrow.
“Do you have a brother? If you had, you’d know there’d be a sibling rivalry in the family between two brothers. You’d row about it, but because you’re a family you’d stick together... and maybe six months would pass, but you’d be back again, wouldn’t you? You can’t cut off a brother.”
Stephen Stills was using the metaphor to explain how things stand with relationships between himself, Neil Young, David Crosby and Graham Nash, and he’s being very sincere.
The point he is making is that no matter how many harsh words are spoken, no matter how much dirty laundry is washed in public and no matter how many reports of irredeemable splits appear in newspapers, they will always be together in some form or another. Tempers may fly, he says, but far too much water has flowed under the bridge for them ever to cast each other off completely.
Right now Stephen Stills has no partners to change. He’s touring the US completely solo, just him, six guitars, a banjo and a piano plus his voice. Like the characters in the famous Edward Hopper painting, he’s a nighthawk, and he checks into a hotel for the day, closes the curtains and sleeps away the daylight hours. Strangely for such an accomplished musician, it’s the first time he’s toured solo.
“I’ve always known that I’ve been capable of it, but I’ve never done it before. Right at the moment I’m between bands and it seemed like the thing to do. I think, though, that I’m gonna get a bass player and drummer to come along with me, too. We’re doing a lot of colleges, so I’ll need them. In theatres I can carry this very, very easily, but in basketball joints the kids... well, for the kids it’s football season, homecoming... they want to get up, you know. I can do it, but let’s say I’m indulging myself.
“The whole set is with acoustic guitars and piano, so I’m thinking in these bigger places... hell, where’s my electric guitar? I’m just playing whatever appeals to me... I start with three songs and go from there, whatever I want. I dunno what audiences think... sometimes they’re drunked up and want some rock and roll, but I’m making sure the promoters let the audiences know that it’s just me.”
The accent, then, is on the guitar playing? “Well, I worked so much live last year that I actually started to get pretty good at playing the guitar. I like to play guitar, like lead guitar for a change and I began playing things that were way over my head. On acoustic guitar, well that’s one thing, but on electric guitar there are a whole lot of players who are better than me. I think I play real good rhythm, and I fingerpick good.
“I just get out there with six guitars, a banjo and a dobro, plus a 12-string and maybe one little electric guitar for the last number. I even have my music book with me at the piano in case I forget the words or something. Hell... I’m not proud.”
The last time Stills toured the US was this summer, but the tour, with Neil Young, was soon aborted, apparently because Young’s voice was giving trouble. As ever, though, there were reports of arguments between the two principals. Stills nods grimly.
“He got to oversinging a little bit and maybe there was too much pressure. It was all so sudden that I don’t know, but whatever happened was cool. Neil stopped the tour very suddenly, just cold like that, but up until then it had been going great.
“He got me in the dressing room before a gig and said... ‘All right man, you’re holding back. I wanna see you get out there and hit it more’... so I did so. Jesus... nobody on the road in the country was doing better business except Elton and Aerosmith, but who are Aerosmith? I haven’t even heard their records. I must be getting old but these groups come and go every day.”
The Young/Stills tour followed recording sessions in Miami that resulted in the Stills-Young Band’s Long May You Run album released just two months ago. Stills denies the stories that it was originally intended as a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young album.
“No… that was wrong. It started out to be just the two of us, but during the sessions Neil had to go to Japan. On the way back from Japan he stopped in California and began hanging out with David and Graham. Then he suggested that all four of us make an album together, but that wasn’t right because by that time we’d got all the tracks and half the singing done already.
“Listen... David and Graham came down to Miami but they had an album of their own to do, so they had to go back to California. I thought... wait a minute, if we’re going to do this, if we’re going to do a CSN&Y album again, then let’s do it properly. You guys go finish your own album and Neil and me will do this and, when all this is finished, then we’ll get together again. If we were going to do one together, we’d start together at the beginning and not half way through.
“Hell, there was all that talk about Graham and me fighting but that’s no big deal. Neil went off into seclusion, but that’s no big deal either. He just gets that way. I was on the ‘phone with Graham last night and he asked me whether I’d seen some of the things he said about me. I said I had and that I thought it was some of the funniest stuff ever written. There was something about Graham wanting to punch me in the nose, but that’s so ridiculous. It’s all so petty, but the important thing is that they (Crosby and Nash) had a very successful tour and an album that was great. I saw them in LA and they were just fantastic. I went out and did a song with them at the end and it was all just really nice.”