Born “under a wandering star” in Dallas in 1945, Stephen Arthur Stills was raised in a military family, spending his boyhood in Florida, Louisiana, Costa Rica, Panama and El Salvador, developing an appreciation for folk, blues and Latin music along the way.
After dropping out of college to see if he could make it as a musician he played in several bands before arriving on the Greenwich Village coffee house circuit. There he joined a nine-member vocal harmony group called the Au Go Go Singers (at the Café Au Go Go).
In time Stills and some of his fellow singers, including Richie Furay, formed a folk rock band and toured around Canada. While in Thunder Bay he met a young guitarist who was “doing what he always wanted to do, (playing) folk music in a rock band,” named Neil Young.
By 1966 Stills and his pal Richie had made there way to Los Angeles, where in addition to working as a session musician, Stills auditioned for a part in a new television show called “The Monkees”. Although the producers expressed interest, he was turned down due to a contractual conflict with his session work. So Stills recommended his multi-instrumentalist friend, Peter Tork for the role.
Hoping to form a band, Stills and Furay happened to be driving down Sunset Boulevard when they recognized a rather unique car, the 1953 black Pontiac hearse that Neil Young had been driving when they met him back in Thunder Bay, Ontario With a few other musician acquaintances (including Jim Messina) they all soon formed the band, Buffalo Springfield, taking the name of the side of a steamroller, made by the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company, that was working outside their producer’s house.
Although the band released three albums, it was a tumultuous time with lots of infighting and line-up changes and soon Stills was looking for new horizons. He met David Crosby, late of the Byrds and joined-in on Al Kooper’s “Super Session” album. And while at a party in Laurel Canyon (either at Cass Elliott’s or Joni Mitchell’s house) he met Graham Nash, late of the Hollies, who accompanied him and Crosby in a jam session.
He also became romantically involved with Judy Collins. Later, in a Rolling Stone interview it was noted that so many of his songs seemed to be about Judy. “Well,” he replied, “there are three things men can do with women: love them, suffer for them, or turn them into literature. I’ve had my share of success and failure at all three.”
By this time Crosby Stills & Nash had released a top 40 studio album and were looking for additional personnel so that they could tour (Stills had initially approached Stevie Winwood, but he had just formed Blind Faith), and despite some bad blood between them during their Buffalo-Springfield days, Stills invited Neil Young.
While on their way to New York for a gig in the summer of ’69, the newly formed Crosby Stills Nash & Young (CSNY) performed its first live concert in Chicago, with their friend, Joni Mitchell as the opening act. After the debut Mitchell flew on to New York City to appear on “The Dick Cavett Show” and CSNY headed to “some place called Woodstock,” where they famously opened with “This is only the second time we’ve performed in front of people. We’re scared shitless.”
Intriguingly, their next live appearance would be at Altamont, although the performance wasn’t included in the film, “Gimme Shelter”. Having played at the Monterey Pop Festival with Buffalo Springfield, Steven Stills is one of the very few artists (along with David Crosby and the members of Jefferson Airplane) who performed at all three of the 1960s iconic rock festivals.
While two top charting albums followed, “Déjà vu” in 1970 and the live “4 Way Street” the following year, each member of CSNY also recorded solo albums. Although not the most successful of the four, Steven Stills’ eponymous record had the best line up.
When he was still a part of Buffalo Springfield, Stills’ good friend Jimi Hendrix was forming his group, the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Looking for a bass player Hendrix had his manager leave a message for Stills to discuss the possibility of his making the leap. But Stills’ manager took the message and fearful that he might actually do it, he never passed it along. The two musicians remained friends none-the-less and regularly jammed together, as they did on the fourth track (“Old Times, Good Times”) of the album, “Stephen Stills”
Although it was released after Hendrix’ death (it was dedicated to “James Marshall Hendrix”) “Stephen Stills” would be the only album in history on which both Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton (who played guitar on the fifth track, “Go Back Home”) supplied guitar work. Other performers included Ringo Starr, Booker T. Jones, Cass Elliott and as you’ll hear here, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Rita Coolidge and John Sebastian.
Inspired by a line that Billy Preston often used, “If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” Stills asked Preston if he could use it in a song. Preston instantly agreed…and the single peaked at Number 14 on the Billboard Charts.
Love the One You’re With
If you’re down and confused
And you don’t remember who you’re talking too
Concentration slips away
Cause you’re baby is so far away
Well there’s a rose in the fisted glove
And eagle flies with the dove
And if you can’t be with the one you love honey
Love the one you’re with
Don’t be angry – don’t be sad
Don’t sit crying over good times you’ve had
There’s a girl right next to you
And she’s just waiting for something to do
Doo doo doo doo
Turn your heartache right into joy
Cause she’s a girl and you’re a boy
Get it together come on make it nice
You ain’t gonna need anymore advice
Doo doo doo doo