PUBLICATIONS > Articles > 1970s > Stephen Stills, An American in Paris
Stephen Stills, An American in Paris
Barbara Charone Sounds
October 12 and 19, 1974
CROSBY, Stills, Nash and Young had only ended their reunion tour three weeks back, and already Stephen Stills was working again. The locale had changed from London to Paris, the scenario switched from the mammoth Wembley Stadium to the more intimate Olympia Theatre, and the transition smoothly made from virtuoso songwriter/guitar star to an out-of-the-spotlight sideman.
The small battered amplifier had a Manassas sticker forever stuck to its side, the electric piano case had the letters CSNY stencilled impressively across the front, while several well used guitar cases sported the words: “Stephen Stills Fragile.”.
“The piano has got to be in the centre,” the road manager instructed, “it’s her show and she’s got to be seen.” The roadie looked perplexed, “Where’s Stephen going to be then,” he wondered. “Look, it’s her show, Stephen is just one of the band.
The “her” in question is Veronique Sanson, known to the French as a popular singer/songwriter, known to the rest of the world as Mrs. Stephen Stills. The occasion for the concert is Ms. Sanson’s first Paris show in over two years, and this welcome home concert must be nothing less than impressive.
The pert continental blonde sitting at the piano runs through the song again, patiently. instructing her illustrious sidemen on the feel of the tune. The familiar looking guy sitting back in the corner unobtrusively playing bass, sporting a Toronto Maple Leaf hockey jersey, is not the only famous face on stage. Joe Lala helps out on conga drums and percussion while ex-Wings drummer Denny Sewell holds it all together on skins. Transplanted Texan Donnie Dacus, who’s worked with Stills on stage and record, matches subtle lead guitar work with Alan Salvats, a Parisian guitarist who’s played with Veronique throughout her career. Behind than a 12 piece mini-orchestra adds a romantic, cinematic flair to the music. It’s just a small impromptu gathering.
Despite his reputation as a centre of attention egotist, Stills is obviously enjoying his supportive role with the same healthy enthusiasm he injected into the CSNY tour, the same professional ability to submerge himself In someone else’s music. Such is the stuff that makes a true superstar.
Off the one night stand circuit, out of the pressures of the spotlight, Stephen Stills easily and honestly talks about past, present and future outings, always speaking with the level headed assurance of a musician who keeps that destructive superstar syndrome on the sidelines. Dining in a busy, boisterous Paris cafe, the entourage relaxes from the day’s rehearsals like good friends.
“I enjoyed the whole CSNY tour but we did get tired,” Stephen relates in between bites of escargot. “By the time we got to Wembley we were tired and I think we tried to compensate for that by setting a little too intense at times. On the good gigs we’d get behind that looseness; Wembley was good but not as smooth as I would have liked it.
“We had originally planned to have an eight-day lay-off between the last American show and London, but someone didn’t want to wait that long. We should have cause we weren’t quite over the jetlag. I was a little too frantic about the whole thing and listening back to the tapes the show seemed jagged in parts, not as smooth as the others. Still, it had its moments.
“I played too fast on ‘Word Game’, the lyrics weren’t clear enough. When that song works there’s this groove I slip into where it seems like it’s just racing along. But I wasn’t as smooth as I should have been. And I should have been more aware of the fact that in England they wouldn’t particularly relate to the politics of the song. I found the whole thing exciting though.”
The nature of the individual composition of CSNY takes advantage of each player’s capabilities, exploiting them to their fullest. Much of the musical tension supplied by Stills and Young always seemed based around the differences in their guitar styles, and their ability to merge them together. Coupled with that power-heavy rhythm section of Kunkel / Drummond / Lala, the guitar stars had the freedom – to concentrate on cleanly executed solos.
“Lala always kept Neil from going too far in his direction, always keeping behind him while Timmy Drummond keeps me from going too far in my direction ahead of him. Neil and I have this passing joke between us that I rush and he drags. I mentioned this to Robbie Robertson and he said ‘wait a minute, that’s no joke that’s true’.
“Robbie said to me ‘Stephen, when you play alone you play too fast, and Neil plays too slow alone.’ Neil and I kinda looked at each other and said ‘but when we play together its allright,’” he grins. “Neither Neil or I are too insistent about keeping time. It was great getting honest criticism that’s valid from somebody who really knows what he’s talking about.
Robbie could tell us things that we might be a little afraid to say to each other.”
The subject of honest criticism immediately brings to mind those Wembley reviews, full of inconsequential personal prejudices that concerned themselves more with on-stage apparel, drug habits, individual physique and all sorts of private life assumptions and assessments that had little or nothing to do with the music. Wembley you’ll recall was a rock ‘n’ roll concert not a fashion show at Biba’s.
The way the rock’n’roll hierarchy seems to work, the bigger, famous, money-making artists are more subject to non-musical criticisms like ‘hey that’s an ugly shirt you’re music stinks.’ CSNY were prime targets.
“The minute you step on stage you’re an open mark,” Stills says quite calmly. “There was one review that was so funny and so well written that the first thing that immediately came to my mind was ‘what is this person doing working for a music paper?’ He tore us to ribbons but it was hysterical; it had a description of Elliot Roberts that was gorgeous. But that guy should write for some thing like Punch. I don’t know, when you work that hard you do feel defeated. We didn’t make that much money from Wembley, coming over just for the one gig. Mel Bush made lots of dimes, Elliot Roberts made lots of dimes, but we really didn’t.”
Having gone to great lengths to present the London show with the same high quality as the States tour, don’t you feel a kind of schoolboy mentality operating when people make blatant statements like “Stephen Stills, a musician with a problem if there ever was one?”
“You just answered your own question, of course you do. Every once in a while they find a vulnerable spot and it hurts. I mean I can’t tell you ’cause it’s too crude but Neil did something really funny with the British music papers,”
Stephen laughs at the memory. “Actually I think Neil had the right idea all along, he didn’t talk to anybody.”
“Like the Band were really hot at Wembley and then in one of the papers somebody goes on this big rap about how they are THE ORGANIC BAND and why did CSNY look funky! What is that? What does that mean? If I had been more erudite I’d have called a press conference and given a lecture on objective journalism complete with blackboard and pointer,” Stills laughs.
“I had given Jann Wenner (Rolling Stones editor) a shoulder shot he won’t forget at the Oakland, California gig. He kept after me about the football jerseys, what’s with the football jerseys, you look like Popeyes,’ he kept saying. So I explained that they were big and comfortable, and white with different coloured stripes and besides kaa-pow, he gestures hitting someone. “So I like football,” another chuckle.
“I remember my first good review for the “Supersession” album, someone said ‘Stephen Stills proves that a wah-wah pedal isn’t a war toy.’ You get one good review in eight years and you remember it. It does get funny sometimes. But how can you really care when you’ve got a top ten album and just did a big successful tour? You’re gonna bitch about reviews? C’mon.”
It seems that the excellence of the CSNY tour surprised everybody but the fans.
“The tour surprised everyone but the people,” he’s quick to agree. “They got more than even they expected and they were real happy about it, going to the shows.”
That’s the difference between the critics and the fans? The audience wanted to like it.
“Well isn’t that always the famous cop out? But of course the audience had a wonderful time. There’s always going to be a few people who are so jaded they wouldn’t notice the fucking San Andrea Fault was opening up.”
One can easily waste time discussing the merits of laid back stage apparel and dated hippyisms, but CSNY have always concentrated more on musical proficiency than the flash and glamour of it all. A supergroup yes, but pop stars no. CSNY have always been musicians.
“I was reading in one of those papers an article with a big headline that said,” his voice becomes suddenly dramatic, ‘Is British Rock Dying? Of course it is. Ya wanna know why? ‘Cause everything they write is so fucking bloody competitive.
Nobody talks to each other, they don’t jam, they’re all so secretive about their stuff. There’s no interaction between the musicians because they’re all afraid they’re gonna steal each other’s licks and shit. And they’re all into that fucking pop star scene,” he says with a good deal of passionate disdain.
“And as pop stars, CSNY are an absolute abject failure because we are the most nondescript band. There’s a kind of suburban quality about us, you know we’re all from middle class’ families. I just can’t do all that showbiz shit, all that flash and glitter. When I walk on stage the guitar is sitting there and it says ‘play me.’ That’s my whole thing. If I throw my guitar around the I’m having fun.”
What is it about CSNY, and especially Stills, I wondered that makes people so incensed, so obviously motivated by extreme desires to nail them to the ground? Do they resent an artist’s privilege to deviate from preconceived images of one’s work?
“Yeah I think it’s a little out of character with the image people have, of me, which tells you what’s wrong with image making right away. The distressing thing is an artist keeps changing all the time. George Harrison said it best, ‘you don’t have time to hang a sign on me’. You can’t really get hung up trying to do what people expect of you, you just do what you do. Like the tour I did with the Memphis Horns and the album, everybody hated that album because it was unexpected.
“Being a pop star,” he says with negative connotations and much disdain, “you aren’t expected to deviate. A painter is understood. He’s allowed to do whole periods on his life, but they won’t relate to us that way. Even though pop music has matured, the art world itself will not relate to it, except perhaps for a time when the Beatles were writing all that incredible stuff”
And other art forms are never personally subjected to attacks on an artist’s private life?
“That’s because of the English pop star syndrome. It’s a revival of the old Hollywood movie star thing. The ones that are competing are the money makers, the artists don’t compete. But the new bands,” again said with some animosity; “and the kids hanging onto image. It’s like Tom Scott and the LA Express are good example. It took them a couple days get loose at Ronnie Scott’s, they were all nervous and tight. But by the third night they were ready to burn. How could you possibly pin the pop star thing on people like that? I men, believe it or not, people like me and Neil reach for that, for that quality of musicianship”
A higher quality of musicianship, higher even than past of music even than past efforts solo or group, seemed to be the ultimate strength of this recent CSNY incarnation. Four very separate singer-songwriters with much solo studio and in-concert work behind them, were magically transformed into a fully cooperative, working unit. For the first time in their entire career, include if you want the legendary Buffalo Springfield, CSNY were a fully fledged band. And the difference was shattering.
Stephen smiles a satisfied grin at t he mention of band image and group equality. “That was because we knew that we had to be good. And everybody took what they learned separately and put it in the group. And everybody sorta went through the same changes when we were apart. It was going to have to be good, it was like OK EVERY-ONE WE’RE BACK!! On the good nights we’d get behind the looseness and just throw it away, and that’s how it should be. I think the next tour will even be stronger.
And there will be a next time,” he says with a magic gleam in his eye.
“We’re a lot more professional now, That tour I did by myself before CSNY, playing with Donnie Dacus really made me get my chops up so I’m seven times the guitar player I was. He made me look at the guitar as a keyboard.
“Look,” Stephen says passionately, “I’d done about 197 shows since the original CSNY, Neil did 100 and, David and Graham not quite as many. I mean in 197 shows you’ve got to learn something!” he snickers slightly. “And we had discovered what each of us had learned separately. Stuff about being efficient, proper amounts of looseness and tightness, what’s too loose, what’s too tight. Cause the old band had both extremes didn’t it?”
And the old band didn’t have the musical singing and playing flaunted by this new improved CSNY. Intense personal competition and motivation seemed ironed out and coped with emerging positively.
“Y’see its that word competition isn’t it, that’s an erroneous assumption, It’s not a question of competition. Yes you challenge each other, you try and pull more music out of him, but to put that label on it is an unfair perspective.”
“That’s the way I was taught to play music, to pull things out of the other players like those jazz cats do. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Steve Stills band or Roland Kirk’s band or CSNY.”
One thing that did matter was the organization of the entire tour. If fragile egos and personal whims were to be sustained and satisfied, everything had to work smoothly – from the technical aspects of the stage and equipment down to fulfilling personal requests from band members for tequila, tea or an extra set of guitar strings. A precarious balance between technical professionalism and individual qualms had to be worked out. Most importantly, the illustrious band members had to feel comfortable on stage to create those good vibes so integral to the successs of each show.
Stage manager Michael John Bowen, a recruit from the Stills camp, was brought in to supervise all the minute details and large scale plans of the tour.
“David and Graham had played a lot of intimate gigs, Neil and Stephen had played an awful lot of big gigs, but none of them had played any of these big production shows where everything had to be in the same place every night,” Michael John relates. “When you think of something it’s got to be there; that’s why we made that enclosure and worked out from there.”
“That stage is the reason why it was SO easy to create that because we created a little bubble and the show was just a natural progression,” Stephen says, getting up to point to the very words on his shirt.
“In a situation like that it was impossible to drop the ball. Michael John would be in the same place every night and I can tell when he’s bored and when he’s into it cause he’s been listening to me for six years now and that’s gotta be somebody who can tell when you’re on and when you’re not.
“It’s like a pro golfer’s number one honcho caddy,” he says all excitedly. “Johnny Miller’s got this one dude that he brings on the road all the time. I saw them have an argument on TV once about which way the bail should go and sure enough the caddy called it right. Johnny just dropped his putter, looked up and grinned.”
An accurate analogy perhaps, for indeed when the inner workings of the foursome were at their magical best on stage, the players all knew.
It is an obvious asset to any performance, for how can the audience receive any satisfaction unless the players themselves feel well pleased? Hence all the bear-hugs and self-congratulatory mumbles that less astute followers misread as rehearsed.
On particularly fine nights, it looked like CSNY were really enjoying playing together.
“Oh yeah”, Stephen says whole-heartedly. “I mean when I turn around and Graham Nash is standing two feet from my amplifier swaying back and forth, you know he’s hot. And he ain’t been taking no drugs. That means I got him totally hung up. And if he was mad at me, he’d listen to what I was playing and then he wouldn’t be mad.”
“The way I worked the tour and ran the stage was cut and dry,” Michael John interjects. “Some people hammered me for it but it had to be contributory and non-contributory. If it’s contributory outasite, if it’s not then out. Neil gave me this ‘hey Michael John don’t give me any of that sward shit’. But I pointed out to him that there was nothing more than one two three four. And he just went, ‘yea, that’s right man’”
Stephen laughs particularly hard: “The only way to present things is when you and everyone else knows what they’re doing.
“Crosby would come up to me and go ‘God man it sure is great to know what you’re going to play next’. Cause y’see David would think he was gonna play something and he’d go hack for his purple guitar and everybody would go uh uh, no David,” — both Michael John and Stephen collapse in fits of laughter.
“And David would go ‘oh my God they’re watching me, 30,000 people are watching me pick up the wrong guitar!’ So he just loved it when he could go back there and pick up the right guitar with authority
“The first ten shows were like that,” Stephen continues. “It was like ‘what song do you wanna do? I don’t know what do you wanna do, who’s got the list, what list we don’t use a list’.”
“They had a sort of should be list,” Michael John adds, “when they’d get confused they’d go ‘what’s next?’ and I’d tell them a should be song.” Stills is really enjoying all this talk, “And they’d say fuck you we’re gonna play this instead’.
But we tried to get the whole crew and band to the point where they’d be anticipating something.”
While a smoothly run stage made the technical side easier, band followers wondered if all those fist fight rumours and dressing room squabble talk would persist on the tour. Would four highly strung egos be able peacefully to co-exist with each other, even when it meant sacrificing some thing you want for the sake of the others. Would clashing personalities steer away from the friction?
Anyone who saw any show on the tour, who honestly tried to relate to what was going on up on the big stage, obviously realised that every one was trying to make it work, laying back when necessary, exploiting their own developed talent when allowed.
In past CSNY days specialized solo talents were always captured. What this new entourage had learned was the secret of compromise, thus many personal concessions were made between the four, strengthening the group bond.
“It’s like Graham’s song ‘It’s All Right is a superb song,” Stills enthuses, but it took us the longest time to convince him that his part of the show was groovy. He wouldn’t do songs he thought were dated. Like he wasn’t going to do ‘Military Madness’, absolutely refused to do it, said it had nothing to do with today. We’d go ‘OK Willie’, one, two, three, four and we’d do it,” Stephen laughs.
“Part of the problem,” Michael John confides, “was everybody was warming up to the other guys’ solo material cause they didn’t know the titles or how they went, I tried to get Neil to do ‘Everybody Knows This is Nowhere,’ I even promised him that the road crew would sing the chorus.”
“Like the acoustic set was always spontaneous,” Stephen continues still enthusiastic about the lengthy tour, “and it worked nicely with everyone slipping in little harmonies. I was the one that instigated that ‘don’t light me’ business. You’d go out and sing on someone’s tune and they’d bring the spots up. But I had them stop that so you could just slip out on stage and add a little harmony so the song was still focused on the other guy”.
“It took awhile to convince everyone about electric guitar in the acoustic set but – boy, did it make a difference. I used to feel like Chet Atkins,” he smiles, “But it makes such a difference when you’ve got the songs to play”.
Whether the whole is stronger than the sum of its parts or merely if individual strengths make for a complete whole, it became increasingly clear as the tour went on, that everyone positively coped with their supportive roles. The desire to scream ‘me, me, me’ while being the centre of attention was greatly decreased.
Indeed one can attain just as much satisfaction or musical excellence by playing rhythm guitar instead of lead, supplying harmony instead of the verse. “Sure we coped with supportive roles. Neil does that,and I do that, we got David doing it too. That’s just plain good musicianship. Not wishing to sound vain, to me that’s what it is, good musicianship, and that’s what makes us strong.
“We could have stood to have a permanent keyboard player though because none of us are masters. Sure I play some organ and piano, Neil plays some nice little piano too and we’d keep that, but it sure would be nice to have somebody over in that corner. A guy like Jerry Aiello who’s just a master of his instrument, to fill out the sound and make it real easy.”
The musical concessions were many and they tended to centre round time various needs of the four songwriters to exert a certain facet of their particular talents. Musical frustration in a band that strives for equality is forbidden.
“Doing “Black Queen” was a concession to Stephen,” Michael John explains. “It was like Stephen’s got to do his guitar thing, if Stephen needs to play that then it’s in. And because of that they all wanted it in the show and they did it for Stephen. Then Stephen would say David needs to sing this, that’s how it worked,”
Lack of new and original sounds in the 70s seems to have created a void, an empty gap occasionally filled by the kind of magic so vital and integral to the necessary progression of rock’n'roll, After seeing too many groups reunite for one last attempt to resurrect what once was, or too many talented ensembles that blindly hung onto a group concept that had already exceeded its potential, the CSNY tour was a shot in the arm for jaded believers.
Whether CSNY sang perfectly on key or never missed a beat is totally irrelevant. The fact that Nash looked thin or Crosby chunky, that Neil sported a new hair cut and old denims or Stills a comfy foot ball jersey didn’t matter either. It’s not their fault that all four individuals recognise exactly what their capabilities are and exploit them. So Nash and Crosby sing so well they could make any song better by a couple back-up vocals, so they all write some incredible stuff, so Neil and Stephen are even more the guitar stars than they were in the days they dreamed about being stars, hanging out in LA at the Whisky, hoping to make it.
Not only did these American superstars recharge and reenergize their own large following but the success of the tour revitalized them too. Accordingly, it comes as no surprise that a future still exists for the group, that members will continue to pursue solo projects and group ventures,’ and continue to do so because they actually care.
In the early morning hours after the Wembley concert, when the final notes of this CSNY tour had been long gone, Graham Nash was standing in the lobby of the end-of-tour party hotel beaming proudly.
“I went to sleep at 7 a.m. this morning and two hours later Stephen comes bustling into my room, wakes me up, pulls back the curtains, points to the sky outside and says victoriously ‘show me a cloud, show me a cloud’.”
With that kind of effervescent enthusiasm, it’s hard to understand why Stills and cohorts are constantly the victims of petty jealousies and catty gossip. Maybe rock fans really are more concerned with Sixties trivia like favourite colours and ideal girls, maybe they just want to update their heroes’ pastimes and discover mid-boggling facts like what drugs they take or what’s their favourite perversion.
But it all gets so absurd, so drastically out of proportion. How do you gauge artistic worth in proportion to his private life? If you’ve never heard the Buffalo Springfield CSNY, Stills solo albums or Manassas, then maybe football jerseys are more interesting.
But they make for lousy records.
“Crosby and I would sit after a gig and go, ‘well I thought we got away with that rather nicely. We got away with it but by golly we went out there and cut it man.’
“That’s the whole thing, we cut it and I was proud of every damn one of us,” Stephen says passionately. “Just proud, proud, proud”.
“I was proud to be there because everyone was 100 percent from the word go to the end.”
“Hey Joe”, Stephen Stills bellows down the long dining room table with childish delight, “I’m telling Lala stories. We’re gonna make you a star!” Wearing an Italian Power t-shirt, Joe Lala greets the news of his impending fame with a wry grin, a nonchalant shrug and continues his battle with some slippery escargot Lala who? An Italian rocker named Joe? Those who found themselves mysteriously wondering’ who the conga player was on the recent CSNY trek, need worry no more, His identity at last revealed, the truth about Joe Lala is at last unravelled, not unlike a racy News of the World exclusive.
The story really starts back in those magic days when the Buffalo Springfield reigned high, when Stills first began injecting a distinctly Spanish flavour into material like “Uno Mundo”. Later this penchant for South of the border rhythms and verses, reached a pinnacle in the joyful. “Suite Judy Blue Eyes” finale. But Manassas proved the true vehicle capable of at last capturing those South American rhythmic yearnings.
Since Stills discovered Lala in the very un-latino Blues Image five years back, the two have always worked together. Joe Lala, this is your life.
“Joe Lala was an answer to a prayer sent up to Ernie,” Stills announces. “I desperately wanted to find a ‘Spanglish’ a latin-cuban player, cause I was going absolutely crazy trying to play that kind of music with those Turkey white drummers.
No matter how good they were, no white drummers could cut it, and my songs were getting more and more Spanish flavoured”.
“So one day I’m in the Whisky watching the Blues Image and it was fronted by this big, strapping kid playing congas and singing. He was hot! After the set this guy comes up to me and it turns out we went to school in the same town in Florida.
Lala went to the Italian/Cuban school and I went to this rich Jewish/Wasp school, on the other side of town. I was a poor member of the rich school and Lala a rich member of the poor school.
“He was this short, dumpy kid who played in the school band, and I was a little undersized kid in the band. So we immediately started telling stories about Tampa and stories about Tampa and Baker’s Pool Hall and stuff like that,” Stephen says all animated at the thought of schoolboy memories.
So there they are, the two heroes of this particular vignette, standing in the rock biz Whisky. Yet you might wonder how young Joe came to join up with Stills?
“I’m on tour with the Memphis Horns right? And the latin numbers aren’t coming off, it becomes clear that something else is needed. So I wonder what happened to that latin guy from the Whisky. Lala joins us on the road immediatly and this big strapping guy is now about 115 lbs. and I can’t believe it’s the same person. So we immediately started shoving food down him.”
There, dear reader, is the basic beginning of the ever continuing Joe Lala success story, how Lala found true love, happiness, music and something to eat with Stills. Aside from adding that much needed latin spunk to the Spanish tinged songs, Lala encouraged Stephen to continue and develop his leanings towards ‘Spanglish’ rock.
“Having Lala around made me start remembering enough Spanish to start writing in Spanish. Graham and I have a beautiful new song e wrote in Spanish, it’s a beautiful language; But you gotta understand that no matter how beautiful the language or how much you learned in school, you’ve got to understand the latin people to grasp the semantics. Like schmaltz in Spanish is really pretty, it makes you wanna cry.
“And whenever I hear Spanish I remember living in Latin America, that whole philosophy of the people, like somebody always crying at weddings. So naturally when I got married, I needed somebody to cry. I sent Lala a ticket to come to the wedding and cry and he came through like gangbusters. Lala saw the ‘Godfather’ three times and cried at the wedding scene every time,” Stills says in disbelief.
Aside from his uncanny ability to cry at weddings, Joe Lala’s special forte is smoothly executed percussive punctuation.
His gentle latin rhythms injected a funky underneath during the CSNY acoustic set. At last week’s Veronique Sanson Paris concert, Lala was back on conga’s making the Continental sounds swing while Stills switched from centre stage lead to background rhythm.
“I wasn’t ready to go back to work this soon but it’s worth it. I’ve never had the chance to play official bass onstage for a gig. It’s like ‘I am the bass player,’ and that’s all I have to be responsible for. It’s great because I can sit down in the back, let her do her own thing and just swing with the bass. I’ve played bass on lots of albums so it’s nice to do it onstage.”
Will this recent husband-wife coalition lead to an other show-biz twosome, sandwiched between the glitzy phoniness of Sonny and Cher and down-home charm of Paul and Linda?
“Good God no” Stephen laughs. “The only time I sing with Vero is when we sing duets to our son and that’s about as close as I’m gonna come to getting involved with her career. Sure I’ll help her out when I can, she’s so good on her own though, I just want to give her the tools and let her go to town. I’d like to produce Bonnie Raitt but I’d never produce my own wife.”
Listening to Veronique sing those lovely flowing French songs, makes English lyrics sound so crass. Despite the fact that one can’t understand either French or Spanish, both languages give the artist the freedom to discover new found circular soundtrack lines or the more rhythmic Spanish mumblings.
“Everytime I do one of those latin-flavoured numbers everybody says ‘what the hell is he singing in Spanish for, I can’t understand that,” Stills says in a winsome inflection. “But all the really good words in the English language are too hard to say. I saw Groucho Marx on a television talk show once, singing this hokey song ‘Tipwillow, tipwillow, tipwillow,’”
Stills does a Groucho imitation complete with imaginary cigar. “And there’s this word in the song obdurate. And Groucho stops right in the middle and says, ‘Does anybody know what obdurate means? Well then why am I singing this song for you if no one understands it?’ But the feeling of those foreign languages is great.”
In between the collapse of Manassas and the reunion of CSNY, Stills found time to organise another musical ensemble, a six piece straight rock band featuring Lala, Russ Kunkel, Texas picker Donnie Dacus, orgainst Jerry Aiello, and ex-Barnstorm bassist Kenny Passerelli. In addition to playing a cross country American, tour, Stills began his next solo album, “As I Come Of ‘Age”, which will be completed this month at Miami’s Criterion Studios. Sure to be included are two new songs previewed with CSNY, the latin “First Things First,” and the haunting “Myth Of Sisyphus.”
“I’m really taking my time with this album, because I want to make it right. The last one (‘Down the Road’) was a bit of a turkey, There were some hot songs on it but I copped out a lot too. Some of the vocals and things should have been done over, but I was lazy.
“The ‘Myth Of Sisyphus’ is one of those songs that’s got a set of changes that you always hear in your head but I could never quite figure out how it goes. The feel is a bit like those old Ray Charles songs and I’ve been trying to find that groove for a long time. Sisyphus is a Greek legend about a guy who pushes a stone up a mountain for 1,000 years and as soon as he gets to the top it rolls down and he has to do it all over again. It’s self defeating, the God of self-defeat.
“As far as CSNY go, I’d say it’s a safe bet that we do another tour, you’d probably find a lot of takers,” cynical giggles follow. “But y’see I’ve got to finish my album first or it’ll never get done and I’ll go nuts. If I don’t get this album done, we’ll end up using half of the songs on the next CSNY album, but I have to finish this. CSNY will probably go into the studio in December.”
What about the live album, Wembley and some American dates were recorded?
“I honestly don’t know just now if there will be a live album, if there is, one it certainly won’t be out this year. We’ve got some good tapes though. Ya know what’s really hot gig and then you listen to horrible is when’ you think you’ve played a really hot gig and then you listen to the tapes and it’s just horrible,” he says in anguished disgust.
With a small Paris get-together successfully completed and a large CSNY extravagaza now finished, Stills is off to the States this week to finish his solo outing “As I Come Of Age”. If Stills’ past musical track record doesn’t impress you, the situation is helpless, helpless, helpless. And if Joe Lala doesn’t make you sit up in awe while tapping your feet, here’s a few more ‘overwhelming’ details guaranteed to make you a Lala fanatic forever. How many musicians are a gourmet cook, a licensed barber, have seven uncles and drink £30 bottles of wine as if it was Ripple? Joe Lala is definitely unique.
“Let’s make Lala a star,” Stills says for one last time finishing up the last of the wine, glasses raised high in victorious toast to Joe Lala, “then everybody can come see Joe and take some of the pressure off me.”
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