It’s a safe bet to assume that nobody plays air guitar to old Stephen Stills records. Better known to the masses as one of the voices of Crosby, Stills & Nash, it might come as a surprise to learn that Stills is badass enough as a guitarist to rank #28 on Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, ahead of Pete Townshend (50), David Gilmour (82), and even Eddie Van Halen (70). The late Mike Bloomfield, whom Stills appeared opposite on 1968’s Super Session, is inches ahead on the list at number 22.
Super Session was probably the first time I’d ever had anything like a galvanic skin response to music, and when I got a chance to talk to keyboardist-producer Al Kooper, I asked why Bloomfield — who was approaching superstar status back then — had played on so few tracks. Koop said that Bloomfield was having some sort of emotional crisis (he did not say dope, but most everybody else did), and Bloomfield disappeared. Kooper put out a call for a guitarist to finish the sessions. Enter Stephen Stills, whose downright venereal guitar-playing at the age of 23 salvaged the record.
Coming off Buffalo Springfield, Stills was a hot commodity in 1968. On the side he jammed and kept company with heavyweights such as Buddy Miles and Eric Clapton. He was friends with Jimi Hendrix. In June of that same year, he would begin recording Crosby, Stills & Nash, a blockbuster album on which he would play almost all of the instruments. Crosby and Nash called the record (which eventually sold platinum four times over) Stills’s vision.
Lest one write off Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) as senior-citizen rock, be reminded that they first broke the domination of the British invasion. There was a time when rock fans partitioned themselves thusly: Beatles, Stones, or CSN. They were that big.
STEPHEN STILLS: Belly Up, Sunday, March 21, 8 p.m. 858-481-8140. Sold out.