'Lost' Stephen Stills Recordings Released On April 26, 1968, singer Stephen Stills paid a recording engineer to "just roll tape" on a few new songs Stills had been working on. Many of those songs would go on to define his career — both with Crosby, Stills & Nash and in his solo work. The recording sessions were recently released on CD.
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'Lost' Stephen Stills Recordings Released

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'Lost' Stephen Stills Recordings Released

'Lost' Stephen Stills Recordings Released

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We close our program tonight with a dip into the rock and roll archives.

Our story starts in 1978, trumpeter Joe Colasurdo was wrapping up his last rehearsal at Rising Sun Studios in New York City. The place was going out of business, and the owner told Colasurdo to help himself to any of the recordings that were left behind.

Mr. JOE COLASURDO (Jazz Musician): Basically, he says, look to any crates of tapes that you want, you better take them now because it's going to wind up in the dumpster. So I took a milk crate full of tapes, basically, we used to record over. When I got them back home, I noticed that some of them had Steve Stills written on the back.

ELLIOTT: When he played the tapes, this is some of what he heard.

(Soundbite of song "Helplessly Hoping")

Mr. STEPHEN STILLS (Jazz Musician): (Singing) Helplessly hoping her harlequin hovers nearby. Awaiting a word.

ELLIOTT: These were the first demo recordings, musical pencil sketches really, that would later become works of art and huge hits for Crosby, Stills & Nash.

(Soundbite of song "Helplessly Hoping")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Fly, only to trip at the sound of good-bye.

ELLIOTT: Joe Colasurdo spent more than 25 years trying to get the original tapes back to Stephen Stills to no avail. Finally, a few years ago, he reached Stills' musical partner, Graham Nash.

Mr. COLASURDO: When I handed it to him, he even asked me, so you realize you're holding a piece of rock and roll history here, and I said, yes I do.

(Soundbite of song "Change Partners")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) So we change partners. Time to change partners.

ELLIOTT: These early recordings of Stephen Stills came out this past week on a CD called "Just Roll Tape: April 26th, 1968." I spoke with Stephen Stills by telephone yesterday.

Had you forgotten about this recording completely or did you have a copy?

Mr. STILLS: Yeah. I took a cassette and then played for the guys once, I think, just to learn the songs and then I lost the cassette, you know, eons ago. So I mean, this was really a gift from the gods and this guy is just a friend for life. You got a friend for life for me, that's for sure.

ELLIOTT: How did you first find out that these tapes had resurfaced?

Mr. STILLS: He got through to Graham and Graham took them back to the studio. He didn't tell me. He put the tape on a machine and the thing played straight off. And then he told me about it. And he said, you should put it out just like it is because it's a really wonderful little snapshot into those times.

(Soundbite of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Remember what we've said and done and felt about each other, oh babe, have mercy.

ELLIOTT: So when you first heard these recordings, what was going through your mind? I mean, who is this Stephen Stills?

Mr. STILLS: My goodness, (unintelligible) that's everything so high.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STILLS: As Tony Bennett once advised me to never be afraid to lower the key or use it as prompter(ph). I actually - there's some things that I still do in the original key. But the "Suite," of course, isn't one of them. I mean, literally, that was, you know, it just sound - that was - I sounded so innocent.

ELLIOTT: On "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes"?

Mr. STILLS: Mm-hmm. You know, like the middle part of the "Suite," I actually like it better the way it is on this little demo.

(Soundbite of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Friday evening, Saturday in the afternoon, what have you got to do?

And the doo-doo-doo-doo-doo(ph) set there because that was an afterthought in the studio. And that, of course, was the hook of the whole piece. That's the part that everybody remembers.

(Soundbite of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Doo-doo-doo(ph), doot-doot(ph), doo-doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doot-doot(ph), doo-doo.

Mr. STILLS: I have the Bulgarian folk choir sing the doo-doo-doo-doots to me while I was in Germany and they happened to be there. Got some (unintelligible).

ELLIOTT: A lot of memories.

Mr. STILLS: Yeah, well, it was, like, they came and found me and surrounded me and sang this to me. It was, like, a big thrill because we used to listen to the Bulgarian folk choir because they do those second mellow (unintelligible) tonal stuff and it's like - it's magnificent. And you really have to be able to sing to get that stuff in tune.

And so they were kind of idols of ours. And so all these little, biggie(ph), short ladies, you know, little old ladies came and surrounded us, then they go, (singing) doo-doo-doo-doot-doot.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Do-do-doot-doot-do-do-do-do, Do-do-doot-doot-do-do-do-do.

ELLIOTT: Now, if I understand from what I read, you were actually in the studio that day with Judy Collins.

Mr. STILLS: That's right. And she told me, don't stay in here all night now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: So she was there to record something and you were just sort of a tag-along?

Mr. STILLS: No. I was playing on the session. It was - I was playing the acoustic guitar.

ELLIOTT: Okay. And so you decide when that session is over that…

Mr. STILLS: I just peeled off a couple of hundreds and said, would you stay with me and eat? I've got to make this I'm almost sure I'm going to forget everything.

ELLIOTT: Now, you were here. You were recording with Judy Collins. Were you two still a couple at the time?

Mr. STILLS: Well, a gentleman would never…

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: Because I have always listened to the song "Judy Blue Eyes," thinking that was a breakup song.

Mr. STILLS: It was imminent.

(Soundbite laughter)

Mr. STILLS: But, I mean, we were just a little too big for one house, yeah. But we were having a grand old time. And I, of course, being the age I was, was completely head over heels.

(Soundbite of song, "Judy")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Judy, when you're floating far away babe, where do you go? Won't you please come back and tell me 'coz I'd like to know.

(Soundbite of song, "Judy")

ELLIOTT: In all of these recordings, is there one that surprised you a little bit when you heard it, that you didn't necessarily remember it that way?

Mr. STILLS: No. I - well, there were songs that I didn't remember. And some were completely awful and those were the ones that I - they weren't songs yet. They were like amoeba, you know, (unintelligible). And the "Bumblebee" song, which later turned into "Carry On," or something, I don't know. I was really surprised by that. It maintained that pop and groove all the way through the song. But then I was a drummer. So I was absolutely surprised.

(Soundbite of song, "Bumblebee (Do You Need a Place to Hide?)")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Have you got a feelin' botherin' you like a bumble bee. I'll give you some room for breathin', love you 'til you're fit to be tied. And can we go for a ride? Do you need a place to hide?

ELLIOTT: And the point of it is, I mean, you've got songs on here like "Change Partners," "Helplessly Hoping," "Wooden Ship." I mean, this is like a peek into rock and roll archives at the beginning.

Mr. STILLS: Yup, yup. It is all of that. And it's just a startling discovery. It's like being on a dive and finding a gold flower in it or something.

ELLIOTT: Stephen Stills. His new CD, "Just Roll Tape: April 26, 1968."

Mr. STILLS: And that's actually just what I said. I said, set up all the microphones to the piano, and the guitars and my voice, and just roll tape.

ELLIOTT: Thank you so much for talking with us today. It's been a pleasure.

Mr. STILLS: It's my pleasure. It's always a pleasure, Debbie.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

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