Stephen Stills Solo Again (With Help from Friends) Stephen Stills has finished his first solo album in 14 years, a project interrupted by tours with David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young. They appear on the new Stills CD, Man Alive!, but Stills made sure the songs reflected his own, ever-shifting musical tastes.
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Stephen Stills Solo Again (With Help from Friends)

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Stephen Stills Solo Again (With Help from Friends)

Stephen Stills Solo Again (With Help from Friends)

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

It's been 14 years since Stephen Stills released his last solo CD. It wasn't supposed to be that way, but every time he made headway on his own project, Stills was lured back on tour with his old friends: David Crosby, Graham Nash and Neil Young. After years of interruptions, false starts and tinkering in his home studio, Stills has produced "Man Alive." It's a collection of 13 songs that range from bluesy rock to Cajun country to an 11-minute, jazz-influenced Spanish suite with Herbie Hancock on the piano.

Stills came in to talk to us about "Man Alive." He said his band mates, Crosby, Nash and Young, perform with him on the CD. But he also made sure that the songs reflected his own ever-shifting musical tastes.

Mr. STEPHEN STILLS ("Man Alive"): Actually I think that I got lucky in the process because I was able to retain the ones that were clearly my stuff, that can clearly be played live exactly the way they are on the record and clearly have my stamp on them. And it was allowed to gestate for, you know--oh, I don't know--the lifetime of several elephants.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: When you say that, songs that clearly have your stamp on them, what does that mean?

Mr. STILLS: It's a little tougher, it's a little deeper and true to genre, rather than to our style.

NORRIS: Give me an example of that, where I'd really hear your stamp on the song.

Mr. STILLS: Well, the sounds and vocal chorus on "Feed The People" is--there's definitely a girl in there, and it really needed one because it was supposed to sound like an African village, you know, accompanied by the local Anglican church.

(Soundbite of "Feed The People")

Mr. STILLS and Chorus: (Singing) Why not feed the people everywhere and let the peace begin? Turn your swords to plowshares everywhere and feed the people.

Mr. STILLS: I wrote that chorus as a little something for Jimmy Carter, who very much liked my songs. And then we recorded that chorus in 1979, and it was one of those things where we rediscovered that chorus and went, `Oh, my God, how did we miss that?' So we just--I built a new song around it this year.

(Soundbite of "Feed The People")

Mr. STILLS and Chorus: (Singing) ...when the kindness of strangers. It means no disrespect. Being honest with the help you give means there's nothing to expect. Why not feed the people everywhere and let the peace begin?

NORRIS: I want you to talk to me about one song in particular, a song called "Round the Bend," a song that tells the story of when you met guitarist, musician and former band mate Neil Young. Tell me about that song.

Mr. STILLS: He's my little brother.

(Soundbite of "Round the Bend")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Hard as Canadian black ice all over you, making you think twice. You're already kin. Our destiny just around the bend, just around the bend.

NORRIS: What was it in the meeting between you and Neil Young that made for a song?

Mr. STILLS: The circumstances--we were babies, and we were just about to go out on the world. And we literally drove up behind him on the Sunset Strip, and I saw a hearse with Ontario plates, and it could not have been anyone else.

NORRIS: What was he doing driving a hearse?

Mr. STILLS: Well, it's the greatest band car in the world 'cause you can fit the drums and everybody in it, and it's got some style.

NORRIS: I was going to say it has a certain amount of cachet. (Laughs)

Mr. STILLS: I mean, it's certainly got a lot more style than the van.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STILLS: But I think, you know, it's a hearse, and there are people that are into hearses, and Neil's one of those people--triple Scorpio, into hearses.

(Soundbite of instrumental portion of "Round the Bend")

(Soundbite of "Old Man Trouble")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) There's a man...

NORRIS: The Booker T. Jones song...

Mr. STILLS: Yeah.

NORRIS: ..."Old Man Trouble"--when's the first time you heard that song?

Mr. STILLS: Oh, gee, I heard it on an old Joel Scott-Hill album back in the '70s, and it's been the song that I sing, you know, at--when there's a piano at a party, and you've had a couple of drinks, and everybody compels you to sing. I always do that 'cause it's the only time I'd be brave enough to play in B flat. But it actually works much better with no cups, and I've actually mastered B flat.

(Soundbite of "Old Man Trouble")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) I've got no place to lay my weary head. Rather leave all my troubles than let the green, green grass be my bed.

Chorus: (Singing) Be my bed.

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Oh, yeah, yeah. And I get what I need, and I need what I get. And there never ain't nothing...

NORRIS: It's almost like that song is sanctified. It's when--you call them your angels--the background vocals come in.

Mr. STILLS: I mean, it's one of my faves to sing live. I particularly, now that my voice has opened back up, after years of I don't know what--it sounds a little coarse talking over this microphone, but it's actually been very smooth this year. And I can get there really easy. As a matter of fact, the version on the album is a bit more tortured than what I get on stage. I'm much more--I don't have to strain for those notes on stage these days.

NORRIS: You know, people...

Mr. STILLS: But I like the strained quality on the album, kind of, 'cause it is--you know, it's like I'm testifying.

NORRIS: As I was saying, you hit sort of the three-minute mark in that song, and you feel like you're in church.

Mr. STILLS: Well, you're supposed to.

(Soundbite of "Old Man Trouble")

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) And I got a love...

Chorus: (Singing) Old man trouble.

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) ...for the life I live.

Chorus: (Singing) Old man trouble.

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) And I ain't got a...

NORRIS: Stephen Stills, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. STILLS: My goodness, seems to fly by.

NORRIS: Stephen Stills. His latest album is called "Man Alive."

(Soundbite of "Old Man Trouble")

Chorus: (Singing) trouble.

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) So goodbye, ooh, goodbye. I got no need for you, oh, baby.

Chorus: (Singing) Old man trouble.

NORRIS: You can hear more music from the CD at our Web site,


NORRIS: I'm Michele Norris. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(Soundbite of "Old Man Trouble")

Chorus: (Singing) Old man trouble.

Mr. STILLS: (Singing) Old man trouble, trouble, goodbye.

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