Long May You Run Indeed: Neil Young and Stephen Stills in 2014

When Canadian Young hooked up with Floridian Stills on the Sunset Strip in the mid-60s, music in Southern California became due for an imminent course correction. Their talents could not last long within the confines of the other spectacularly talented members of Buffalo Springfield. The duo regrouped with two veterans of other notable bands (David Crosby from the Byrds and Graham Nash, also wandering into LA when feeling the British constraints of his Hollies).

The result was the first supergroup, which marched across the nation in fits and starts.  Climbing the charts and filling stadia, CSNY paved the way for the explosion of the music touring business. Forty five years ago this summer they played their second gig at Woodstock.

Over the ensuing decades, Young and Stills have made some great music together, and even more notable music when apart. But their paths still cross on occasion.

    Stills and Young, July 4, 1976, Niagara Falls. Young walked out of the tour shortly thereafter, allegedly sending Stills a telegram that read "Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil." Stills soldiered on and finished the tour solo. (Photo by Brad Auerbach)

Stills and Young, July 4, 1976, Niagara Falls. Young walked out of the tour shortly thereafter, allegedly sending Stills a telegram that read “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.” Stills soldiered on and finished the tour solo. (Photo by Brad Auerbach)

Ever the enigma, Young has just released a nearly unlistenable low-fi record of cover songs while also undertaking a Kickstarter campaign to launch a super high fidelity music format he calls Pono.

Young has long railed against the compressed sound of the CD. He embraced the massive fidelity of the late great DVD-Audio format (“my fans can finally hear the music the way I hear it in the studio”), but was flummoxed when fans voted with their dollars that they preferred the free and portable MP3 format (“whenever I see someone with those terrible white earbuds I want to stop and rescue them”).

Young hooked up with enigma-in-the-making Jack White, who had restored a vintage Voice-O-Graph recording booth in Nashville. Young’s concept was to stuff himself into the booth and record songs he liked growing up, but he bent the rules a bit by including Springsteen’s My Hometown, as the theme fits.

Intriguingly, two of the songs on A Letter Home were covered by Rod Stewart in his early years. Young also selected two of fellow Canadian Gordon Lightfoot’s songs, either of which could be the collection’s best: Early Morning Rain and If You Could Read My Mind. Also included are Young’s quaint audio letters to his Mom. (My Mom presumably still has my audio taped letters home, no chance they will get this widely distributed). The end product is like a mangled 78 RPM, dusted off after years in the attic. The hiss, pop and crackles get old pretty quickly, although one is put in mind of various folks today adding 33 RPM sounds to final mixes.

Stills is undertaking a solo tour, which stopped in for a couple nights in San Diego at the Belly Up and San Juan Capistrano at the Coach House. He spent the first half of the show mostly in acoustic solo mode, and it was a bold move. He looks in better shape than his prior appearance at Belly Up five years ago. Nonetheless his voice has become quite shredded over the last decade, although his fretwork is still impressive. Onstage at Belly Up, he went into a digression in his introduction to Dylan’s Girl From the North Country about how Stills tipped Young about the song, only to see it recorded on the latter’s new album.  Stills then assayed his own Helplessly Hoping in Dylan style, to assorted chuckles from the audience.

Stephen Stills at Belly Up, May 2014 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Stephen Stills at Belly Up, May 2014 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Louis Armstrong watching Stephen Stills at Belly Up, May 2014 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Louis Armstrong watching Stephen Stills at Belly Up, May 2014 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Stephen Stills at Belly Up, May 2014 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Stephen Stills at Belly Up, May 2014 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Stills pulled from his massive songbook, and no doubt many in the audience were there more in tribute than for expectation.

The Rides is a 2013 bluesy release that finds Stills partnering with fellow guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd and former Electric Flag keyboardist Barry Goldberg. The grouping is akin to the 1968 gathering of Goldberg and Stills with the late Mike Bloomfield. The Rides features some sizzling blues fretwork, and some shredded vocal chords.

Don’t Want Lies is a thoughtful reminisce on aging, spouses, children. Rockin’ In The Free World continues in the ‘scratch your back’ tendency of CSNY to record each other’s songs. It remains a superb song.

As to fellow travelers Crosby and Nash, the former has released the surprisingly satisfying album Croz. He has yet to reschedule his residency at LA’s Troubadour, which gigs were postponed for health reasons. Nash, the ombudsman of the posse, released a great autobiography last autumn and toured to acclaim. His Belly Up show in November 2013 had him hitting most all the high notes; he was in good form.

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Graham Nash at Belly Up, November 3, 2013 (photo by Brad Auerbach)

Graham Nash at Belly Up, November 3, 2013 (photos by Brad Auerbach)

Graham Nash at Belly Up, November 3, 2013 (photos by Brad Auerbach)

Lately, Nash has been wrestling to the ground the long-rumored, oft-delayed box set of live recordings from 1974. Nash has been the archivist for he, Stills and Crosby, the trio now each have handsome three disc box sets curated by Nash. Young, the compiler of all that he has touched, has been working on his mega Archives since he first picked up a guitar. Volume Two should appear soon, but it only picks up in 1972. He has trickled out some early live acoustic recordings to keep folks satiated.

The fact that these four compadres are still putting it out there, with varying degrees of finesse is impressive.  Now we need the Belly Up to book Crosby and then Young for some solo shows.  What a coup that would be.

Will they round up one more time for a tour?

One never knows, do one?

 


Brad Auerbach has been covering the media, entertainment and technology scene for many years. He has written for Time Out London, Village Voice, LA Weekly and once upon a time won a New York State College Journalism Award.

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