Stephen Stills – Carry On

Long overdue anthology chronicles Stills’ 50 year career

As one-third of CSN, Stephen Stills has had a remarkable career. From Buffalo Springfield, CSNY, to Manassas and beyond, Stills, now in his 70’s, truly has earned his position as one of the great singer/guitarist/songwriter’s not just of his, but any other generation. His music has always been soulful and personal, capturing an intimacy between artist and audience which underpins everything he’s done.

Stills first came to prominence with the classic “For What It’s Worth,” a song which became an unexpected hit in 1967, and one which also captured much of the newly emerging youth-culture in the US at the time.

Carry On, the four CD box set released in 2013, is an excellent compendium and detailed summary of a musician whose talents far exceeded his influence, and at a whopping 82 tracks (25 previously unreleased), it may not be cheap, but nevertheless essential when it comes to all things Stills.

The first CD alone proves a young Stills’ versatility and ability, thanks to early cuts “Travelin’” (1962) and “High Flying Bird” (1964), along with a healthy dose of Buffalo Springfield numbers, just to remind the listener of how major his contribution was to the short-lived American ‘supergroup.’

“Helplessly Hoping,” “You Don’t Have To Cry,” and “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” made with CSN, will already no doubt be familiar to fans, while other cuts “Carry On/Questions” and Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock” represent the guitarist’s work with CSNY. There is also a superb solo demo of David Crosby’s lovely “All Along The Lee Shore” recorded in 1969, along with another strong demo of “Now Begins The Task,” a song which first appeared on Manassas’ 1972 debut.

Stills’ first two solo records, the eponymously titled Stephen Stills and Stephen Stills 2 are well covered on CD 2, including an alternate mix of the classic “Love The One You’re With,” the bluesy “Black Queen,” “Old Times Good Times” (recorded with Jimi Hendrix in 1970), and “Go Back Home” (featuring Eric Clapton).

But of all the various rarities on this box, “No Name Jam” is perhaps the one that will always cause the majority of interest. Recorded March 1970, “No Name Jam” as it here titled (it would be inappropriate to repeat the original working title for the song) was an unfinished tune Stills and Hendrix had attempted to complete yet never quite got there. For Carry On, the original vocals were mixed out, and new drums recorded. So, not quite the track many Hendrix scholars had been hoping for, however it remains fascinating nonetheless.

By 1972, with CSNY well and truly on the backburner, Stills had formed a new band with ex-Byrds Chris Hillman (a fine songwriter in his own right), one which they dubbed Manassas. Manassas would go on to release two albums, their extraordinary debut (a double LP) and 1973’s Down The Road. “Song Of Love,” “Rock & Roll Crazies,” and the political “Isn’t It About Time” are some of Stills finest compositions from this particular period, along with the reflective “Colorado” and the tender “Johnny’s Garden.”

Previously unreleased live recordings “Find The Cost Of Freedom” (featuring CSNY) and “Do For The Others” (with Texas singer/songwriter Steven Fromholz) nicely round out the second disc, which one could argue is the best of the four.

By the mid-70s, when Stills third solo LP appeared, music tastes were constantly changing. And while not necessarily some of his greatest, “Turn Back The Pages,” “First Things First,” “Love Story” and “As I Come Of Age,” all from 1975’s underrated Stills, show him willing to creatively move forward while never letting go of his past.

True highlights include a previously unreleased “Black Coral” recorded by CSNY, live renditions of “Know You Got To Run” and “Crossroads,” plus two cuts from CSN’s 1977 reunion album, “I Give You Give Blind” and “See The Changes.”

Though by the late ‘70s, Stills’ star was rapidly fading. His vocals weren’t quite what they’d been, and his once legendary hit writing ability no longer seemed available. But that didn’t mean Stills was incapable of writing and recording quality music, as evidenced on “Cuba Al Fin,” taken from the 1979 Cuban Havana Jam, and “Spanish Suite,” recorded with Herbie Hancock that same year.

Further CSN reunions in the 80’s aside, Stills returned in 1991 with the excellent Stills Alone. Yes Stills was older, something which he puts to fine affect on “Isn’t It So,” “Treetop Flyer,” and Dylan’s “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown.” Three tracks from 2005’s excellent Man Alive! are here, including “Heart’s Gate,” “Feed The People,” and “Ain’t It Always, plus a few never-before released latter day live tracks with CSN and CSNY.

Lovingly produced by Stills alongside old friend Graham Nash and Joel Bernstein, Carry On so far remains the quintessential box for anyone either wanting to delve deeper into the man’s oeuvre, or who are seeking a comprehensive overview of his music.

Whether you already own most of his albums, Carry On is a hard one to ignore.