Still playing folk guitar

Stephen Stills, now touring with Crosby and Nash, almost played bass for Jimi Hendrix

David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash
Courtesy photo

If Stephen Stills isn’t doing cartwheels across the stage and jumping off of amplifiers this summer on his tour with Crosby, Stills & Nash, he’ll have a good excuse.


“I’ve got to hobble through this tour and then I’ve got to go and get a knee replacement,” the guitarist/ singer says. “It blew up on me three times in the last three months. So that’s a sign.”

Other than the bothersome knee, Stills is a happy guy these days. He is happily married, he’s lost considerable weight and looks fit and trim, and yes, he’s happy to be back out on tour with his longtime musical comrades, Graham Nash and David Crosby.

The trio has assembled a new band for this tour. It includes Michael Burkes (guitar), Todd Caldwell (organ), Shane Fontayne (guitar),%u2028Steve DiStanislao (drums), Kevin McCormick (bass) and James Raymond (keyboards). Stills loves what he’s hearing on stage.

“It’s a great band, it gives us all this latitude to do anything from any period of our careers,” Stills says. “So we are having a great time resurrecting songs, and [the band members are] very sensitive to dynamics and getting out of the way and things like that. So we’ve got the whole gamut.”

He’s also genuinely jazzed about a box set that spans every phase of Stills’ career, which is getting readied for release later this year.

“It’s four discs. It’s five and a half hours of music,” Stills says. “It’s from everything. There’s some CSN stuff in there. There’s me doing CSN songs solo. There’s me doing covers. There’s some great guest sets kind of things and live takes. But the startling thing is how diverse the songs are and how deeply involved I would get in them.”

One rather famous session that will not be included in the box set found Jimi Hendrix collaborating with Stills. Instead, Stills says negotiations are under way to release the tracks the two guitarists recorded through the Hendrix family and its Experience Hendrix umbrella.

In the time leading up to Hendrix’s death, the two guitarists were planning to make a CD together, and Hendrix, in fact, played guitar on “Old Times Good Times,” a song on Stills’ 1970 self-titled debut album.

Stills also came close to joining Hendrix’s band as bassist for one of Hendrix’s tours. Stills picks up the story from there.

“I was a pretty crackerjack bass player,” Stills says. “So somebody in David Geffen’s office, probably David, intercepted the message and didn’t pass it on. I found out about it, I was in Hawaii. … By the time I did get the message, it was pretty cryptic. It was like, ‘Jimi Hendrix called and they want you to come and play bass, and I think you should pass. It’s too late anyway. They found somebody else to play it.’

“I would have done it in a heartbeat,” Stills says, noting he would still have kept Crosby, Stills & Nash as his main group project.

And CSN is busy these days. In addition to the tour, the group reportedly will release a box set culled from the 1974 Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tour in the first part of 2013. A second collection of demo recordings is also in the pipeline.

One project that was moving along but is uncertain now is an album of covers, in which Crosby, Stills & Nash were applying their sound and vocal harmonies to songs by the likes of the Beatles, Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and the Grateful Dead.

Superstar producer Rick Rubin was working on the project with the trio, but the group recently fired Rubin and did a session at Jackson Browne’s studio in an effort to keep the project moving forward.

Stills didn’t offer many specifics on what went wrong with Rubin, but he indicated that Crosby and Rubin weren’t a good match.

“We were getting there, and I, quite frankly, thought we were on the way,” Stills said. “Choosing the songs was just an exercise of ‘You’ve got to be kidding’ in some places. But Rick was a pretty good sport about that. He doesn’t say much, and that drove Crosby out of his mind. And I’m going to have to defer to the others. I personally thought we were doing well. I have no ill feelings toward Rick Rubin whatsoever.”