Interview by Simmy Richman.
Interviews with living legends often come with limitations. In the case of Stephen Stills the instruction is clear and comes from various directions: "Stephen will only be talking about his new project The Rides."
Mention anything else, I am gently informed, and Mr Stills will most likely be none too happy. Which is a shame, because here is a man who has played on some of my favourite music ever. From Buffalo Springfield to Crosby Stills & Nash via some still-special 1970s solo albums and a splinter group, Manassas, as good as anything in that main canon. None of which is to mention the many musicians Stills has played with and come into contact with over his six decades in music.
He was there at the first pop festival, Monterey, which came about following a conversation between Stills and David Crosby. He was there, too, at Woodstock and Altamont. A guitarists’ guitarist, Stills is also the only man who has recorded an album to feature both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. So much to talk about then, if only we were permitted to, but first we have to coax Stills gently away from the television showing cricket in the corner of the hotel bar.
He is 68 now, a tad hard of hearing, but otherwise a big bear of a man, dressed head to toe in black and still with the healthy hues of the California sun flecked through what’s left of his hair. To establish trust, I show him a cigarette card from the early 1970s I’d found in a San Francisco antiques shop with his boyish gaze printed on the front. “That looks like my son,” he says, before smiling and adding, “or like me without the lumpy bits.”
Fearful of those pre-interview instructions, I kick off with a reassuring, “So we’re here to talk about The Rides…” “About the what,” he replies. “The Rides,” I say a little louder. “Oh, The Rides,” he says as the penny drops. “I thought you said the riots.” Right, I figure. If he’s thinking I’m going to kick off with a question about worldwide socio-political turmoil, I’m probably going to be safe to venture cautiously away from the agenda. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation that followed.
So The Rides is essentially a blues band, though in your time you’ve been involved in folk, country, rock and all manner of musical genres. Why have you gone back to the blues now?