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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2001/10/18
by Mike Gruenberg

Stephen Stills

As far as Im concerned, the best place to see a summer concert in New York is Jones Beach Theater on Long Island. Where else can you sit under the stars, be cooled by soft summer breezes and see the worlds greatest entertainers perform by hearing them through an excellent sound system and see them up close from any seat in the house on two video screens. It truly does not get better than this for summer concert enjoyment.
Every year, we check the Jones Beach Theater schedule in June and make plans to go to as many summer concerts as possible. This year, my wife and I bought tickets to three concerts, but the Crosby, Stills & Nash concert was the one circled on our calendar that we didnt want to miss. Oh, did I neglect to tell you that the one thing that could make a Jones Beach concert less than pleasurable? Thats right, rain can make the experience of sitting at an open-air concert unpleasant. Sure enough, it rained all day and there was no reason to expect that the rain would miraculously stop because the Gruenbergs and thousands of others had bought tickets to see C,S & N. We made the decision to wear hats and rain gear since we did not want to miss the concert.
For baby boomers like us, C,S & N represent the true renaissance of American rock music. When introduced in 1970, they were the billed as the first super group. Crosby from the Byrds, Nash from the Hollies and Stills and Young from the Buffalo Springfield. The first two C,S, N & Y albums are classics. The rain soaked audience that night was comprised mostly of older rockers like me and my wife who vividly remembered the profound effect this super group had on our musical tastes at the time of their early popularity.
Upon seeing the group, only Nash seems to have thwarted the ravages of time. In actuality, he probably looks better today than he did thirty years ago. Conversely, the years have not been as kind to both Crosby and Stills. Nevertheless, we came to see the music, see our fellow middle aged performers and as the rains were unable to dampen our spirits, we settled in for what he hoped would be over two hours of great songs and even greater harmonies.
When Stephen Stills sang on the first song, I was a bit dismayed since his voice was extremely raspy and difficult to understand. We surmised that he either had a sore throat or the many years of cigarette smoking had taken an unkind toll on this man. However, by the third song, his voice cleared up and from that point forward he literally stole the show. His distinctive voice, incredible guitar work and his unstoppable energy was a sight to behold. Blended with David Crosby and Graham Nash, Stephen made this a rainy night to be remembered. I was blown away by his guitar playing and said that in not so many words to my wife, when a guy next to me said, Havent you ever heard the saying that anyone who thinks Clapton is God, has obviously not heard Stepehn Stills play guitar.
The next day, I looked through my record collection to bring back the memories of how good Stephen Stills was when I was buying his solo albums. There are three Stills albums that capture the essence and talent of this man. I am neglecting to mention his work with the C,S, N & Y group because their early work is legendary and I neednt plow over those fields again. I call to your attention, three Stephen Stills albums that sound even better today than when they were released.
1. Simply entitled Stephen Stills (Atlantic 7202), this is the one where on the cover he is sitting on a bench in the snow, guitar in hand, stuffed animal by his side and a cigarette in his hand as he strums the guitar. Although David and Graham appear on some songs, Neil Young is not present on the album. Rock luminaries like Eric Clapton, John Sebastian, Jimi Hendrix and Mama Cass Elliot appear. The classic rock song, Love the One Youre With is included and for no other reason, this album must be part of your collection. The Stephen Stills tunes on this album could easily have been part of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 3 album.
2. The second ultimate Stephen Stills album you need to own is entitled Stills (Columbia PC 33575) released five years later in 1975 and is far better than the previously described album. Graham and David once again fill in on a few songs, but this one is pure Stephen Stills at his best. Its almost eerie to know how good C, S, N & Y were and to hear this record and realize how much influence Stills had on the group. One review I read said that this album was almost like a best of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young without the other three.
3. My final album of the Stills trilogy is Long May You Run (Reprise 22532) by the Stills-Young Band. Released in 1976, this one tops the other two. The result of the incredible synergy of these two unique men produces a perfect album. Furthermore, you get to understand that although Neil and Stephen have been an island unto themselves, its really great when they are both on the same floor because the results are astounding.
Since the concert, I have been playing these albums and have not grown tired of hearing them. I strongly urge you to find these albums.
Finally, I would like to dedicate this column to a person that I recently found out is presumed dead as a result of the September 11th massacre. Approximately twenty years ago, I was asked by my boss to help a new salesperson at our office in New York. Her name was Valerie Silver and although she was considerably younger than I was, her sales skills were quite evident and my help was really not needed. We became friends and we found that we shared a love of music. I told her about the groups from the 60s and she brought me up to date on the new groups of the 80s. We would prepare cassette tapes for one another and we would say that we are adding to the Grueberg/Silver Tape Library. I will always remember that Val was the one who first brought Dire Straits to my attention. We shared many good times and many lengthy music discussions. After she left our company, we lost touch over the years although we spoke a few years ago when I visited Cantor Fitzgerald where she worked until her death as a trader. She will truly be missed.
Some are dead and some are living, in my life Ive loved them all.

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