Stephen Stills taps back into the blues
Aword to the wise to those who would "thank" Stephen Stills of Crosby, Stills & Nash for writing "Love the One You're With," long perceived as an anthem of free love.
"Four decades of frat boys come up and thank me and I say, 'Actually, you should read it again. It doesn't say what you think it says,'" he says with a raspy chuckle. "It's actually [saying that] you've got to love yourself before you can love anybody else."
During an amiably rambling interview to discuss his new project the Rides, featuring fellow singer-songwriter-guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd and veteran keyboardist Barry Goldberg, the "S" of CSN (and sometimes Y) chatted about everything from the finer rest stops of Australia to beaming about his seven kids (who are everything from a professional photographer to a budding golfer to musicians). "My daughters all have a great work ethic and focus," says Stills, "and my sons..." the thought trailing off. They take more after dad? "Exactly," he says with a hearty laugh.
Considering his incredible career — twice inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Buffalo Springfield and Crosby, Stills and Nash, and author of indelible tunes like "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" and "Southern Cross" — being a chip off the old block wouldn't be such a terrible thing.
We reached Stills by phone from New York, where the Rides, whose meaty new blues rock album "Can't Get Enough," was released last week, had just kicked off the tour that brings them to the Wilbur Theatre on Saturday.
Q. If I understand this correctly, you weren't exactly clear on who Kenny Wayne Shepherd was before beginning this project, even though you knew him. Is that right?
A. That was an elderly person's mistake that I happened to not connect the dots. Kenny was this really nice friend of [Indianapolis Colts owner] Jim Irsay's. We used to go to the football games and play in the jam session parties along with Mike Mills and Kenny Aronoff and [John] Mellencamp and a few others that play these parties that Jim has during the season, and he was "Kenny the really nice guitar player, the gunslinger, the greased lightning kid." And then last year I called my manager and I said, "I really want to make a blues album" and he got me together with Barry Goldberg who was on that "Super Session" album with me very far into the last century. And so I'm playing in a casino with CSN, and we just finished a 12-hour bus ride and [my manager] Elliot's on the phone and he says, "I've got just the guy, his name is Kenny Wayne Shepherd." Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Kenny the nice kid — it just didn't connect because I'm old and stupid. And I said "Elliot, I don't know who you mean." And I turn around and in the parking lot there is an eight-story-tall marquee with his picture on it and it says, "Coming this weekend, Kenny Wayne Shepherd" and I went "Oh! That'll be fine." (Laughs.)
Q. What was Kenny's reaction to this story?
A. He thinks it's hilarious as do I, because I'm not too old for irony.
Q. On "Can't Get Enough" you guys sound like you're having a lot of fun.
A. We are. It's so odd to be in a band without arguments. We haven't had a cross word yet and we just say yes to everything. It's wonderful being in a blues band, it's where I started. Everybody my age started out trying to learn Jimmy Reed songs.
Q. How did Jerry Harrison (formerly of Talking Heads) get in the mix as a co-producer?
A. He came down for a few days. He's produced a couple of Kenny Wayne's records and it made him feel a little safer. The one great idea he did have was doing the Stooges song ["Search and Destroy."]
Q. Yes, that seemed like an offbeat choice.
A. You can thank my daughter for it because Barry and I were going, "What? This is a strange song, these chords are weird, they don't quite fit together." And we're grousing and being old men, and my daughter said, "Dad shut up and just cut it. It's one of my favorite songs." And three takes later we had it.
Q. Have you heard from Neil about your version of "Rockin' In the Free World"?
A. He loved it. He said I nailed it. Actually, I was quite shocked because we just did it once and I just got up there and belted it. And I came in the next day and said, "What did you do to my voice? You didn't Pro Tool my voice did you?" Because I sound about 30. And they said nope. They could be lying to me.
Q. So it sounds like you hope to keep the Rides going?
A. Oh yeah. I've always been a polygamist, I want at least two bands going at the same time.
Q. What's the current status of another CSN and maybe Y tour?
A. We're doing the Bridge School Benefit with Neil at the end of October so I will see everybody then. But we were on the road for 18 months, me and David and Graham, so we're having a little vacation.