Wednesday, September 5, 2007


I was going to write a book about us, but our mutual friend and manager, Gerry Tolman warned me not to "tell tales out of school". Good advice. Tabloid sensations are a dime a dozen. I told Gerry I wasn't going to dish dirt [though there was plenty], but that I'd make it a scholarly piece.

Still, no go. Gerry and I go back to the seventies. We both worked on Stills' dime and were pretty much on call 24/7. I had the easier gig. I toyed around with Stills guitars, getting them in top condition and making sure the stage was just as he wanted. Tolman had it rough. He had to play on the stage. I didn't envy him. Sadly, Gerry wasn't long for this world. He crashed on the Hollywood freeway, just when he was at the top.

Gerry became close to Stills manager, Jeff Wald. Besides being Helen Reddy's husband, he knew the business and plucked Gerry to learn it. He learned fast and soon made everyone's life a lot easier.

I first saw CSN perform in San Diego just after Woodstock. They had Neil along. The louder the overhead landing jets screamed, the more they twisted their volume knobs to 11. I couldn't hear for days. Being a novice guitar builder, I was more interested in their axes than the fringe jackets and hair.

Ten years later I had a chance to meet Stills at his home high on Mulholland Drive. I was hired on to appraise his collection of a 125 guitars. An enjoyable three week project stretched into a few months. He had so much repair work needed, I could have stayed a year. I was already booked to go on the road with the Beach Boys and tend to Carl Wilson's guitars and set the stage.

While in Boston, I called Stills' house looking for his manager, but got Stephen instead. He asked what I was doing. I told him. "With those guys?'ve got to be kidding. Get your ass back here. You're going to work for me". I hemmed and hawed, and told him I'd see him the next day. That day was the start of a four year stint that taught me the true nature of sleep deprivation.

Stills was the ultimate workaholic. He never stopped. If he wasn't writing, performing, or traveling...he would be working on his golf game. At the time, he was doing his solo gig, using the California Blues Band to polish the tunes set for a new album. Columbia Records sent down the edict that, for the first time in his career, he would have to have an outside producer. It was settled that Barry Beckett, of Muscle Shoals Sound, would be the one.

Barry worked with the cream of the rock world and arrived in LA with a leash. He made it clear the project wouldn't be the usual marathon, but recording would only last three weeks. One week to mix in Alabama. An album in a month? We all laughed, but were pleasantly surprised as Stills became the definition of responsible. Never late, always prepared and following orders. The album was finished just as Beckett predicted.

Stills had worked up several albums worth of material, all excellent. Beckett chose 12 out of nearly thirty new songs. The California Blues Band had them down, so Beckett's deadlines weren't that hard to meet.

Mike Finnigan on Hammond B-3 was the rock. His vamping organ was Stills ocean to swim. Mike, as a rookie, played on Electric Ladyland with Hendrix and the 10 year growing period made him a monster. His vocal harmony was all his. A pro's pro. Mike lets it loose on this clip from the early 90's..."Let me see the Light".

Rounding out the band was Trey Thompson on Bass, Billy Meeker on Drums, and Mike Stergis on Guitar. The Beckett produced album never made it to press. All for nothing. Columbia Records and Stills had a contract disagreement that never was settled. The album is sitting in some vault in Nashville.

Though recorded in Hollywood, Beckett wanted to mix it in Alabama. Muscle Shoals was the perfect place for Stills to put on the finishing touches to the best of his career. The signature tune, Southern Cross, eventually was covered by CSN on their Daylight Again album.

The week in Muscle Shoals mixing was a blessing for Stills and I. He only took me along and we weren't prepared for the southern hospitality. The studio sat on the river, hidden from civilization. Quite a difference from Sunset Blvd. We never tired of hearing the George Jones stories. Muscle Shoals was his favorite escape from Nashville. Now it was ours.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I can't get this darn thing to work.