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The Acoustic Storm Interviews

Stephen Stills

The Acoustic Storm spoke with Stephen Stills by phone from Des Moines, Iowa on June 25, 2007. Stills was about to release "Just Roll Tape," a collection of acoustic demos he recorded in a New York studio in the spring of 1968 shortly after producing a session with then-girlfriend Judy Collins (the inspiration for the CSN classic, "Suite Judy Blue Eyes").

ACOUSTIC STORM:
Thanks for joining us on The Acoustic Storm.

STILLS:
That's quite an impressive affiliate list you have. I spent a lot of time in north central Florida, so hello to all the Gator nation. I grew up listening to radio stations from small and medium-sized towns. That's how we stayed connected.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
On July 10th, you'll be releasing "Just Roll Tape," a collection of demos you recorded on April 26, 1968.

STILLS:
Well, basically I was bursting and I had to get those songs down before I forgot them or I changed them too much; or other people got their mitts on them and changed them too much. They had been written down on the backs of the cardboard from your shirts from the laundry and notebooks, and scraps of paper. I really needed to get it all down. So I just took the opportunity after a session and the tape never stopped running except when it ran out and we had to change reels.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
What was the chronology of when you actually recorded "Just Roll Tape"? It was obviously post-Buffalo Springfield.

STILLS:
Yes, well you've touched on a sensitive area, because chronology (laughs) is what's keeping me from finishing my autobiography because I cannot remember what happened when, between 'the 60s' and 'my 60s'. I'm just a little foggy on a few things so I have to get researchers to answer those questions, so I'm not sure. But this was between the Buffalo Springfield and CSN, and there's also half of my first solo album in this collection of material.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
What was it like hearing those demos after they had been dormant for so many years?

STILLS:
I took out the stuff that was basically just mumbling and garbage and not fit for human consumption, which was only maybe eight minutes. The vocal was on one side and the guitar was on another. So I sent it to some guy and said 'center everything up' and then I listened to it and did my chart-booking and said 'don't change it from there.' I didn't want to mess with it too much. I remember the time, the cloudiness of '67 was just beginning to dissipate. 1967 was a very fractious year for me, but '68 was starting to get fun. We had just finally said OK, we might do this group so I wanted to get that material prepared.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
Let's start with "Suite Judy Blue Eyes." The only part that's missing in the demo compared to the final studio version is the Latin-influenced three-part vocal harmonies. There's always been a hint of Latin music that has seeped into your songs.

STILLS:
Well, in that I went to high school in Costa Rica there wasn't much choice but to fall in love with Latin music. It's a great thing and there's an underpinning of it in everything I do.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
When you wrote "Suite Judy Blue Eyes" did you decide ahead of time that it would have three different parts, or did it just come together that way?

STILLS:
I try not to over-analyze it, that's for you guys to do. It developed into a thing. At the time, there were a lot of concept records and grandiose things being bandied about, so maybe it was an attempt to reach for that. When we were practicing, me David and Graham used to sing the whole damned album for anyone who would walk in the room, it was hilarious. You basically come over to borrow a cup of sugar and these three guys make you listen to everything they're doing (laughs).

ACOUSTIC STORM:
The first recorded version of "Helplessly Hoping" is on "Just Roll Tape."

STILLS:
That song really works good solo or with harmonies. It actually fell out more as a solo thing because it really sings great as a country song, it's in that classic form. It's a lot of alliteration (lyrically).

ACOUSTC STORM:
Another then-future CSN demo you recorded was a short demo version of "Wooden Ships."

STILLS:
Paul Kantner had started one little part and David had another little part and I showed up on the boat in Florida. You know, it was floating around the room and I just whacked it off. And then I'd flown to New York the next day and this session was the day after that, so that song was pretty fresh. I needed to get it down the way I heard it in my head before it got tumbled around too much.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
"Treetop Flyer" is also on "Just Roll Tape." When did you record that version?

STILLS:
I think that was the first time it was recorded, up in Colorado. We finally started going through our vaults and they wanted a bonus track. Everybody screams about how they can never find that song. I wanted to change the fact that it has two false starts. It does the first verse three times, but people said to leave it alone, like it's some kind of magical document. Anyway, it's a nice rendition of the song.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
The two false starts must account for making the demo time out longer than the studio version, right?

STILLS:
I don't think there's a studio version...oh well, yes there is one. I think I'll put that song on every record, so everybody can choose their own favorite version, because everybody likes that song, it's the pirate in them.

ACOUSTIC STORM:
We get a lot of requests for "Treetop Flyer."

STILLS:
Yeah, me too.
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