Stephen Stills - Just Roll Tape

Stephen Stills
Just Roll Tape: April 26, 1968


First Appeared in The Music Box, July 2007, Volume 14, #7

Written by John Metzger

Tue July 10, 2007, 05:45 AM CDT


As anyone who has closely followed his career can attest, Stephen Stills has a tendency to allow his songs to gestate for a long time. Need proof? Look no further than his latest archival release Just Roll Tape. Taken from an impromptu session that was held on April 26, 1968, the collection contains 12 songs that filtered through his various projects over the course of the next four years. One tune in particular — Know You’ve Got to Run — predated his work with Buffalo Springfield and was pilfered for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s Everybody I Love You before it finally debuted in full on his 1971 solo set Stephen Stills 2.

As the story goes, Stills had accompanied Judy Collins, his then-girlfriend, to New York City where she was recording music for the soundtrack to The Subject Was Roses. At the end of her session, he decided to purchase an hour of studio time in order to run through his repertoire. Like many similar sets by other artists, the resulting tapes were thought to be lost, but in 2003 they were presented to Graham Nash by the man who had discovered them in a box that had been headed to the trash bin 25 years earlier. Make no mistake, the reel contained lo-fi, solo acoustic demos. Considering their history, however, the anomalies are minimal, and the sound quality is remarkably good.

The cover to Just Roll Tape seems to indicate that the songs are being presented to the public in precisely the order in which they were recorded, and the session’s sequencing certainly shows that Stills had a method to his madness. Using the opening cut All I Know Is What You Tell Me to warm up, he quickly moved through a series of fully realized compositions that ranged from the gentle folk of Change Partners to the intricately blues-y Black Queen. Elsewhere, the gorgeously haunting The Doctor Will See You Now highlights the influence that he and Neil Young had upon each other, and the embryonic rendition of Wooden Ships that concludes the affair — save for a demo of Treetop Flyer, which was culled from a later date — finds him running short of material.

Over the course of Just Roll Tape, it’s astounding to hear how early some of Stills’ tunes hit their stride. Yet, it equally is apparent how influential his partners in Manassas and Crosby, Stills and Nash were in helping to refine and polish tracks like So Begins the Task, Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, and Helplessly Hoping until they became sparkling gemstones. For as promising as the songs are, they seem to beg for the now-familiar, prismatic harmonies of his pals. Wooden Ships, in particular, is just a kernel of an idea that is waiting to bloom. For certain, Just Roll Tape isn’t likely to be of interest to all of Stills’ fans, but for those who desire an intimate glimpse into his creative process, it proves to be quite illuminating. starstarstar

Just Roll Tape is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!


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