Stephen Stills Remembers David Crosby: ‘He Was a Big Force in My Life and a Towering Musician’
Stephen Stills and David Crosby didn’t always see eye to eye throughout the long history of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. But they were on good terms during the final years of Crosby’s life and even had plans to see each other shortly before Crosby died.
“When you’re young, if you’re not fighting, someone doesn’t care enough about the music,” Stills tells Rolling Stone. “When you get middle-aged, you should be able to do it without fighting. Later on, you turn into a curmudgeon, especially if you’re as clever as David was. But it’s a cyclical thing, these relationships. And this was a lifetime relationship. That’s hard to let anybody else inside of.”
They last came face-to-face at the funeral of CSN keyboardist Mike Finnigan in August 2021. “It was time to reconnect with the old Croz,” says Stills. “Then he just went out the back door.”
“I’m shocked [that David died] but not surprised,” he continued. “I love the guy. He was a big force in my life and a towering musician. He was all excited about his new band. [My son] Christopher was in his band, and they were going to get back on the road a little. He just went to take a nap and didn’t come back. When you think about it, it beats the hell out of being in a hospital with people beating on your chest or something.”
Stills’ relationship with Neil Young goes back even further than his relationship with Crosby, and the two of them get together every Wednesday to privately jam. “We’re proving the adage that Rust Never Sleeps,” says Stills. “We hang out in the studio. We play old songs. We play other people’s songs. We just play together, the two of us. We go back and rediscover old Buffalo Springfield songs and then just play them on the natch. We then listen to the records and go, ‘Oh God, we missed that by a mile.’ But we do it every week. Shakey and I have always gotten along great.”
Stills hasn’t played music on the road since the end of his co-headlining tour with Judy Collins in 2018, but he occasionally gets together with Indianapolis Colts owner/rock aficionado Jim Isray for special performances alongside REM’s Mike Mills, drummer Kenny Aronoff, and guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd. “It’s the best pickup band in the world,” says Stills. “All these great musicians fly in, and we make up a show. It’s good practice for [Stills’ upcoming charity concert] Light Up The Blues, and it’s therapeutic for me.”
Just don’t expect Stills to get back on a bus at age 78 for any sort of tour. “The idea of touring absolutely appalls me,” he says. “I can’t imagine being on the bus for 14 hours. You can’t take drugs anymore. It’s no longer fun.”
He kept a pretty low profile during the pandemic, largely staying home with his wife Kristen and seeing his children. “I have been in a rapid aging process,” he jokes. “I wake up and realize, ‘Holy Toledo, I’m old.’ I really just do old-man stuff. I tried to take care of myself. I slept a lot and went to the doctor a lot. I’m taking care of myself.”
Last year, Stills sold a controlling interest in his intellectual property, including his publishing, to Irving Azoff’s Iconic Artists Group. Azfoff has spoken about plans to introduce Stills to a new generation of music fans, but a proper documentary seems like it’s at least a few years away. “Everyone keeps coming in with another film in front of that,” says Stills. “We were talking about that, but Richie [Furay] is making one. They’re doing a CSN one. They made a David one. They’ll get to me eventually.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Young, Stills, and Furay — the three surviving members of Buffalo Springfield — sat down for a group interview that will appear in Furay’s upcoming documentary. “It was hilarious to remember all that stuff,” says Stills. [Furay posted a photo of them together on his Facebook page.]
Buffalo Springfield last played together at Bonnaroo in 2011, following a brief California theater tour. Young and Stills are playing together at the Light Up The Blues charity concert at the Greek Theater on April 22. But is there any chance they’d invite Furay to the gig and create a de facto Buffalo Springfield reunion for at least a few songs? When we posed those questions to Stills and his wife Kristen, who is the main organizer of Light Up the Blues, Stephen kept his lips tight. “Everything is on the table,” says Kristen.
A Stephen Stills memoir was on the table for a while, but he says that is also something not to expect in the near future. “I stalled out for a while,” he says. “I’m learning to wait on that. There’s no such thing as writer’s block. There’s just avoiding silly writing. When you find yourself doing that, stop for a while.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t occasionally write new music. “At this age, it’s done one day at a time and one song at a time,” he says. “I’m trying to write new songs since there’s a lot to write about these days. They fall out when they do. When I get four or five, I’ll think about recording them. It’s not work. It’s waiting.”