In August 1971, Stephen Stills arrived in Berkeley for the final dates of his first ever solo tour to be greeted by a surprise visitor: David Crosby. Just a year earlier their pioneering folk rock supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young had imploded in a blizzard of booze, cocaine, rampant egos and lopsided love triangles. That night, however, there were no hard feelings. “He came to see me in the dressing room before the show,” remembers Stills, who promptly invited his old friend to join him on stage. “I said: ‘Let’s do “The Lee Shore”’ and he said: ‘Alright!’ We didn’t run through it that many times – and it shows! But that’s the way we rolled back then. It was marvellous.”
Their heartfelt duet appears early on Stills’s new album Live at Berkeley 1971, which is drawn from recordings the former Buffalo Springfield guitarist recently unearthed during a deep dive into his archival vault. Now 78, Stills is speaking to me over a video call from his airy home in the hills above Los Angeles. The snowy white beard sprouting in a tuft from his chin may give him the appearance of a medieval friar but in conversation he’s mischievous and puckish, with an irreverent attitude towards his own music.
“There are some rather strange vocals,” he says of the live album, which features a solo-acoustic set followed by a full-throated electric performance backed by legendary Stax musicians the Memphis Horns. “I remind myself of… well, the term ‘barking mad’ comes to mind. We were very enthusiastic, and by the end of the shows I was literally barking because I couldn’t make the notes and everything was too fast!”