Happy 45th: Stephen Stills, MANASSAS

Wednesday, April 12, 2017
Happy 45th: Stephen Stills, MANASSAS

45 years ago today, Stephen Stills released the self-titled debut album by his short-lived band Manassas.

Manassas came into existence in the wake of Stills touring behind his second album, STEPHEN STILLS 2, which made it into the top 10 of the Billboard 200 but was received far less rapturously by critics than his self-titled debut. Following that tour, however, Stills got in touch with Chris Hillman and Al Perkins of the Flying Burrito Brothers, who he’d met up with on the road –and invited them and fiddler Byron Berline to join him for a studio jam. Also in the mix were members of Stills’ touring band: keyboardist Paul Harris, percussionist Joe Lala, bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, and drummer Dallas Taylor.

Several weeks later, the musicians recorded enough songs for a double album, and they had gelled sufficiently to be called a band. That band was called Manassas after they had a photo shoot in – you guessed it – Manassas, Virginia, and the resulting album shared its name with the band.

It’s also worth noting the album featured at least one high-profile guest musician in the mix, and possibly two, but we’ll get to that. The confirmed participant was Bill Wyman, then of the Rolling Stones, who apparently enjoyed the experience of playing on “The Love Gangster” enough to indicate that he might’ve liked to become a member of the band. (It didn’t happen, though, but you probably already knew that.)

As for the unconfirmed player… Well, actually, it’s not that it isn’t unconfirmed, it’s that he’s not listed in the credits. In the British ‘zine Swing ’51, Jerry Garcia said of MANASSAS, "There are a couple of tunes on there where I play pedal steel and maybe even guitar on one, but there's at least two that I'm not credited on. But I did the sessions and it's me playing." He did not, however, indicate the tunes on which he played. That said, the suspicion is that Garcia played on “Jesus Gave Love Away for Free” and “So Begins the Task.” Then again, maybe he didn’t. (You should probably give both tracks another spin to see if you can tell one way or the other.)

When MANASSAS was released, it was a success, making its way to #4 on the Billboard 200, and it’s looked back on by most critics as being among the greatest achievements in Stills’ career. Unfortunately, the band’s second album would prove to be their swan song, and it failed to capture the same magic as its predecessor, but on their debut album, Manassas well and truly delivered the goods.

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