Make It a Double: Manassas, MANASSAS

Friday, January 5, 2018
Make It a Double: Manassas, MANASSAS

Stephen Stills' history with bands in the '70s followed something of a pattern—initial success, followed by meltdown and flameout. It had gone that way for the Buffalo Springfield and, by 1972, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young had met a similar fate. Even Stills' solo career had begun to flicker, as 1971's STEPHEN STILLS 2 had been deemed an indulgent, subpar follow-up to his very popular solo debut.

So what did Stills do next? He put together a band, of course. A series of jam sessions with Flying Burrito Brothers Chris Hillman and Al Perkins sparked some creative flames, and soon Stills brought in CSNY drummer Dallas Taylor, along with bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, keyboardist Paul Harris and vocalist/percussionist Joe Lala from his own touring band. Manassas was thus born.

The band's debut, the double album MANASSAS, is a largely underappreciated gem, filled with terrific songs and great playing. The album's four sides have their own individual titles ("The Raven," "The Wilderness," "Consider," and "Rock & Roll is Here to Stay") and distinct personalities. Highlights include the rollicking opener "Song of Love," with its deep groove and slide guitar slyly popping in and out of the mix; and the deep blues of "Jet Set (Sigh)," where the dueling lead guitars debate and declaim, only to yield their argument to guest Sydney George's positively nasty harmonica.

The country swing of "Don't Look at My Shadow" has the Burritos/Byrds harmonies that made Hillman famous, and his co-write "It Doesn't Matter" likewise features a blend of voices that would not have sounded out of place on the first Crosby, Stills & Nash album. An elongated wah-wah guitar effect gives "The Love Gangster" an earworm hook, and a couple songs later makes a memorable reappearance in the epic "The Treasure (Take One)," an eight-minute, solo-heavy guitar workout that serves as much a tribute to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman and Canned Heat singer Al Wilson as the album-closing "Blues Man," an acoustic blues that is explicitly dedicated to those departed performers.

Soon after the tour for MANASSAS ended, the band started to come apart, thus following Stills' pattern of success and flameout; an underwhelming second album in 1973 sealed the band's fate. By that time, however, plans were underway to put CSNY back together for a massive stadium tour in 1974, enabling Stills to jump back into that high-profile gig, leaving the ashes of Manassas to scatter in the wind.

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