Rhino Factoids: Stephen Stills Goes Digital
38 years ago today, Stephen Stills entered the Record Plant studio in Los Angeles and started recording the first major-label album using all digital equipment…and we’re still waiting to hear it.
In fact, Stills was actually the first major-label American artist to record using digital recording and mastering equipment, period. Using a 3M system which was installed with the intention of replacing the existing analog system, engineer Michael Braunstein first recorded Stills and the California Blues Band performing a new take on Stills’ song “Cherokee,” which appeared on his self-titled debut album. With that, history was made, and it continued as Stills moved forward with the work on what was intended to be his next record for CBS, following his 1978 effort THOROUGHFARE GAP, which the label had not entirely loved.
Producer Barry Beckett helmed the sessions, which famously brought forth Stills’ solo version of the future Crosby Stills & Nash song “Southern Cross,” but per CSN biographer Dave Zimmer, “Despite the strength of this song and some of the other material Stills had recorded in 1979 and early 1980, CBS once again felt that this was not the kind of music that would sell in the contemporary market. The record company made various demands. Stephen refused to cooperate. So the master tapes of this Barry Beckett-produced Stills music were impounded and have yet to see the light of day."
The full documentation of Stills’ sessions doesn’t appear to have been released, but Zimmer has offered up a few tidbits about the material that was laid down over the course of those recordings:“Streetwise” “One Way Ride” “Why Didn't We Love?” “Dangerous Woman On The Loose” “Precious Love” “You Are Alive” “Palace Of The King” “Feed The People”
"We had a nice combination of songs,” said Stills. “Barry took his time and allowed me to play. I didn't have to wear the producer's hat. I didn't have to think with him. He knew what I was after.”
If only what Stills was after had matched up with what CBS had been looking for, eh? In closing, aside from maintaining the hope that we’ll someday see a release of those sessions in their entirety, it’s worth noting which all-digital album actually ended up being the first released, if only because it’s in our catalog: Ry Cooder’s BOP TILL YOU DROP.