Stephen Stills had been a man on a mission since the mid-1960. He wanted a band! Not just any band but a band that was his and his alone. He wanted to be in control.
Buffalo Springfield held promise but it could never really be his band with that pesky Neil Young competing with him and refusing to take his direction, or anyone else’s direction for that matter. He thought he had it made with Crosby, Stills, and Nash but they were more of a vocal group than a band. Hell, he had to play almost all of the damn instruments himself on their first album. In his desperation for a real band he somehow allowed Neil Young to re-enter the picture with CSNY. It was great having Neil as a foil, and someone that was his equal for extended guitar solos, but just like with Buffalo Springfield, Neil refused to cooperate with Stephen’s ambitions. In the end, Neil treated CSN like an alternative backup band to Crazy Horse which was not to Stephen’s liking at all!
In 1971, Stephen took matters into his own hand and formed Manassas, the band of his dreams. Stephen was in charge and the band could really kick ass. This was a group that could comfortably play the country flavored rock that the California sound was famous for as well as the latin flavored music that was Stephen’s secret passion. Although Stephen was in charge, he had a pretty impressive right hand man in Chris Hillman who we have discussed at length as an original member of the Bryds and of the Flying Burrito Brothers. The other musicians were equally impressive in their own right and included Al Perkins (steel guitar), Fuzzy Samuels (bass), Paul Harris (keyboards), Dallas Taylor (drums), and Joe Lala (percussion – the foundation of the latin sound that I mentioned). It was a real band, a big band, and it would be the source of some of the best music of Stephen’s career (and Chris’ career as well). On most days I actually prefer listening to Manassas over CSN or CSNY and that says a lot. So today we are going to celebrate Manassas’ two studio albums with a lot of music….no I mean a whole lot of music. I hope you enjoy it, I am not going to bore you with a lot of my feelings. Quick introductions and then on to the music.
Manassas (double album release in 1972 – an absolute masterpiece)
First up is a song written by Stephen and Chris called Both of Us (Bound to Lose). Chris and Stephen trade of lead vocals and the harmonies are amazing. My favorite Manassas song….
Next up is my second favorite Manassas song, It Doesn’t Matter, which was also written by Stephen and Chris.
Finally, we have a beautiful song written by Stephen called Move Around. In addition to a great vocal by Stephen, this song has an extremely tasty synthesizer backing track.
So far we have highlighted some of my favorite tracks from the Manassas double album but you only have half the story. I mentioned early on that this band could kick ass and now it is time to prove it. We are lucky enough to have a full 35 minute Manassas performance from a German TV show in 1972. The set list from this show includes a number of songs from their double album: Bound to Fall, It Doesn’t Matter, Hide It So Deep, Song of Love, Rock ‘n Roll Crazies, Cuban Bluegrass, Jet Set, Jam, The Treasure. Let’s listen……
If you aren’t sold on Manassas I seriously have to question your musical taste but I am going to give you one more chance. Let’s sample some Manassas’s second (and last) studio album titled Down the Road. This album was pretty much panned by the critics but hopefully you have learned by now that I trust myself over any critic and I feel today like I did in 1973. Down the Road was a great album. Maybe not as good as their first but great in its own right.
So Many Times was easily the best song on Down the Road. Once again it was cowritten by Stephen and Chris. Chris takes the lead vocal with Stephen singing harmony and the result is amazing.
For a change of pace, let’s listen to Down the Road, the title song from the second album. Some wonderful slide guitar from Stephen on this one.
Can you tell I like Manassas??? I hope you enjoyed this extended post of their music.
To wrap things up I am sad to report that Manassas met it demise in 1973 soon after the release of their second album. The cause….Stephen was lured back to CSNY for one of their many short lived reunions. In my opinion Stephen had it all and threw it away. Maybe it was the money, maybe it was the fame, but whatever it was Stephen would never again have a band as good as Manassas or music with the same level of consistent quality. On the other hand, some of the other members of Manassas still had a role to play in the story of The Southern California Sound. We will hear about them in the final post in this long running series.