Stephen Stills and Manassas at fifty: One of the most underrated bands and albums of the decade

When you think of legendary musician Stephen Stills what first comes to mind? Crosby, Stills and Nash (and occasionally Young)? Buffalo Springfield? His solo work? How deep into your memory would you have to dig to get to his band, Manassas?

For those who don’t remember them or never heard of them, Manassas was a group of musicians that Stills put together in the early 1970s. Among its members were former Byrd Chris Hillman, the CSN&Y rhythm section of Dallas Taylor and Fuzzy Samuel, percussionist Joe Lala, Al Perkins on pedal steel guitar and keyboardist Paul Harris. The band was a whose who of the session and performing musicians of that era.

The seven of them got together to put out a double album that celebrated its fiftieth anniversary earlier this week. The self-titled record had a theme for each of the four sides of the record. Basically, it was rock and roll, country and blues. If the album were released these days, it would most likely be classified as Americana music.

There were twenty-one songs recorded with plenty of highlights. It starts out rocking with “Song of Love” and Rock and Roll Crazies.” Side two slows it down some with “Colorado.” It picks up the pace again on the second disc with “It Doesn’t Matter”, “Bound To Fall”, the jam “The Treasure” and closes with a tribute to fallen rock stars Jimi Hendrix and Duane Allman in “Blues Man.”

As with almost all double albums, not everything is great. This would have been better as a single album with ten songs, but that’s a minor complaint.

The band followed up with a tour supporting the album. As good as these musicians were in the studio, they were even better on a stage. As great a singer-songwriter as Stephen Stills was in that era, he was better and more unappreciated as a guitarist. The man could make those strings sing. If you can find the video of their live performance on YouTube, you’ll see the rest of the band members each having their own moments in the spotlight and they shine bright. These guys were more than just sidemen. They were outstanding, polished players.

So what happened to this band? Why are they little more than an afterthought from that musical era? The simple answer is money. There was more money for both Stills and his record company in a CSN&Y reunion than there was in being Manassas. That was proven when the even more forgettable second Manassas album, “Down the Road” was met with almost unanimously critical reviews. Stills then went back to the band that gave him more fame and bucks in his bank. The others went on to their next band and gig. Most are still active in the music business today.

While Manassas isn’t quite a one-hit-wonder, they’re pretty close. But that one hit was a special moment back in April of 1972.

Related Post: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young: Five decades of fighting

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Filed under: Music, Pop Music

Tags: Manassas, Stephen Stills

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