Captain Many Hands

Stephen Stills, one of the few people I’d have traded lives with, was known by his bandmates as “Captain Many Hands.” That’s because of his versatility on instruments, for he could play—and play well—virtually any instrument in a rock and roll band. Bass guitar, lead guitar, piano, drums, percussion, piano (plain and electric), banjo—you name it. Now add to that his gritty blues voice, which could also produce a great falsetto, and his talent for writing and arranging, and you have a combination of skills found in very few rock musicians of our time.

Here are two songs in which Stills plays every instrument.

The first, “Blonde in the Bleachers,” was written by Joni Mitchell, appearing on her great 1972 album, “For the Roses“.  She’s accompanied by Stills on piano, and for most of the song it’s just her voice and Stills’ piano. But in the last chorus Stills also plays electric guitar, drums, other percussion, and bass—every instrument. He’s credited on the song for being the “rock and roll band.”

I’m absolutely sure, though I have no information on this, that the song was written about Stills. It is, after all, about a charismatic male rock star with many groupies. As far as I know, Stills and Mitchell never had a relationship—hers was with Graham Nash, who wrote “Our House” about it—but they were friends. (Stills’s great love was Judy Collins.) In fact, Crosby, Stills, and Nash met at a party at Mitchell’s house, and discovered their amazing harmonies when they were asked to sing Stills’ song “You Don’t Have to Cry,” a song CS&N later sang on their first album.

This song, “Do For the Others”, is from Stills’s 1970 album whose title is simply his name. The backing vocals and instrumental contributors to the album read like a panoply of rock greats at the time: Cass Elliott, Rita Coolidge, Jimi Hendrix, John Sebastian, Graham Nash, Ringo Starr, David Crosby, Booker T. Jones, and Eric Clapton. (This is the only known album on which both Clapton and Hendrix play.) But on one song, “Do for the others,” no contributors are listed. That’s because every instrument on that song, and all the vocal tracks, were played or sung by Stills.

When I first heard it, I thought this song was about a guy who became a priest after losing his girlfriend, but the Internet tells me that it might be about David Crosby, whose girlfriend was killed in a car crash before CS&N released their first album in 1969.

Fun fact: Stephen Stills played guitar on Bill Withers’ great rhythm and blues song, “Ain’t No Sunshine” (1970).

Screen Shot 2016-06-29 at 6.05.21 AM

Captain Many Hands, 1969. Photo by Graham Nash



  1. sshort
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    That shot of Stills with Mickey Dolenz in the vid reminded me he was very nearly a Monkee.

    Of course, Max Tegmark would assure us that not only was he a Monkee, he was and is and will be a Monkee in an infinite number of Monkee groups in an infinite number of universes.

    Somewhere out there…Crosby, Stills, Nash and Prince.

    And I guess, or certainly….Crosby, Stills Nash and Coyne (Captain Many Boots).

  2. Robert Bray
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this music post, PCC(E). Stephen Stills and Neil Young are geniuses rather at different poles and polarity from one another, barely held in equilibrium when they were together in CSNY and perhaps doing their finest work after that band flew apart.

    One of Stills’ songs that haunts me through my daily life, whenever I recall my own history of love, is ‘Southern Cross.’ ‘We never failed to fail: it was the easiest thing to do.’

  3. keith cook ±
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    I bought this album and his follow up S Still2 before moving on to Manasas. I could not get enough but in NZ back the 70’s it was differcult to get info apart from the general, we were more geared to the English music scene, magazines etc, although it was changing and Rolling Stone hit our shores. Not a lot of my friends at the time made an effort to listen but I was a big fan.

    • keith cook ±
      Posted June 29, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      Just an add on, I actually got to see him live in Boston 1973 with the Manassas band.

      • Posted June 29, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

        Yes, I saw him live with Manassas, too, but for the life of me I can’t remember where. It was a terrific show.

  4. Merilee
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink


  5. Merilee
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    Saw CSNY ( for the 2nd time, about 20 yrs apart) in Toronto and poor Steven tripped on a footlight(?) and had to be taken to the hospital. He might have broken his lefr wrist – can’t remember. Fortunately it was during about the 6th encore.

    • Ken Elliott
      Posted June 29, 2016 at 3:46 pm | Permalink

      Does that coincide with the many photos of Stills in the video of “Do For Others” Jerry posted?

  6. Kevin
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Stills and Joni in the morning. How very pleasant. Great pic of the hands. I will picking away at the guitar tonight.

  7. chascpeterson
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    Stills is great. Always loved that drum lead-in in the Joni tune linked.
    Joni did have a relationship with David Crosby before the longer one with Nash. When I saw Croz play a few months ago he called her “the best of all of us; the greatest living singer-songwriter” (then added “well, it’s her or Ol’ Weird Bob).”

  8. Misty
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    Stephen Stills and Joni Mitchell had a brief affair in the summer of 1970 as she was breaking up with Graham Nash according to the book “Hotel California” by Barney Hoskyns. It caused animosity between all three and some say that Nash later romanced Rita Coolidge away from Stills as payback. Rita Coolidge was also a great love of Stills evidenced by the plethora of love songs he wrote to/for her-The Treasure, Cherokee, Sugar Babe, Like A Fox and Sit Yourself Down. Unfortunately she didn’t feel the same way about him as he felt about her.

    He also had liaisons/romances with Joan Baez (Dark Star), Susan St James (engaged briefly), Janis Joplin, Linda Eastman, Nancy Priddy (Pretty Girl Why?-get it?) (mother of Christina Applegate) in both the 1960s and 1980s.

    Many of his songs are masterpieces of poetry and music combined; especially the hauntingly and heart wrenchingly beautiful songs on love and loss.

  9. karaktur
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    “One thing the blues ain’t, is funny” from Black Queen on the Four Way Street Album.

  10. Ken Elliott
    Posted June 29, 2016 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

    Four songs that are forever on my playlist of favorites were all written by Stephen Stills, I believe: “Helplessly Hoping”, “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Find the Cost of Freedom”, and “Southern Cross”.

  11. chrism
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 4:54 am | Permalink

    I had always read that Blonde in the Bleachers referred to her relationship with James Taylor.

  12. Mike
    Posted June 30, 2016 at 7:03 am | Permalink

    Great stuff,love it.

%d bloggers like this: