Stephen Stills’ “Illegal Stills” and “An Evening with Teegarden and VanWinkle”
I am unemployed. That means I have a lot of time on my hands and aside from sending out resumes and cover letters and searching through the countless crap jobs our floundering economy offers, I also shop for records. I have two quaint and excellent record stores in my neighborhood. There’s Laurie’s Universe of sound just around the corner, smack in the middle of Lincoln Square and there’s The Record Round Up on Montrose, just a few blocks away. Laurie’s has somewhat punk/indie rock leanings, while the Record Round Up appropriately focuses on folk and country with a smattering of rock.
The other day I wandered down to the Record Round Up as I was needing a walk on such a fine spring day. I love the Round Up. It is the perfect local record shop with an affable guy behind the counter who NEVER asks me more than once how I’m doing or if I’m looking for something specific. This guy knows my kind. He is my kind and knows damn well that that I am doing just fine and that I am NOT looking for anything specific.
The place is a veritable junk store with books, old photographs, cowboy shirts and, of course, thousands of moldy records. I almost always find something in this store. This week I bought two records: Steven Stills’ “Illegal Stills” and “An Evening at Home with Teegarden and VanWinkle”
I love Stephen Stills. I love his voice, I love his guitar playing (from the 70s. Anything else must go, but that’s another article). I also love early 70s country rock, the kind you hear from Gram Parsons, the Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” or even on CSNY’s “Country Girl.” The cover of Illegal Stills is promising. It’s a Mason jar with a label featuring Still’s goofy mug peering out from under a cowboy hat. It declares itself to be “Hill Country’s Best” and 33 ½ proof! I’m a bit of a drunk and ready to down this jar o’ shine just as quickly as I can get home. Turns out this potato mash juice is bunk and warm to boot! It unfortunately possesses the elements of Still’s music that I hate: ultra clean production and instantly forgettable melodies. It’s a bust.
Record number two fares better—much better. I found it buried way back in a stack on the floor. These are the records that don’t even get a spot in the racks. But that’s where I find my gems. I found The Tough Guys soundtrack featuring the fantastic and often sampled “Hung Up on My Baby” in the forgotten pile. I also found Stephen Stills’ Live album recorded in 1975—one side Electric, one side acoustic just like his hero Neil Young—which led me to the above purchase.
I almost skipped over Teegarden and VanWinkle, but something about the name rang a bell. This is a live album recorded in I’m guessing the early to mid 1970s (there’s no copyright date or other dating information) at the Red Carpet in Detroit. Sab and Gary can tell you all about the Detroit scene both past and present, that’s not what drew me to this album. Upon investigating the inner sleeve of this gatefold beauty I spied a familiar name. It seems An Evening with Teegarden and VanWinkle was produced by James Cassily: father of longtime friend and fellow band mate Josh C. Rogers. Cassily was also once the producer for my own Vantrells. We’d gotten in plenty of dust ups over production and what was appropriate and what wasn’t. He must have wondered who I thought I was. Cassily had worked with Detroit legends including Seger. I’d heard plenty about Teegarden and VanWinkle and was now about to hear the majesty that is Jim Cassily.
The album is good. Not great, but not bad. It’s good. In fact I like it quite a bit. It’s introduced by the very young voice of Herr Cassily, which immediately brought a smile to my face, and launches into a groovy medium tempo blues jam called “Today I left for the big city.” It’s kind of a mix between the working class blues-based jams of Detroit’s past and the soul marathons of Geno Washington. I love it. It’s getting’ high music. It’s slow summer days. It’s my home of Michigan. It’s my old drummer’s dad!
Record shopping is tedious work. It takes patience and a keen eye. But the rewards are fantastic. You can find stinkers and records you bought simply for the cover which will bloat your collection and cause a severe dilemma come moving day. But sometimes you find gems and sometimes you find the perfect segue from Hazel Adkins to P-Funk and sometimes you find an old friend. The dusty, musty stacks of records hidden away in your local vinyl shop are just like the boxes of fuzzy mittens and dank hats hidden under the counter at the bus station. Dig around and you might find a size that fits just right and you can’t beat the price.