Carry On: Stephen Stills' Santa Cruz Sister Hosts Music Movie Debut

The Saturday showing of “Legends of the Canyon: Music and Magic of 1960’s Laurel Canyon” is a must-see for fans of 1960s music

Santa Cruz resident Tai Stills, an accomplished photographer and sister to Stephen Stills, sat at her piano in front of pictures she has taken of him and his iconic friends from the days of Buffalo Springfield to now.

“I can tell the date of my photos by how much hair the guys have,” laughs Stills.

The music has lived on strongly. David Crosby and Graham Nash packed the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium a few weeks ago.  Buffalo Springfield is getting ready to go back out on the road for a 2011 tour for the first time in 42 years that will include Stephen, Neil, and Richie Furay. The other two members have passed away. The closest venue to us will be in Oakland at the Fox Theater.

This film brings back the magical days that birthed a music scene that is now 50 years old in Laurel Canyon. 

As Stills describes it, life in the canyon became a movable salon where “one of the Beach Boys would stop by Stephen’s and say ‘Let’s go by and see what Joni wrote today,’ and they’d drop by or hear music coming  from David’s house and go up  and see him. They were in their neighborhood. I was the little sister person who helped everybody out and organized everyone.”

She saw it all first-hand, the parties, the drugs, the music.

“People still love the music today, but they didn’t get to go to LA, cruise Sunset Strip, or grow up in the 1960s to see what it was like, go to the Whisky A-Go-Go, and see how all the bands hung out together," she recalls. "This film shows off the magic of that time and how special it was, how people were uniting around their creative geniuses and social issues, like the Vietnam War.” 

LA producer/photographer Henry Diltz has recreated the era in the DVD “Legends of the Canyon: Music and Magic of 1960’s Laurel Canyon,” which will be shown at the Digital Media Factory on Saturday, April 30. He was the official photographer for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young for 40 years and for other stars.

See the film’s trailer at http://youtu.be/sJf1ZC2G8q4.

“Stephen came last year and played at the Catalyst, and he wanted to play there because he wanted everyone to be able to dance and shout and drink and carry on and have a really big party, as opposed to the more formal, sit down concert, like David and Graham did at the Civic recently. They all have a soft spot in their hearts for Santa Cruz and the Central Coast.”

If you think you saw some big names in strange places in the old days, how about this one?

“Buffalo Springfield attended my high school graduation in Carmel" Tai remembers. "They were there because they were playing at the International Pop Festival in 1967. So my brother brought the entire band and they climbed all over the bleachers, making fools of themselves and taking lots of photos and endearing me to the halls of fame of Carmel High School.”

She watched the birth of the LA music scene before many of its auteurs moved away. Instead of college, she studied in the wild hills.

“After I graduated I went to hangout with Stephen in southern California. They would run up and down Sunset Strip all day to recording studios and try to be involved in the music industry, and then they would run away to their country shacks in Topanga Canyon to hangout and party.

"I managed his home, kept up with his telephone calls, fan mail, and the increasing demands on his time.”

Then, came the big drug bust at Stephen Stills' home, where her brother escaped out a back door, but Tai got arrested.  She dropped out of the school of life and checked in at Stanford, at her parents' insistence.

“But for the next 10-15 years, he always called me to come down and run his business and home and keep his life together, like arranging to ship his cowboy boots to him when he was on tour.  He had forgotten his most important thing on his whole tour- that particular pair of cowboy boots,” Stills laughed.

“I went on tour with him as an advance person and personal assistant all over, including Europe. He had bought a home in England from Ringo Starr, previously owned by Peter Sellers. I discovered that the living room of this mansion was made out of beams from the Spanish Armada that had washed up on the shores of England.”

Ahhh, the rock star life.

“There were about 20 of us– his band, managers and me – staying there in the house. My big problem was that England was going through a coal strike and we had blackouts that would change from day to day. The band of course needed the power to rehearse, so I cooked in this kitchen with eight Coleman dual burner camp out stoves, and I and my assistant prepared every meal on them in candle light.”

 How did they get the groupies?

“They didn’t get the groupies,” laughs Stills. “The groupies got them. The groupies pursued them relentlessly, like the backstage door where they let the guys know they would do anything, which ran the full gamut.

“My brother would call me at two or three in the morning and ask if I would escort his guests out of his hotel suite and down to a car. Of course, those were the days of ‘peace and beads’.”

“When I went to Stanford, I became aware that I was going to be continually harassed for things like free tickets, free t-shirts, because of my last name. I had to go to the registrar and ask if I could attend class under a pseudonym. Then the band came to Stanford to play and the jig was up for me because people saw me backstage visiting with my brother and we look alike.

“Our family had to adjust to the challenges of a rocker’s life like sex and drugs. Stephen has seven kids by six different women. We were in a moral quandary. I decided that you have to have unconditional love and accept them for whatever behaviors and relationships they start in their lives. That was a really big learning lesson.”

 “I am happy to say I have a sister-in-law that has been with my brother for 13 years. He finally grew out of that. It took him until his 50s.”

Doors will open at 6:30 for a 7 p.m. show time.  A VIP Reception starts at 5:30 with Diltz and a question/answer session will take place after the 110 minute screening.  Stills and DMF's Ginny Mitchell will co-hostess the event and field questions from the audience.

This event will benefit the non-profit Digital Media Education Foundation which provides a bridge to students of all ages who wish for real world experience leading to a career in the exploding Digital Media industry.

The DMF is located upstairs at 2809 Mission Street in the old Wrigley's gum building.  Tickets can be ordered at www.digitalmediafactory.com.

Katie McKee May 04, 2011 at 07:44 AM
Very sweet. Agree with all of it. I was having similar experiences in Colorado. I fed everyone. Guess I was Mama Cass. I know I resonated with one of the ladies. Knew a lot of these folks. My neighbors.
Katie McKee May 04, 2011 at 07:45 AM
Rae Lyons May 05, 2011 at 12:51 PM
What a great story- you probably have so many great ones! Thanks for sharing and keeping the memories alive. I have always admired your brother and can see that you share his passion. Thank you!
ERIC GUTBROD May 10, 2011 at 04:11 PM
To Katie, I lived in Colorado, (Boulder) area for many, many years. Met SS on alot of occasions. Did some repair work both on his small Cabin west of boulder, (near Gross Reservoir), and the big cabin up in Rollinsville. We had some mutual friends in town, and up in Gold Hill, a good gent named John Clark, and one who passed away a few years ago named Adam Smith. Been a few years since i saw Tai. good to see she is staying active with her brother. Regards, Eric Gutbrod
Dennis Browning August 20, 2011 at 08:53 PM
I would like to know if Tai knows the history of the Stills family in Carmi/Maunie/Shawneetown, Illinois. Have you ever been there? There is a story about town that Stephen spent a summer there with the (Lloyd?) Stills and maybe the Collard family. I went to high school with Jane and Rod Collard who may be your cousins? I went to a concert at SIU in the seventies and Stephen said as the show began, I would like to say hi to all the people from Carmi, Maunie and Shawneetown. That is why I wonder what you know or remember. Thank you.


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