Manassas was an American rock band formed by Stephen Stills in 1971. Predominantly a vehicle for Stills’ artistic vision, the band released two albums during its active tenure, 1972’s Manassas and 1973’s Down the Road. The band dissolved in October 1973.
Manassas was formed in the fall of 1971, following Stills' concert tour to support his album Stephen Stills 2 (1971). While Stephen Stills 2 was Stills’ second solo album, it was his first completed following the acrimonious 1970 break up of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (CSNY), and was not critically well-received. After a chance meeting with Flying Burrito Brothers singer/multi-instrumentalist Chris Hillman in Cleveland, where Stills’ tour schedule crossed paths with that of the Burritos – a band that, by late 1971, had undergone multiple personnel changes and was in financial trouble – Stills saw an opportunity to change his artistic direction. He subsequently contacted Hillman, asking him, along with Burritos’ guitarist Al Perkins and fiddler Byron Berline, to join him in Miami at Criteria Studios to jam. Stills also invited several members of his touring band – drummer Dallas Taylor, bassist Calvin “Fuzzy” Samuels, keyboardist Paul Harris and vocalist/percussionist Joe Lala – to play at the session.
The musicians quickly gelled in the studio, and within several weeks had recorded enough material at Criteria to fill a double-LP album release. The band was capable of a wide musical range, with a repertoire including blues, folk, country, latin, and rock songs. Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman, a friend of both Hillman and Stills who visited Criteria during the sessions, was an early fan of the band, at one point expressing an interest in joining. (Wyman would contribute to the sessions by helping Stills re-write his to-date unrecorded song from 1968, “Bumblebee,” as the blues/funk tune “The Love Gangster,” with Wyman also playing bass on the track.) The band christened itself Manassas after Stills, who had an interest in American Civil War history, orchestrated a photo shoot for them in Manassas, Virginia, the site of the First and Second Battles of Bull Run (1861 and 1862, respectively).
The band’s first album Manassas, a double-LP sporting a cover photo from the shoot in Virginia, was released in May 1972. The album was well received, quickly achieving RIAA Gold Record status, and Manassas globally toured behind it for most of 1972, including television appearances on ABC-TV’s In Concert in the United States and Beat-Club in West Germany.
Upon returning to the U.S. from the European leg of Manassas' 1972 tour, Chris Hillman took several weeks away from the band to record a reunion album with his pre-Burritos band the Byrds, an effort that also included Stills’ ex-CSNY bandmate David Crosby. Manassas then regrouped and quickly completed their second album, Down the Road. Initial sessions for the album were convened at Criteria Studios, but the band moved the sessions in midstream to Caribou Ranch in Colorado and the Record Plant in Los Angeles after Criteria staff engineers Ron and Howard Albert expressed concern that the sessions were not producing quality results. Down the Road was completed in January 1973, and released in the spring of that year to middling reviews and sales, falling short of RIAA Gold status; it was the first album that Stills appeared on since 1968 not to "go Gold."
After completing Down the Road, Manassas became dormant for several months. During the break, Stephen Stills married Véronique Sanson, whom he had met in Paris during Manassas’ 1972 European tour. As Hillman and Crosby's Byrds reunion album was readied for release in March 1973, the band considered launching a Byrds tour in support. When this did not materialize, two events occurred instead that effectively doomed Manassas. First, Hillman accepted his management’s proposal to, after satisfying Manassas’ scheduled touring commitments, join a project involving ex-Buffalo Springfield and Poco singer/guitarist Richie Furay and Eagles songwriter/collaborator J. D. Souther. Second, Crosby joined Neil Young on tour, in a band that also included their ex-CSNY mate Graham Nash. When this tour ended in mid-1973, Crosby, Nash and Young – encouraged by their management, and hopeful to realize the financial benefits of a possible CSNY reunion – regrouped in Maui to discuss potential work on a new album. The three reached out to Stills, who, putting aside the differences that led to CSNY's initial demise, cut short his honeymoon break with Sanson to join the new project. CSNY worked for several weeks in both Maui and Los Angeles on the project, Human Highway, but these sessions were ultimately aborted due to various disagreements within the band.
Stills was greeted by several sources of turmoil upon returning from the Human Highway sessions to regroup Manassas, as, in addition to Hillman’s future commitment to work with Furay and Souther, Dallas Taylor had become severely addicted to heroin, and Calvin Samuels had left the band for personal reasons. Stills dealt with these issues by securing the services of drummer John Barbata, with whom he had worked in CSNY during their 1970 tour, as a back up for Taylor, and bassist Kenny Passarelli of Joe Walsh’s band Barnstorm to replace Samuels. Samuels would return to the band for the last leg of its 1973 tour. Following the tour’s completion in October, Manassas’s dissolution was publicly announced.
One of Manassas’ last shows, at San Francisco’s Winterland Ballroom in early October 1973, was made notable by the band’s being joined onstage by first David Crosby and Graham Nash, and, later in the show, by Neil Young. When later asked about this occurrence, Chris Hillman would comment “I could smell a CSNY reunion.” CSNY would, in fact, regroup for a world tour in early 1974. Following this tour, Stephen Stills would start a new band in 1975 with Kenny Passarelli and Joe Lala, but this was short-lived; Passarelli would soon depart to join the Elton John Band, and Lala would subsequently leave as well. Chris Hillman’s Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, which would also include Manassas members Al Perkins and Paul Harris (and eventually Joe Lala, who would later join Chicago), released its first album in early 1974. Fanart Banner