When Neil Young and Stephen Stills Paired Off for ‘Long May You Run’
Long May You Run marks the only time that Neil Young and Stephen Stills worked as a duo. Sure, the two guitarist-singer-songwriters had been collaborators for years, starting with the formation of Buffalo Springfield in 1966 and continuing with Neil’s on-again, off-again stints with Crosby, Stills & Nash. But they’d never branched off as a twosome before this 1976 LP. And they never would again.
It was almost a CSNY record. Although the four members had attempted – and failed – to record a new studio album after their 1974 "Doom Tour,", David Crosby and Graham Nash instead paired off while Stills and Young returned to solo activities. After a couple of years, the two former Buffalo Springfield members caught each other’s solo concerts, teamed-up on stage and then decided to record a joint LP in Miami. The idea was the record would mark 10 years after they had formed the Springfield. Crosby and Nash caught wind of the project and were welcomed on board, too.
Everything changed when a record company deadline forced the former Byrd and former Hollie to leave Miami for Los Angeles and put the finishing touches on a Crosby & Nash record, Whistling Down the Wire. Annoyed at the departure, Stills and Young scrubbed the tapes clean of any contributions made by their bandmates and resolved to keep the album a Stills-Young release. It would end up being credited to the Stills-Young Band. Nash and Crosby initially swore off ever working with the other two again, although they quickly softened their opinions.
Meanwhile, Stills and Young worked separately, bringing in their own songs to the sessions (five for Neil, four for Stephen) and singing lead on their own compositions. The pair were backed by Stills’ touring band and the two traded guitar licks – although not as fiery as some of Stills and Young’s previous guitar duels. The music was firmly planted in the rootsy rock familiar to CSNY fans, with some tinges of jazz but a whole lot less grit than Young’s solo work from the era.
Listen to Neil Young and Stephen Stills' 'Long May You Run'
However, the album did deliver one of Young’s most enduring songs, the title track, which leads the album. Neil wrote “Long May You Run” in tribute to Mort, his old 1948 Buck Roadmaster hearse, which met its demise in Blind River, Ontario, Canada in 1965 (not ’62, as the lyrics suggest). Contrary to rumors, that’s a different hearse than the one that had a part in the formation of Buffalo Springfield – which was a Pontiac named Mort II.
Regardless, the nostalgic “Long May You Run” remains a highlight in Young’s catalog and is a tune he sometimes trots out for big moments (such as the closing ceremony of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics). The artist even got a little nostalgic himself when he selected it for inclusion on 1977’s Decade collection, and decided to restore Crosby and Nash’s original backing vocals on the track.
After Stills, Young and the band finished recording the album in June of ’76, they set out to tour in advance of their new release. But the Stills-Young trek for Long May You Run was cut infamously short when a sore throat sidelined Neil and he ditched Stephen and company after only nine gigs. Stills was the recipient of a telegram that read, “Dear Stephen, funny how some things that start spontaneously end that way. Eat a peach. Neil.”
Stills led the band through the rest of the dates, leading up to the release of the album on Sept. 10, 1976. The album was received warmly by the press and the public, who made it the first gold record for either member in a couple years. Young and Stills would overcome the tension between them to record and perform together in the future, but never without other bandmates involved.