Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

Dis­claimer: In the fol­low­ing, I dis­cuss my use of ille­gal drugs. Let me be clear, I no longer do ille­gal drugs or have plans to ever do them again, nor do I wish to con­done or encour­age their use by any­one. Ille­gal drugs were a part of my life in the past and I can’t change that.

I used to do sessions in the late 80’s/early 90’s for a very talented keyboard player and producer named Kim Bullard. He had played with Stephen Stills in a group called Manassas.

Around midnight one night in 1994, I get a phone call from Kim. He’s in a session at his studio in the Valley (or on the Benedict Canyon side of it, anyway), and he needs me to play harp on something right now. I asked if it couldn’t wait, and he explained he was working with Steve Stills, who was there, and the song had to be finished mixed and turned in by the morning for a movie called The Crossing Guard. Jack Nicholson starred in it and Sean Penn had something to do with it. He needed me now!

Well, when duty calls… I said sure, got the address and immediately called my dealer. I figured I’d be making double scale (around $600 at the time) so some refreshments might come in handy. It turns out he was at a night club called Number One which was located right on the way – on Sunset just past the Strip as you’re heading into Beverly Hills. I only needed to run in and I didn’t want to valet and parking is a bitch so I’m thinking of things to say to security when I pull up and who do I see but Steve Maruchi, an old friend from my Rod Stewart days. He was Rod’s bodyguard. I was driving my black Mustang 5.0 and how I didn’t kill myself and others with that car I’ll never know. I was a speed demon to the max. I pull up and he’s about to tell me I can’t park there when Steve recognizes me. We have a laugh together and I tell him I just need a minute in the club so he let’s me park right in front. I find my guy, cop a bindle, and I’m on my way.

Kim’s studio was on a very nice piece of property with some kind of creek running through it. If you didn’t know better you’d think you were in the country and not in the middle of a major city. LA can be like that. I meet Steve and he was not in a good mood.

After I was introduced we listened to the track and he said something in a gruff, gravelly, impatient, cigarette voice, “Well… ya think ya can play something on it?

I figured out what key the song was in. I believe in D as I played a G harp. How I remember these things I will never know… and wish I could tell you because I’ve forgotten what the hell I was supposed to be doing today… oh yeah!! Write!!!

I start playing some harp in the control room with the track and he’s already diggin’ it and his mood is getting way better. I go in the room play it through a few times with input from Steve and Kim and Whommp! There it is!! We’re done.

Everybody’s happy and now we’re just hangin’ and Steve asks if I’d like a glass of wine and I say why not. The studio had a big porch with sofas and chairs like an old southern house and I was doing a hit of blow when Steve walked up with the wine. He asked what I had there so I offered him some. He accepted. We drank wine, I told him what a big fan I was of Buffalo Springfield when I was growing up and how much I loved one his songs, Bluebird. I was hanging with Steve Stills… and he dug what I’d just played…

Life was good…

At the time, I was living in a Hollywood Hills apartment on North Fuller, which I had rented when I’d gotten the part in a Jennifer Jason Leigh movie, Georgia. We filmed it on location in Seattle. (Go rent the movie – I did a great job playing a musician – it was a stretch, but I pulled it off.)

I don’t think the neighbors appreciated my lifestyle. I had moved in with Heather – a 22 year old, recent grad of the University of Kentucky (yes, that one). She was beautiful, blonde, mesmerizing green eyes, long legged and full of ambition… with an incredible thirst for cocaine an insatiable sexual appetite to go along with it. It was quite a circus at times trying to feed both of them. It was pure heaven and hell with her. I suffered through it like the trooper I am.

Her Daddy was a millionaire high roller – what they call “a whale.” Caesar’s Palace used to send their jet to fly him in from Kentucky. I saw him drop $100,000 in a few hours playing blackjack in Vegas.

When I met her I thought I’d try and shelter her from my decadent lifestyle. Yeah right. One day she said she had to pick up something at her hairdresser’s place for her Daddy who she was to meet in Vegas. We drove in her late model sports car to a funky apartment building in Hollywood. I waited in the car. She goes in and comes out in 15 minutes, jumps in the driver seat and tosses me a tennis ball. I’m thinking Huh? She says squeeze the ball. I do and inside was a small baggie stuffed full of sparkly flakes of crystal meth. She’d just copped a half-ounce of meth for him to gamble on. Yeah I’m gonna keep this girl pure as the driven snow.

Anyway… few days after the recording session for the song on The Crossing Guard I get a call from Steve’s management. They said Steve wanted me to come up to his house in Beverly Hills to play the song we’d recorded. Now I’m confused. I ask the agent, “He wants me to come over and play the song?” He says, “Yeah”

So of course I ask why? I mean, it’s already recorded and mixed. We’re done. WTF? He says with some attitude, “How the hell do I know? Steve wants ya up there around 2:00 Saturday afternoon.” He gives me an address on Summit Drive.

My girl had a job as a receptionist at a Hollywood recording studio. Besides doing fair amounts of blow together we were in the midst of an erotica/ sexual toy phase of our relationship. I mean it seemed this girl didn’t see a sexual toy/dildo she didn’t want to try. Who was I to argue?  After a while we had a small gym bag full of these things.

So it’s the Friday night before the Saturday that I’m to go to Stills house. My girl and I are on an all night binge of sex, drugs, video… and sex toys!!! We were like two little maniacal bunny rabbits all over that apartment till the sun came up. Whole lotta fun!! So I come to my senses the next day, look at my watch and it’s 1:30 pm. I jump out of bed and she’s out to the world. Fuck. I’ve got to be at Steve’s in 30 minutes. The apartment is trashed. Bottles, drinks, toys all over the place. I take a quick shower and usually I always take all my axes (harps, saxes, flute) whenever I go to a session or rehearsal. But this was… hell, I didn’t know what it was so I grab just one G harp for the song I played on. I figured we’d play it a few times and I’m out of there. Big mistake.

As I’m walking out of the apartment I see a note on the door from the building manager saying they had to come in and check something in about an hour. Fuck. I gather up all the toys and dildos and put them on the kitchen counter and run back to the bedroom and tell my girl the manager’s going to be there in an hour and to clean up a bit ‘cause I had to run up to Steve Stills. She mumbles something and I’m gone.

We didn’t have GPS then. The old handy Thomas Guide was my best friend. So I’m navigating to Steve’s and I take Coldwater Canyon Drive and then start driving up… and up. It ain’t called Summit Drive for nothing.

I get to the top and you have a 360-degree view of Los Angeles, the Ocean, downtown, etc. I find the place and it’s a huge incredible house. I was told later it was Barbra Streisand’s place and that Steve was renting it for $10,000 a month. Nice. It’s all right for some, eh?

I knock on the door and someone answers and tell’s me Steve is rehearsing in the barn. Rehearsing? Hmmmmm. They give me directions to the “barn” and as I’m getting closer to this actual large barn I hear a band playing very loud one of Steve’s hits, For What It’s Worth. How apropos.

I walk in and it’s a full on band rehearsal. Shit! They’re in the middle of a song. Steve sees me but looks right through me like I wasn’t there. So I just hang off to the side and listen to the music. I knew a couple of the cats, the bass player Gerald Johnson and piano/organist extraordinaire Mike Finnigan.

They finished the song and went right into another one. I’m thinking shit, this is a band rehearsal for a show – not a session. I’ve got to get Steve’s attention or I could be here listening to this all day. So they finish that song and I walk up to Steve and ask if we should play the Crossing Guard song so I can get out of his hair and he can get on with his rehearsal. He looked up at me with an annoyed, confused look and said gruffly, “Just play what you played the other day!!!”

There was silence and a pregnant pause you could stick a fork in. Finally, Finnigan in his stentorian voice (God bless him), said into the microphone, “…uh Steve… Jimmy wasn’t here the other day.” Talk about awkward. Fuck! He thought I was someone else! Steve is looking flustered and in a split second I’m thinking there’s a gig to be had here. I say real fast, “Hey, it’s cool Steve. I just live down the hill and I could go grab my sax and harps and be back in half and hour.” Yeah right. He says “Yeah, go get ’em.” And they launch into another song.

I’m driving my Mustang 5.0 and I’m flying down that fucking hill. A gig!!! With Stills!!

“Down the hill” was more like thirty minutes minimum from Stills place to mine. I get to my apartment door and there’s a note on the door. It’s from the manager saying they let themselves in because no one answered and that they had fixed the problem. I walk in and the place is just as I left it. Dildos, bottles, full ashtrays, and shit everywhere. Jeeeeez!!!

I go to the bedroom and my girl is still in a coma. Great! I say, “Baby, I told you to clean up cuz the manager was coming over! He’s come and gone (no pun intended) and there’re dildos everywhere!” It didn’t seem to bother her or be of any importance at all at the time to her. She just rolled over and went back to sleep. Oh well, too late now.

I grabbed all my axes and bolted out the door. I get back to the barn and set up all my stuff and finish off the rehearsal. Everything seemed cool but I had no idea if I had the gig or not. The next week I get a call from Steve’s management telling me about a gig in Las Vegas. It was a corporate gig at the Hotel Rio Casino. At the time I had no idea what a corporate gig was. All I knew was there was a gig. I asked if I could get a CD or tape of the show/songs with which I could rehearse the songs. They said they’d get one over to me. I never got one.

The British have a quaint phrase for how I felt on that first gig. I felt “like a spare prick at a wedding.” At sound check no one had thought to tell the sound people or anyone else for that matter about a sax/harp player in the band. No one had given any thought to where I should set up on stage. It seemed I was just in the way. Since I didn’t know the material I figured I’d try to set up near Finnigan so I could see the keyboard and follow the changes. Smart move. Mike was so cool shouting changes to me that night and I will always be thankful. I stumbled through the gig and didn’t feel to good about it but I got the call for another gig in South Lake Tahoe.

We arrived the night before the gig in a massive snowstorm. I remember smoking coke all night watching these huge flakes come down out of my hotel window. I had grown up in Sacramento and every summer since I can remember we had spent at Donner Lake. The Lake Tahoe/Reno area was my stomping ground and I had lots of friends. A couple of pals came to the gig and it went a lot better this time.

Right before we were to go on stage I see a telephone on the wall right on the stage. I checked and it had a dial tone so I called my girl. We hadn’t been getting along and sure enough we start getting into it on the phone. Steve hears this and comes up to me and says, “Hang the fuck up! Are you outta your fucking mind! Never, EVER, talk to your chick before going on stage!” He was right. I should have known better because all I did was think about how pissed I was at her instead of the music. Good advice, indeed.

We had a good show and the house was a rockin’. It was a large casino showroom and we had rooms in that hotel. After the show my pals and I were hangin’ at the casino bar when we see Steve rumble through to a blackjack table. He looked in a surly mood. My buddy was a really good blackjack player. A few years before he’d had a card counting team and they did pretty well until they were all rounded up one day by some casino thugs who threatened to smash up their knees and knuckles if they ever tried that shit again. He wanted to meet Steve and I tried to convince him that now might not be the best time. He didn’t listen. Steve was alone at the table and when my pal sat down with him Steve told him to fuck off. Pretty funny. Steve was fucked up drunk and his penchant for blow was no state secret so he was probably gacked out of his brain because I saw him at 6 am across the street gambling at another casino.

My pals and I finally got back to my room and ordered some food from room service. One thing lead to another and a food fight ensued. And then we started trashing the room. I know… not too intelligent. When I woke up in this trashed room I look at my watch and realize I’ve missed the shuttle to Reno for the flight back to LA. I quickly dressed and inquired about a ride to the airport. If I hustled I might still make my flight. My room was a complete wreck. I left.

As I’m waiting for my ride in front of the casino this tricked out early 60’s Ford Fairlane screeches to halt right in front of me with the motor revving hard. Sounded like a fucking tank. Stills is driving. He yells at me to get in, we’re going to the airport. It wasn’t snowing but it had the last two days and the shit was piled up everywhere. I’m thinking no way I’m getting in that rocket with that maniac behind the wheel who’s been up all night drinking and doing blow. Not to mention we had to drive over the Mt. Rose summit to get to the Reno Airport. He’s getting really pissed off now yelling at me to get in the car and I’m saying it’s cool. I’ve got a ride coming. It must have looked hilarious. Finally I tell him there is no way I’m getting in that fucking car with him and he roars off all pissed off.

The next week in LA I get a call from my manager, Gary Ballen. He says he just got off the phone with Stills management. Apparently my services will no longer be needed. He asked what the fuck went on up there. The hotel is asking for a lot of money in damages. I said that’s bullshit. Just some food on the walls and some chairs turned over. Then he got me. He asks, “Well, what did you do with the door to your room?” WHAT?! He says the door to your hotel room is missing. Wait a minute. Those doors are heavy. I’m not sure but I would think you’d need tools to get the damn thing off and where could I carry it. Of course, I deny it. But now I’m not sure. I could’ve sworn there was a door to the room when I had left… LOL.

Another gig bites the dust.


Hmmm…sounds as if you were in the “trashing rooms with complete abandon” phase of your life, Jimmy Z. Great story 😉 My first time to your blog. Another gig bites the dust…perfect.

Every so often I do a search of my name to see who’s been stealing my photos and where and how they’re being used. Your transgression, I just admit, is incredibly amusing and sad.

I hope you’ve been able to kick any habits or addictions that may have caused harm to you, or precluded your talents from being utilized to the max’.

I’ll be checking in on you (not policing photos, mind you) to see what adventures await you. Maybe even seeking a blues harp tip here and there…Funny thing, when I was in college, a friend of mine said I sounded like Norton Buffalo. I thought she was joking, making up a name, and so forth. Then one night I saw a Stills live concert on Tv, and his harp player was a guy named Norton Buffalo. I fell over laughing.

Mr. Buffalo, I later learned played with either Steve Miller or Boz Skaggs. Wish you well, my friend.

I’ve been out to Death Valley a few times recently…got to photograph Manson’s Barker’s Ranch before it burned down a couple of years ago.

One request pertaining to my photo. I appreciate your including my byline, could you also include my blog or website:

being a fan of Stills, what was your overall opinion of him…was he ever nice to you? How did you feel about his professionalism during the sessions you played on…

Hey Roger,

I kicked all those nasty habits almost 20 yrs ago but thank you for your concern. Of course, we will give photo credit and thank you. Please forgive my crew for any transgressions.

Stills is cool. Great to be around in the studio and stage. Nobody wants to hear the nice stuff. He is an incredible talent and we are all better for it.

Jimmy Z
ps sorry for the delay

Jimmy..your a fucking madd man

Thank you Mickey. More insane stories to come. Stand by.

Jimmy Z

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