Stephen Stills - guitar, vocal; Gerry Tolman - guitar; Mike Finnigan - keyboards; George "Chocolate" Perry - bass; Joe Vitale - drums; Joe Lala - congas; Bonnie Bramlett - vocals, percussion
For the first time since the Cuban Revolution in 1959, when Fidel Castro first gained power, the less combative stance of the Carter administration opened an important diplomatic window between Cuba and the United States. After two decades, the U.S. ban on travel to and from Cuba was lifted, creating new diplomatic and cultural exchange opportunities. Sensing the time was right, CBS Records, in conjunction with the U.S. State Department, staged an international coup by organizing an unprecedented three-night series of concerts in the Cuban capital of Havana. Dubbed "Havana Jam," this historic cultural exchange took place on March 2, 3 and 4, 1979 at the 4800-seat Karl Marx Theater and marked the first time American musicians had performed in Cuba since the Castro regime gained power two decades prior. The King Biscuit Flower Hour accompanied a plane full of Columbia Records artists as they participated in this first comprehensive music festival held in Cuba, which featured an all-star cast of musicians from a wide range of musical genres. In addition to the cream of the crop of Cuban artists, performers included Weather Report (with Jaco Pastorius on board); Stephen Stills (who had been experimenting with Latin music his entire career); Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge (at the tail end of their marriage); John McLaughlin (famed Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist) performing a one-off trio gig with Tony Williams and Jaco Pastorius; the CBS Records Jazz Allstars, which featured a wealth of jazz greats including the Heath Brothers, Stan Getz, and Dexter Gordon, in addition to the final night headliner Billy Joel. Two albums featuring highlights from these concerts would be issued and in April of 1979, the King Biscuit Flower Hour would nationally broadcast additional material from these historic concerts, most of which has never been officially released.
Here we present several KBFH recordings from the March 4th set by Stephen Stills and his band, none of which were included on the Havana Jam album releases. The recording begins with the song that launched Stills' career in the Buffalo Springfield back in 1967, "For What It's Worth." A song that signaled a cultural shift in America, here the song is presented with a nice relaxed groove, featuring Stills' distinctive lead guitar and vocal support on the choruses by one of the greatest white soul singers, Bonnie Bramlett.
The next track includes the tail end of the bluesy slide guitar dominated Manassas classic, "Jet Set," which then segues directly into the funky rocker, "Turn Back The Pages." Written by Stills and Donnie Dacus as the opener to the 1975 album Stills, this song's slower verses and up-tempo sing-along choruses proves to be an excellent vehicle for this lineup of Stills' band, who incorporate impressive Latin grooves into the uplifting arrangement.
The recording concludes with a unique version of the Stills classic, "Love The One You're With," featuring Bonnie Bramlett, rather than Stills himself on lead vocal. Once again, a more pronounced Latin groove is applied and Bramlett's southern soul vocal breathes new life into one of Stills' most beloved songs.