Stephen Stills…“Treetop Flyer”

Stephen Stills wrote an excellent song in the early 70s, but it didn’t get put on any CSN, CSN&Y,  or Stephen Stills albums until two decades later.

The song is “Treetop Flyer”.  It captures the sad time in America when the Vietnam war was so hated that returning veterans were looked down upon and had trouble finding jobs.  In the case of the song’s title character, he had to use the skill he was taught in the war…flying under radar…and he became a smuggler.

Stephen Stills fans know it’s a hard song to acquire.  I first heard “Treetop Flyer” when he recorded it live for a 1976 radio concert.  That version is probably the best.  It has impressive guitar playing, and builds to an energy that gets the crowd into it.  This live recording has been in my music collection ever since, but is not available to the public, except on bootlegs.  Here it is:

It wasn’t until 1991 that Stills finally did a studio version for his album Stills Alone.  I bought the CD, but it was on a small label, and not very many copies were made.  Slowly, people found out about the cool song, but couldn’t find a copy.  If you did find the CD, it was very expensive.  Here’s that studio version.  It’s a little more laidback.

Then in 2007, Stills released the album Just Roll Tape.  It was from a studio session in 1968 when Stills, with just his acoustic guitar, recorded songs he’d been writing.  On the album as a bonus track is a demo of “Treetop Flyer”.   The song was not part of that 1968 demo session, but no date is given.  We do know Stills recorded the song during sessions for the unreleased CSNY album Human Highway, which was supposed to be the follow-up to Deja Vu.  The demo recording became the best selling cut of all of Stills’ songs on iTunes.  There’s a problem though, because if Stephen wasn’t happy with a verse, he immediately re-sang it.  Basically, this rough (though good sounding) demo needs the poorer quality duplicate verses edited out of it, like this:

Finally, in 2013, the 1991 studio version of “Treetop Flyer” was included in the Carry On box set…only trouble was, you had to buy it…the whole box set!  The song is not sold as an individual digital download.  So if that’s the only song you need, it’s still $40.  Evil marketers!

P.S.  It was cool that “Treetop Flyer” was used for the long first scenes in 2018’s season premiere of “This Is Us”.

This site also has a career-spanning article on Stephen Stills…here’s the link:

2 Replies to “Stephen Stills…“Treetop Flyer””

  1. Thank you so much for this excellent report on Stephen Stills and his amazing song Treetop Flyer including various versions!
    I agree that he doesn’t get the credit he deserves…both as singer and a genius guitar player!

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