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Woodstock Remembered: Oticon and Stephan Stills Rock On

Woodstock Remembered: Oticon and Stephan Stills Rock On Stephen Stills, who often fronts the group Crosby Stills Nash, has had diagnosed hearing loss since he was a kid. His hearing worsened as after years of touring with the band. 2009 1155 Woodstock Remembered: Oticon and Stephan Stills Rock On

Has it been 40 years? Can you believe it? It may be hard to believe it if you were there. Jimi, Alvin Lee and 10 Years After, Sly and the Family Stone and a new super-group, Crosby Stills and Nash (CS&N), who sang for the first time together on the Woodstock stage 40 years ago this summer.

Through the decades, CS&N (and occasionally Neil Young) have created hit after hit – songs that have become an integral part of rock music and it all began 40 years ago. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” “Ohio,” “Teach Your Children” – these iconic tunes, with their tight harmonies and catchy melodies, are classics that’ll be played for decades to come.

Meet Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills, proud Oticon Dual Hearing Aid owner.

Photo courtesy Oticon.

Crosby, Stills and Nash are known for their incredibly intricate harmonies – three voices synching up as one. David Crosby once stated that “he had the perfect voice for singing harmony.” And when Graham Nash of The Hollies hooked up with Crosby (The Byrds) and Stephan Stills (Buffalo Springfield), music history was made that night back in ’69, and those who witnessed the collaboration will never forget it.

Ah, but time passes and, even though CS&N are still playing together, there have been some changes. Oh, the songs are still poignant and the harmonies just as tight. What’s changed is the singers – specifically Stephan Stills, one of the founding members.

Stills, who often fronts the group, has had diagnosed hearing loss since he was a kid growing up in Louisiana. “My hearing loss was first spotted when I was nine years old,” Stills is quoted in a press release from hearing aid manufacturer, Oticon. “This was in 1954 when the little truck came to the school to give the kids physicals. The doctor noticed a hearing loss in my right ear and told my parents to ‘keep an eye on it’.”

Back then, hearing loss wasn’t considered the serious, learning problem it is today and children weren’t usually fit with hearing aids unless the problem was extreme. In the case of 9-year-old Stephan Stills, the problem wasn’t considered extreme enough to warrant further testing or the use of a hearing aid.

This Rock and Roll Hall of Famer’s hearing worsened as he exposed his hearing to years of touring with the band back in the day when rock and rollers did NOT wear hearing protection. Unfortunately, Stills’ choice of career and subsequent success only made his hearing problem worse.

Stills had problems hearing conversations but did little to improve the situation. “My hearing grew worse as I was subjected to high decibels (dBs) on tour shows. As my hearing loss increased, I experimented with hearing aids but they were so cumbersome. I hated the feeling of having a big piece of plastic in my ear,” he explained.

“I also thought they [hearing aids] would block up my ears and cause me to miss the ambience of the room and the crowds.” That’s critical when singing close harmonies. You have to hear the other singers in a variety of settings and adapt your singing accordingly – something difficult to do if you experience hearing loss.

Sometime-fellow band member and rock god, Neil Young, first suggested that Stephan try new, state-of-the-art, behind-the-ear hearing aids from manufacturer, Oticon. The model, called the Dual, is lightweight, nearly invisible and powerful enough to power Stephan Stills and his band mates through another concert, delighting audiences around the world. And many members of these packed houses are grandchildren of the original Woodstock Nation. As Neil Young sings, “Rock and roll will never die.”

Oticon Dual Hearing Aids

“I fell in love with them immediately. They were so light, they enhanced the frequencies I needed and let the ambient sound come in,” Stills explains.

Just as importantly, Stills’ Oticon Duals enabled him to hear his own voice naturally thanks to open ear technology that delivers a less processed sound. Critical when singing three or four-part harmony. If you’re off a half tone, it makes the entire group sound bad and that ain't good for rock legends.

Oticon Dual Hearing Aids violet
The Oticon Dual

“My Duals certainly allow me to sing in tune – something that has been difficult for me in recent years. In performances, the sound from my acoustic guitar is so big, it wiped out what I was singing. I would go out of tune and not realize it,” the guitar legend explained.

“Now when I perform I am able to hear the top end of the music and get back in tune.” Stills went on to explain how his Duals have helped with is guitar work, something about which Stills is best known, having been voted one of the Top 100 Guitarists by Rolling Stone.

“Now I can hear the subtleties of the music. This has improved my playing and my singing.” Something for which we can all be grateful.

Stills identifies another benefit to wearing his Oticon Duals. Monitors on stage can be turned down, doing less damage to the musician’s hearing system. However, Stills is a poet and a songwriter and he explains the saddest side of noise-induced hearing loss.

“When you don’t take care of your hearing loss, you can get isolated, fall into depression and it’s a domino effect. You are cut off so you fall into depressive cycles and don’t know why you feel so bad but you do,” Stills explained during a recent interview.

“And it has so much to do with the fact that you can’t participate. There are a myriad of reasons not to take the steps you can take to improve your life. If I was 50 and had just discovered the difference my hearing solutions could make, I would have improved my circumstances and my shows and would have saved myself a lot of troubles over the last 10 years.”

With his Oticon Duals, Stephan Stills, along with David Crosby and Graham Nash will continue to entertain us.

Yes, it’s been 40 years since that rainy week in upstate New York, but the memories are still vivid and, if you haven’t seen the movie for a few years, rent it. It holds up well after all these years, just like Stephan Stills.

Oticon celebrates the 40th Anniversary of a historic time in American music history this August. Maybe you should let your freak flag fly once again. Pull out that double vinyl Woodstock album and take a trip back in time, man.

Only don’t play it too loud, okay?

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