Rick Stevens is Still in Jail and is Not a Young Man
UPDATE, 09/23/09: After reading, please see below in the Comments for another version–and a correction–of some of these events by Rick’s former wife Georgina Stevenson.
Since that walk in time with Santana last night, I went cruising on Wikipedia again to look up Tower of Power and its famous Horn Section, which has played on so many albums. Apparently, the group has recorded a DVD at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco which featured many of the old band members and vocalists and will be released this year. Unfortunately, one lead singer in particular was missing from the line-up, and that was Donald Stevenson, also known as Rick Stevens, who along with Rufus Miller, sang lead on such diamonds as “You’re Still a Young Man,” and “Sparkling in the Sand” on their first two albums, East Bay Grease and Bump City.
Despite these accomplishments in rock history, Rick Stevens was also known committing one of the most notorious crimes in the Bay Area in the Seventies, in which he and an accomplice whacked three drug dealers to whom he had owed money, and who had been pressuring him to sell drugs to youngsters in lieu of payment. I remember how he was apprehended. I think I was watching a special news report on the CBS affiliate, KPIX Channel 5, in San Francisco. The cops caught up with him on a school playground, naked, totally effed up. In fact, that was how he killed the dealers; he was in a drug-soaked, completely altered frame of mind. Even during his early hearings, he was messed up. He was talk for weeks. He was given a double life sentence, in which he had to serve a 25-year minimum. It’s been several years since he served that minimum, and the authorities haven’t let him out yet.
Rick Stevens is now 69 years old.
Writer Katy St. Clair of the East Bay Express probed this sad story in 2002, and interviewed a founding member of Tower of Power:
“He shot up three people,” recalls Emilio “Mimi” Castillo, sax player and founding member of the group. “He tied up this lady and left her in a trunk — pretty gruesome stuff.” Although Stevens had been out of the group for a few years at the time of the incident, the media played up the Tower of Power connection anyway, much to the dismay of the band, which already had moved on to singer Lenny Williams. “Rick was a really great guy,” says Castillo. “But he got strung out on hard narcotics — when he was in that state of mind, he was not a nice guy.”
The singer’s belligerence got him booted from the band, despite many members’ still-strong feelings that he was the best vocalist ever for Tower of Power. “Let me tell you something about Rick Stevens,” says Castillo with dramatic pause. “That guy was one of the greatest singers that ever lived. Unbelievable. And if it hadn’t been for the drugs, he’d have been a huge star.” On top of his musical skills, Stevens had a charisma and compelling stage presence. That’s his lead vocal on “You’re Still a Young Man,” which arguably was the band’s biggest hit, as well as being the song that Prince claims he lost his virginity to.
We juniors and seniors in high school thought Tower of Power was hot. Of course, before ToP went national, it was a Bay Area band on one of rock impresario Bill Graham’s labels. The girls in my circle naturally swooned over “You’re Still a Young Man,” but I preferred “Sparkling in the Sand,” and still do. When the lead changed to Lenny Williams, we just could not figure out why other than the standard music business reply, until Stevens’ explosion several years later.
In prison, Stevens took years before he found religion, got clean (drugs are rife in jails), and built trust so that he can work unsupervised. He is presently incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison in Ione, CA. He has married. He sings in a choir. Age can also mellow a volatile personality. There may come a point when someone feels he cannot be wasting time on BS as Stevens did before, even during previous parole hearings when he was still volatile and on drugs. Despite turning his life around and expressing remorse for his crimes, Rick Stevens still cannot get out of jail. He has been reduced to asking yearly for parole which has been repeatedly denied. Another hearing is coming up later this summer.
St. Clair believes:
Even if Stevens is a changed man, many people will no doubt balk at the idea that a double-lifer should be released from prison. If the question comes down to whether or not he is a threat to society, most evidence suggests he is not. That leaves the question of punishment, and for some — perhaps the majority of Californians, if you believe the polls — prisoners such as Stevens never should be released.
Rick Stevens is not Charles Manson. I wouldn’t be surprised if what the man really needed was lithium.
St. Clair’s observation was made when Stevens was 62. The world is very different now than when Stevens entered prison, and he is not the same man. How many other musicians–whether or not they committed murder or attempted mayhem–were clapped in jail and made parole? Aaron Neville, Merle Haggard, James Brown, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash, Buddy Miles, Flora Purim; the list can be endless. Frankly, I don’t think an elderly man like this should be kept in jail. No doubt, his voice is not the same as it was when he was younger, but if the man still has what it takes, Rick Stevens should be allowed to spend the remainder of his life among his friends, advocates and the musicians who care about his talent, and to make restitution in other ways before he dies.
Free Rick Stevens.