Buffalo Springfield was an American-Canadian rock band known for both its music and as a springboard for the careers of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Richie Furay. Among the first wave of American bands to become popular in the wake of the British invasion, the group combined rock, folk, and country music into a sound all its own. Its million-selling song "For What It's Worth" became a political anthem for the turbulent late 1960s.
Formed in April 1966, Buffalo Springfield was plagued by infighting, drug-related arrests, and line-up changes that led to the group's disbanding after just two years. Three albums were released under its name, but many demos, studio outtakes, and live recordings remained and were issued in the decades that followed.
Despite the band's short tenure and limited output it was one of the most influential of its era, earning Rock and Roll Hall of Fame recognition and spawning fellow Hall honorees Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, as well as popular acts Poco and Loggins and Messina.
Neil Young and Stephen Stills first crossed paths in 1965 at the Fourth Dimension in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Young was there with The Squires, a Winnipeg group he had been leading since February 1963, and Stills was on tour with The Company, a spin off from the Au Go Go Singers. Although the two did not see each other again for almost a year, the encounter left both with a strong desire to work together.
When The Company broke up at the end of that tour, Stills moved to the West Coast, where he worked as a studio musician and auditioned unsuccessfully for, among other things, The Monkees. He had been in a band called Buffalo Fish with fellow Greenwich Village transplant Peter Tork, and told him to audition.
Told by record producer Barry Friedman that there would be work available if he could assemble a band, Stills invited fellow Au Go Go Singers alumnus Richie Furay and former Squires bass player Ken Koblun to come join him in California. Both agreed, although Koblun chose to leave before very long and joined the group 3's a Crowd.
In early 1966 in Toronto, Young met Bruce Palmer, a Canadian who was playing bass for a group called the Mynah Birds. In need of a lead guitarist, Palmer invited Young to join the group, and Young accepted. The Mynah Birds were set to record an album for Motown Records when their singer Ricky James Matthews (later known as Rick James) was tracked down and arrested by the U.S. Navy for being AWOL. With their record deal canceled, Young and Palmer decided to head for Los Angeles where they hoped to encounter Stills.
Roughly a week later, discouraged at having been unable to locate Stills and ready to depart for San Francisco, they were stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles when Stills, Furay and Friedman, sitting in their white van, recognized Young's black 1953 Pontiac hearse, which happened to be passing by in the opposite direction. After an illegal u-turn by Furay, some shouting, hand-waving, and much excitement, the four musicians realized that they were united in their determination to put together a band. Drummer Dewey Martin, who had played with garage rock group the Standells and country artists such as Patsy Cline and The Dillards, was added to the roster less than a week later after contacting the group at the suggestion of the Byrds' manager, Jim Dickson.
Taking their name from the side of a steamroller, made by the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company, that had been parked on the street outside Friedman's house (where Stills and Furay were staying), the new group debuted on April 11, 1966 at The Troubadour in Hollywood. A few days later, they began a short tour of California as the opening act on a bill featuring The Dillards and The Byrds.
Management and first recordings
No sooner had The Byrds' tour ended than Chris Hillman persuaded the owners of the Whisky a Go Go to give the band an audition. Buffalo Springfield essentially became the house band at the Whisky for seven weeks, from May 2 to June 18, 1966. This series of concerts solidified the band's reputation for exhilarating live performances and attracted interest from a number of record labels. It also brought an invitation from Friedman to Dickie Davis, who had been lighting manager for The Byrds, to become involved in the group's management. In turn, Davis sought advice from Sonny & Cher's management team, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone. They eventually struck a deal with Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic Records and arranged for the band to start recording at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood.
Young, Stills and Furay all recorded demos for the album, but Greene and Stone, who had installed themselves as the album's producers, deemed Young's voice "too weird" and assigned lead vocals on the majority of Young's songs to Furay.
The first Buffalo Springfield single, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”, was released in August but made little impact outside of Los Angeles, where it reached the Top 25. The group was dissatisfied with and reworked some of their early recording efforts for the rest of the album. In fact, Young and Stills have long maintained that their own mono mix was superior to the stereo mix engineered by Greene and Stone. The album, eponymously titled Buffalo Springfield, was originally released by Atlantic's subsidiary Atco in mono and in stereo in December 1966. A revamped version (see below) issued both in mono and stereo with a different track order, came in March 1967.
In November 1966 Stills composed his landmark song, "For What It's Worth", after witnessing police actions against the crowds of young people who had gathered on the Sunset Strip to protest the closing of a nightclub called Pandora's Box. The song was performed on Thanksgiving night at the Whisky a Go Go, recorded within the next few days, and on the air in Los Angeles on radio station KHJ soon afterward. By March 1967 it was a Top Ten hit. Atco took advantage of this momentum by replacing the song "Baby Don't Scold Me" with "For What It's Worth" and re-releasing the album. "For What It's Worth" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
In January 1967 the group took an advance from the record company and flew to New York to perform at Ondine's, a club where The Doors would also play. It was at this time that Palmer was first arrested for possession of marijuana and summarily deported back to Canada.
The band moved back and forth between recording sessions and live appearances on both coasts. A number of different bassists were used, such as Mike Barnes and Jim Fielder of the Mothers of Invention. In one instance – a live performance on the television show Hollywood Palace – Springfield's non-bass-playing road manager held a bass with his back to the camera while the band mimed to a prerecorded track. An appearance on the The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was taped on Feb. 17, 1967, airing on Feb. 26.
Under these conditions work on the new album, tentatively titled Stampede, was markedly tense. Ever distrustful of Greene and Stone, Young and Stills also bickered between themselves, and each insisted on producing the recording sessions for his own compositions. Furay, who had sung and played guitar on the first album but had not contributed any songs, also stepped forward and equaled Young's number for the group's second album.
Although Palmer returned to the group at the beginning of June, Young had already left and as a result missed the celebrated Monterey Pop Festival, at which the band performed with former Daily Flash and future Rhinoceros member Doug Hastings on guitar and guest David Crosby. Young eventually returned on October 7 or 8th at the Third Eye in Redondo Beach, California, and after bidding adieu to Greene and Stone (Ertegün convinced the duo to release the band from production and management agreements), the band divided its time between playing concert gigs and putting the finishing touches on its second album, ultimately titled Buffalo Springfield Again, produced by Ertegün himself.
Although more of an amalgam of individual work than an integrated group effort, Buffalo Springfield Again is considered by many critics and fans to be the group's finest record. Released in November 1967, it includes "Mr. Soul" (the version of which that appears as the B side of the edited "Bluebird" has a completely different guitar lead than the stereo LP version and has yet to be issued on CD), "Rock & Roll Woman", "Bluebird", "Sad Memory", and "Broken Arrow." The group was featured playing "Bluebird" in an episode of the television series Mannix called "Warning: Live Blueberries", which aired on October 28, 1967.
For many Buffalo Springfield fans it is "Bluebird", a Stephen Stills composition, that was then and remains the band's peak. Unlike the studio version – which winds down after the instrumental break with a plaintive rendition of the third verse, accompanied by a banjo – in live performances the opening verses of "Bluebird" served as a springboard for an extended jam session, during which Stills, Young and Furay intertwined guitars for minutes on end. One such "live jam" version which was officially released on the 1973 compilation Buffalo Springfield had become a staple of FM radio in the late '60s and early '70s.
Last Time Around
With strong reviews appearing all over the country, not only of Buffalo Springfield Again but of the band's performance as part of The Beach Boys Fifth Annual Thanksgiving Tour, things were looking up.
However, in January 1968 Palmer's second deportation for drug possession once again threw a wrench into the works. This time, guitarist and studio engineer Jim Messina was hired as a permanent replacement on bass. With Palmer gone for good, Young also began to appear less and less frequently, often leaving Stills to handle all the lead guitar parts at concerts. Recording sessions were booked, and all the songs that appeared on their final album were recorded by the end of March, usually with Messina producing, but the group was clearly on the verge of disbanding. In April 1968, after yet another drug bust involving Young, Furay, Messina and Eric Clapton, the group decided to break up.
The final 20th century concert appearance was at the Long Beach Arena on May 5, 1968. After the band played many of its best-known tunes, an extended 20plus-minute version of “Bluebird” became the group's swan song. Buffalo Springfield disbanded a little more than two years after it had begun.
After the group's breakup, Furay and Messina compiled various tracks recorded between mid-1967 and early 1968 into a third and final studio album, titled Last Time Around. Although it featured Furay's touching ballad "Kind Woman", Young's classic "I Am a Child" and Stills' subtle political "Four Days Gone", only a few of the songs included more than two or three members of the group at a time. Even the cover photo was a montage, with Young's image added to a group profile of the other four members. Stills and Furay appeared on more tracks than any of the others, essentially dominating the album, but it did not light up the charts.
Despite their popularity, Buffalo Springfield was never a major commercial success. "For What It’s Worth" was a significant hit and the group's legend grew stronger after the breakup, increasing with the later successes of its members. The longevity and impact on popular music several members would experience in the years to come solidified their early years of artistic creativity.
Stills went on to form Crosby, Stills & Nash with David Crosby of The Byrds and Graham Nash of The Hollies in 1968. Young launched a solo career, but in 1969 also reunited with Stills in Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, which saw the beginning of his sporadic relationship with that trio. Furay and Messina were founding members of Poco. Furay joined J.D. Souther and Chris Hillman to form the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, and Messina teamed with Kenny Loggins in Loggins & Messina.
Palmer was CSNY's first choice to play bass, but due to various personal problems was replaced by Motown prodigy Greg Reeves. After recording a commercially unsuccessful jam-oriented solo album in 1970, Palmer faded into obscurity, although he did briefly play that same year with Toronto blues band Luke & The Apostles. In the early 1980s he appeared on Young's Trans album and then played with Martin in the "Buffalo Springfield Revisited" tribute band in the mid-1980s.
New Buffalo Springfield
Martin formed a new version of Buffalo Springfield in September 1968. Dubbed "New Buffalo Springfield", the lineup consisted of guitarists Dave Price (Davy Jones' stand-in in The Monkees) and Gary Rowles (son of jazz pianist Jimmy Rowles), bass player Bob Apperson, drummer Don Poncher and horn player Jim Price, who later became a top session musician for Delaney Bramlett, The Rolling Stones, Joe Cocker and others.
The new band toured extensively and appeared at the highly publicized "Holiday Rock Festival" in San Francisco on December 25–26, 1968, but soon fell afoul of Stills and Young, who took legal action to prevent Martin from using the band's name.
In February 1969 Martin and Dave Price formed a second version of New Buffalo Springfield with guitarist Bob "BJ" Jones and bass player Randy Fuller, brother of the late Bobby Fuller. The band made some recordings with producer Tom Dowd overseeing, but they were scrapped. Another guitarist, Joey Newman, was added in June 1969, but two months later Martin was fired and the remaining members carried on as Blue Mountain Eagle. Martin then formed a new group called Medicine Ball, which released a lone album in 1970 for Uni Records. Martin also released two solo singles, one for Uni and one for RCA, which didn't appear on the album. During the 1970s he retired from the music industry and became a car mechanic.
In 1984 Bruce Palmer teamed up with Frank Wilks and Stan Endersby to form the "Buffalo Springfield Revisited" Band. Dewey Martin was brought up to Toronto, Canada to join in the band and off they went on tour for the next 4, almost 5 years under this band name. Neil Young and Stephen Stills gave the BSR permission to tour with this name.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
In 1997 the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although Young did not appear at the induction ceremony. In 2001 an eponymous, career-spanning, four-disc box set was assembled by Young and released. The first three discs feature many alternate takes, demos and alternate mixes of the band's material, with the fourth containing the group's first two albums. The third album, never a favorite of Young's, was relegated to highlights on the third disc.
On his 2000 album Silver & Gold, Young sang of his desire to reform the group and to “see those guys again and give it a shot” ("Buffalo Springfield Again"). A full reunion is no longer a possibility with the October 2004 death of Palmer and the January 2009 death of Martin. Surviving Buffalo Springfield members Young, Stills, and Furay reunited at the annual Bridge School Benefit concerts on October 23 and 24, 2010, in Mountain View, California. Rolling Stone called the performance "nostalgic, blissful, and moving."
Buffalo Springfield reunited for six concerts starting in Oakland on June 1, 2011, followed by dates in Los Angeles, and Santa Barbara before moving on to play the 2011 Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. The band consisted of Furay, Stills, and Young, with the lineup completed by Rick Rosas and Joe Vitale. According to Richie Furay and a band spokesman, the band were supposed do a full tour in 2012, but this was put on hold, because of Young recording two new albums with Crazy Horse. On February 27, 2012, Furay announced that the band are on indefinite hiatus.
- Former members
- Richie Furay – guitar, vocals (1966–1968, 2010–2012)
- Stephen Stills – guitar, keyboards, vocals (1966–1968, 2010–2012)
- Neil Young – guitar, harmonica, piano, vocals (1966–1968, 2010–2012)
- Dewey Martin – drums, vocals (1966–1968; died 2009)
- Bruce Palmer – bass guitar (1966–1968; died 2004)
- Jim Messina - bass guitar (1968)
- Ken Koblun - bass guitar (1966)
- Additional musicians
- Joe Vitale – drums, vocals (2010–2012)
- Rick Rosas – bass guitar (2010–2012)
- Einarson, J. and Furay, R. (2004). For What It's Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield Lanham: Cooper Square Press. ISBN 978-0-8154-1281-6.
- Long, P. (1996). Ghosts on the Road—Neil Young in Concert London: Old Homestead Press. ISBN 978-0-9526517-1-0.
- Additional material from an 80-page booklet included in the 4-CD box set Buffalo Springfield featuring a discography, a concert chronology prepared by P. Long and essays by P. Long and K. Viola.
- Expecting To Fly – The Buffalo Springfield Story
- Buffalo Springfield at AllMusic
- Buffalo Springfield interviewed on the Pop Chronicles (1969).
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Image from Discogs