The recording and performing career of Buffalo Spring field bore striking similarity to a flash fire. The creativity of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer, and Dewey Martin sparked almost spontaneously in 1966, flared brightly for a brief period, then extinguished itself only two years and three albums later. Thanks to a series of debilitating ego trips and personality conflicts, the group’s aspirations of achieving widespread commercial success always remained just out of reach.
Buffalo Springfield combined rock, folk, country-western, rhythm and blues, and even Latin music into what biographer John Einarson described in a 1997 article in Goldminemagazine as “a unique acoustic-electric folk/county/rock amalgam that would become known as the California sound.” Despite its share of critical acclaim, the group’s legacy is represented as much in the accomplishments of its members following the band’s breakup, and in its guiding influence on dozens of other groups in the decades that passed after Stills, Young, Furay, and the others went their separate ways. Our influence speaks for itself,” noted Furay in Goldmine. “Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, Poco, Loggins and Messina … [plus] the stake we smacked into the ground took root in bands like the Eagles and other California bands that came after us.” A member of the Eagles, Randy Meisner, confirmed the importance of Buffalo Springfield when he said in Marc Eliot’s 1998 biography, The Eagles: Take It to the Limit, that his career and the bands in which he played “shifted away from pure folk-rock and into the kind of newer, harder country thing they were doing.”
The origin of Buffalo Springfield was akin to a rock and roll fairytale. The individual paths of Stills, Young, and Furay crossed in Canada and New York City during the mid-sixties. However, their “once upon atime” moment came on April 6, 1966 in a Hollywood traffic jam, when the planets finally aligned on all three, plus Palmer. It was nearly unbelievable, but only nine days later—time enough to find a drummer and have a few rehearsals— Buffalo Springfield opened for the Byrds, America’s premier folk-rock band at the time, at the Orange County Showgrounds in San Bernardino, California.
The Texas-born Stills was the acknowledged leader of the band. He and Furay had performed as members of a large, East Coast folk group, the Au Go Go Singers. The group dissolved shortly after the flop of its debut album, They Call Us the Go Go Singers. Stillsstarted a new group minus Furay, and met Young during a tour of Ontario. By 1965, Stills moved to California and even auditioned for the Monkees.
Young’s first band was a Winnipeg, Manitoba quartet known as the Squires. After leaving school, he moved back to his hometown of Toronto and worked in some of the city’s folk clubs. In late 1964, he visited New York in hopes of reuniting with Stills, who had already left town. Young did find Furay and shared one of his songs, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.” Then it was back to Canada, where Young joined Palmer and future funk star Rick James in the Mynah Birds, a short-lived group that recorded some unreleased material for Motown.
Furay remained in New York following Stills’ departure for Los Angeles and Young’s return to Toronto. In February of 1966, though, he flew to California based on the false belief that Stills had a new band and an opening for a singer. Despite the fact that there was no ready-made opportunity, Furay’s trip brought the two musicians together again.
In late March of 1966, Young and Palmer headed for Los Angeles, arriving on April Fool’s Day. They were tired and broke, but quickly began looking for Stills. Five days later and without luck, they sat in Young’s old Pontiac hearse, stuck in a massive traffic tie-up on Sunset Boulevard and ready to return to Canada. But Stills and Furay were not far away. They were killing time
For the Record…
Members include Richie Furay (born May 9, 1944, Dayton, OH), guitar, vocals; Dewey Martin (born September 30, 1942, Chesterville, ON, Canada), drums, vocals; Jim Messina (born December 5, 1947, Maywood, CA), bass, replaced Bruce Palmer in late 1967; Bruce Palmer (born September 9, 1946, Toronto, ON, Canada), bass Stephen Stills (born January 3, 1945, Dallas, TX, married, Kristen Hathoway, two children by two previous marriages), lead guitar, vocals; Neil Young (born November 12, 1945, Toronto, ON, Canada, married, first wife Susan, divorced 1970; second wife, Pegi, three children, Ben, Amber, (with Pegi); Zeke (by Carrie Snodgrass), lead guitar, vocals;.
Group formed by Stills, Young, Furay, Palmer, and Martin in April 1966 in Los Angeles; signed with Atlantic Records (Ateo); released three albums in its two-year existance, Buffalo Springfield, 1966, (reissued 1967);Buffalo Springfield Again, 1967;Last Time Around, 1968; only hit single, “For What It’s Worth,” peaked atnumber seven nationally in April 1967; performed final concert in May 1968;Retrospective —The Best of Buffalo Springfield released, 1969.
Awards: Inducted into Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, May 6, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019-3211.
in another vehicle caught in the same tie-up. Stills looked out and saw a black hearse, much like the one that he knew Young drove. A glance at the Ontario license plate clinched it. He and Furay hurried over and renewed acquaintances. During a jam session that night, an arrangement and performance by Stills and Furay of “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” left Young impressed. The four decided then to form a band.
Furay was designated the featured singer and rhythm guitarist, Stills and Young would handle lead guitar, and Palmer would play bass. Drummer Dewey Martin, another Canadian, was added days later. Rehearsals took place immediately. “The whole thing happened at hyper speed, warp drive,” recalled Palmer in Goldmine.
During this nine-day period, the guys even borrowed a name, Buffalo-Springfield, that they saw on a steamroller parked outside a friend’s home. They just dropped the hyphen. The booking for Buffalo Springfield to open on the Byrds’ short, five-stop tour of southern California was arranged with the help of Dick Davis, who soon became the group’s manager and had a hand in getting the band to open for the Rolling Stones’ Hollywood Bowl concert in July. The Byrds’ Chris Hillman helped set up a guest shot for Buffalo Springfield at the popular Whisky A Go Go. The group was soon signed for a six-week run as the house band. The public response was immediate, and Buffalo Springfield responded. “The first week at the Whisky was absolutely incredible,” recalled Stills in Goldmine. “That’s when we peaked … when we were a band, when we lived together.” Richie Furay was the centerpiece for the group’s live performances. “He’d bounce from one end of the stage to the other on his tiptoes backward,” recounted Davis in Jerry Hopkins’ 1970 book, The Rock Story.
Buffalo Springfield signed with Atlantic Records, with the band’s releases coming out on Ateo, a subsidiary. Davis introduced the group to a management team that had handled Sonny and Cher, and who would produce the band’s first album, Buffalo Springfield. The managers were not music producers, though. Despite initial sessions at Gold Star Studios in Los Angeles, the site for many of Phil Spector’s legendary recordings of the Ronettes, Crystals, and Righteous Brothers, the Buffalo Springfield management team could not capture in the studio the excitement of the group’s live performances. Members of the band wanted to scrap those record ings and start over, but Atlantic refused. Buffalo Springfield was released in December 1966, with “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” as the first single. It was the record company’s decision to release the song as the A-side. The band expected Stills’ “Go and Say Goodbye” to have that distinction.
The band’s fortunes were at low ebb in November of 1966, when long-haired youths clashed with police in what came to be known as the Sunset Strip riots. Shortly afterward, at a Topanga Canyon party, Stills picked up his guitar and started strumming and singing. The title of the song was “For What It’s Worth,” but it would be better known by its lyrics, “Something is happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear,” followed by the chorus, “Stop, hey, what’s that sound, everybody look what’s going down.” Buffalo Springfield went into the studio the next day and, with Stills producing, recorded what would be their only hit single. Atlantic rush released it to early acclaim in California and a slow, 14-week ascent up the charts across the country, reaching number seven on the charts nationwide in April of 1967. Its impact was nationwide, too, as the tune, “the first explicit document of an unbridgeable generational chasm, helped consolidate the youth movement,” according to editors Ed Ward, Geoffrey Stokes and Ken Tucker in the 1986 book, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll.
On the strength of “For What It’s Worth,” Atlantic repressed Buffalo Springfield, adding the hit to the song lineup and dropping another number, “Baby Don’t Scold Me.” Album sales eventually reached a quarter-million. The fortunes for Buffalo Springfield should have been looking up, but this was a group which writer Jerry Fuentes would call in a 1987 Goldmine article, “arguably America’s best Sixties rock band in terms of artistic impact, musical creativity, and psychodrama.”
Friction was developing among band members, especially between Stills and Young. Each sought to have as many of their own compositions as possible on an album, plus both were eager to not only play lead guitar but also to sing their own songs. Furay’s role was diminished by this internal dissension. Despite having an abundance of talent, “the band quickly became a collection of individuals pursuing their own interests,” wrote Fred Goodman in his 1997 book, The Mansion on the Hill. At the same time that recording sessions were underway for a second album, Buffalo Springfield Again, the group was touring the Midwest. Stills and Young would “walk off the stage ready to kill each other,” recalled Davis in The Rock Story. Young left Buffalo Springfield in 1967, prior to important bookings at the Monterey Pop Festival and Newport Folk Festival. He returned later in the year, but a pattern was set that had band members feeling it was only a matter of time before Young was gone for good, in favor of a solo career. Complicating matters, Palmer was in the United States illegally, and he soon faced a series of drug and immigration charges that would force him from the band, at first temporarily, then permanently by the time of Buffalo Springfield’s third album, Last Time Around.
Buffalo Springfield Again was produced by Atlantic Records’ president Ahmet Ertegun and released in late 1967. Despite the apparent disintegration of the group, the album has been praised by many, including writer Jerry Fuentes, as “the band’s creative peak…. Every song is inspired and brilliantly performed.” Highlights included Stills’ “Bluebird” and “Rock & Roll Woman,” plus Young’s “Mr. Soul” and “Broken Arrow.”
The recording engineer on Buffalo Springfield Again was Jim Messina, Palmer’s eventual replacement as the group’s bassist. In 1968, Furay and Messina were left to assemble Last Time Aroundfrom tapes submitted by bandmembers. Studio musicians filled in the holes. The album includes “Kind Woman,” considered to be the best tune that Furay contributed to Buffalo Springfield.
A drug bust on March 20, 1968 nabbed Young, Furay and Messina. Martin had left moments earlier and Stills squeezed out a back window. This essentially served notice that Buffalo Springfield was ready to fold. The band’s farewell concert came in Long Beach, California on May 5, 1968, barely two years following their first live performance. “We were good, even great,” reflected Young in Goldmine. “When we started out, we thought we would be together forever. But we were just too young to be patient….”
Following the breakup, Martin toured with a group of session musicians under the name of the New Buffalo Springfield, but former members filed a lawsuit to halt that effort. In 1984, Martin and Palmer tried to resurrect the band as Buffalo Springfield Revisited, but there were few takers.
In 1969, Stills began performing with Crosby, Stills and Nash, a group that would periodically include Young. He also pursued a solo career and recorded with Chris Hillman in a group known as Manassas. Young maintained a long and storied solo career, often with his band, Crazy Horse. Furay joined Messina and Rusty Young, the latter a session musician on Last Time Around, in Poco, a leading country-rock band. Messina later recorded with Kenny Loggins as Loggins and Messina. In May 1997, Buffalo Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
“Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” b/w “Go and Say Goodbye,” Atco, 1966.
“For What It’s Worth,” Atco, 1967.
“Bluebird” b/w “Mr. Soul,” Atco, 1967.
“On the Way Home,” Atco, 1968.
Buffalo Springfield (includes “Baby Don’t Scold Me), Atco, 1966, reissued (includes “For What It’s Worth),” 1967.
Buffalo Springfield Again, Atco, 1967.
Last Time Around, Atco, 1968.
Retrospective —The Best of Buffalo Springfield, Atco, 1969.
Einarson, John, with Richie Furay, For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield, Quarry Press, 1997.
Eliot, Marc, The Eagles: Take It to the Limit, Little Brown, 1998.
Goodman, Fred, The Mansion on the Hill, Times Books/Rando House, 1997.
Helander, Brock, The Rock Who’s Who (second edition), Schirmer Books, 1996.
Hopkins, Jerry, The Rock Story, New American Library, 1970.
Jancik, Wayne, One Hit Wonders, Billboard Books, 1990.
Ward, Ed, Geoffrey Stokes, Ken Tucker, Rock of Ages: The Rolling Stone History of Rock & Roll, Rolling Stone Press, 1986.
Goldmine, February 13, 1987, p. 8; May 23, 1997, p.18.
All Music Guide, profiles of Buffalo Springfield, Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer, Dewey Martin, and Jim Messina; http://www.allmusic.com/
Rough Guide to Rock, The, Richie Unterberger: Buffalo Springfield; http://www-2.roughguides.com/rock/entries/entries-b/BUFFALO_SPRINGFIELD.htme