Buffalo Springfield, formed in Los Angeles in 1966, was one of the pioneers in the folk rock scene. Despite releasing only three albums of original material, the band was highly influential in rock music, largely as a result of the careers of several members after leaving Buffalo Springfield. The lineup consisted of Stephen Stills (vocals, guitar, keyboards), Neil Young (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica), Richie Furay (vocals, guitar), Bruce Palmer (bass), and Dewey Martin (drums). Many casual rock fans know the group only from their protest hit “For What It’s Worth,” but there is much more to Buffalo Springfield. Here is the Buffalo Springfield biography.
The story of how Buffalo Springfield formed is somewhat confusing. In large this comes because all five members were playing in various groups, with no definite moment when the five got together to form the group. Instead, it is a tale of chance encounters and of a group in flux that eventually came to be known as Buffalo Springfield.
Young, a native Canadian, was playing with a Winnipeg group called The Squires when he met Stills in 1965. Stills was touring with The Company at the time. When The Company broke up, Stills moved to Los Angeles, eventually auditioning for a place in the Monkees with his friend Peter Tork. When that failed, Stills put together a band along with Richie Furay, whom he had played with in the the Au Go Go Singers.
Meanwhile, Bruce Palmer invited Young to join The Mynah Birds in Toronto, in early 1966. The Mynah Birds were fronted by a singer named Ricky James Matthews, who was arrested by the U.S. Navy for being AWOL. Ultimately, Matthews would have a successful music career under the name Rick James. With his arrest, the band broke up and Young and Palmer headed to Los Angeles to try their luck there. Once in LA, a chance encounter brought Young and Stills together. With them came Furay and Palmer.
Martin was already in LA, bouncing from group to group. First, The Standells. Then The Modern Folk Quartet, followed by a brief stint with The Dillards. In the spring of 1966, Martin was told The Dillards no longer needed him on drums. They suggested he look into a new group that did need a drummer. With his addition, Buffalo Springfield was set.
They debuted at The Troubadour in Hollywood on 11 April 1966.
For awhile, Stills and Furay stayed with record producer Barry Friedman. Parked on the street outside was a steamroller made by the Buffalo Springfield Roller Company of Springfield, Ohio. Somehow, that became the source of the group’s name.
Recordings and Changes
Buffalo Springfield got a chance to audition at the Whiskey A Go Go based on the insistence of Chris Hillman. Not only did the audition go well, but they basically became the house band for almost two months in the middle of 1966. During their stint at the club, the band developed a strong following. Next came a recording contract, with Atlantic Records winning out over Warner Brothers and Elektra, with their records to be released on the subsidiary label Atco.
Their first release was the single “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” written by Young. Nationally, it failed to break the Top 100 on the Billboard charts, although it became a hit in the Los Angeles area. The followup, “Burned,” also failed to chart.
Around this time, a nightclub called Pandora’s Box, on the Sunset Strip, closed, which sparked protests by its youthful adherents. In response, police tried to shut down the protests, which led to arrests and further protests. This series of incidents inspired Stills to write “For What It’s Worth.” The song entered the Billboard charts in January 1967, eventually peaking at number 7. The band now had a national audience.
Their first album, Buffalo Springfield, originally released in December 1966, sold poorly. Once “For What It’s Worth” began to climb the singles charts, Atco Records changed the song lineup to include the hit, and the album entered the Billboard charts in March 1967. It eventually peaked at number 80.
The first major change in the group came in January 1967 when Palmer was arrested for marijuana possession and deported back to his native Canada. The result – an ever-changing lineup at bass guitar, even including one incident of “air bass” during a live performance.
Charles Greene and Brian Stone produced the debut album, after having served on the management team for Sonny and Cher. When it came time for Buffalo Springfield to work on their followup album, the band had become unhappy with Greene and Stone, leading to bickering among themselves, particularly between Young and Stills. This resulted in Young and Stills producing the songs they had each written.
Buffalo Springfield Again was released in the autumn of 1967. The album charted higher than their debut, reaching 44 on the Billboard album charts, but was the beginning of the end for the group. By the time of the album release, Young had left the group, then returned. Palmer had been allowed back in the country and rejoined the band, but in January 1968 was again arrested and deported to Canada. Jim Messina was brought in as a permanent replacement for Palmer, but in April 1968, Young, Furay, Messina, and a visiting Eric Clapton were arrested on drug charges, and the group officially broke up.
Buffalo Springfield Again had something of the folk rock feel of their debut album, but moved the sound much more in the direction of psychedelia and hard rock. Hits off the album included “Bluebird,” “Mr. Soul,” and “Rock ’N’ Roll Woman.”
There was still a recording contract to honor, and the band owed one more album. They pulled together enough material and Last Time Around was released in the late summer of 1968. Produced by Messina, the album proved more a conglomeration of songs by individuals than the product of a band. Many of the songs included only two or three members of the band. Nevertheless, the album turned out to be their highest charting album, reaching number 42 on the Billboard charts.
Buffalo Springfield’s time together was short, barely reaching two years, but their musical legacy is large. The group’s popularity brought stardom for several of their members and set them up for continued success after the breakup. Stills teamed up with David Crosby, formerly of The Byrds, and Graham Nash, formerly of The Hollies, to form Crosby, Stills and Nash. Later, he formed the band Manassas and had a successful solo career. Young started a successful solo career that continues to this day. Somewhat erratically, he also teamed up with Stills and Crosby and Nash to form Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Furay first teamed up with Chris Hillman and J.D. Souther to form The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Eventually he struck out on a solo career, and still performs today with The Richie Furay Band. Messina struck gold when he partnered with Kenny Loggins as Loggins and Messina.
Buffalo Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997, highlighting the magnitude of their influence in rock music. This from a band with only one real hit (“For What It’s Worth”) and only three albums recorded during their time together. With that recording history, membership in the Hall of Fame would seem to be unlikely. Yet they succeeded, a testament to their larger-than-life legacy.
Bruce Palmer passed away of a heart attack on 1 October 2004. Dewey Martin died on 31 January 2009, apparently of natural causes.
If you know Buffalo Springfield’s music only by their hit “For What It’s Worth,” I suggest you get to know all three albums. While the last two don’t have any mega-hits, they are well worth your time. Enjoy!
Click here for their album discography.
Click here for their singles discography.
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