Buffalo Springfield Biography

A seminal band in the development of American country rock and folk rock, although short-lived, the monumental influence of Buffalo Springfield rivals that of the Byrds. Despite the line-up constantly changing, the main members throughout the band’s three turbulent years were Stephen Stills (3 January 1945, Dallas, Texas, USA; guitar/vocals), Neil Young (b. 12 November 1945, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; guitar/vocals), Richie Furay (b. 9 May 1944, Yellow Springs, Ohio, USA; guitar/vocals), Dewey Martin (b. 30 September 1942, Chesterville, Canada; drums), Bruce Palmer (b. 9 September 1946, Liverpool, Nova Scotia, Canada, d. 1 October 2004, Bellville, Ontario, Canada; bass) and Jim Messina (b. 5 December 1947, Maywood, California, USA; bass). Furay and Stills worked together in the Au Go-Go Singers in the mid-60s, where they met Young, who at that time was a solo singer, having previously worked with Palmer in the Mynah Birds. Furay and Stills had moved to Los Angeles to start a band, and decided to seek out the enigmatic Young, eventually spotting his distinctive funeral hearse while driving along Sunset Strip. They formed a band in 1966 and, following a series of successful gigs at the prestigious Whisky A Go-Go, and boosted by verbal endorsements from the Byrds’ Chris Hillman and David Crosby, were signed by Ahmet Ertegun to his Atco Records label. Any band containing three main songwriters who could all play lead guitar was heading for trouble, and soon their egos and fists clashed. The main antagonists were Stills and Young, but their problems were compounded by the continual immigration and drug problems of Palmer, with their road manager Dick Davis even having to masquerade as the bass player for a television appearance. Eventually, Young’s former associate, Ken Koblun, was recruited as a replacement. He, in turn, was replaced by Jim Fielder (b. 4 October 1947, Denton, Texas, USA) from the Mothers Of Invention, but Fielder only lasted a couple of months.

Buffalo Springfield’s only major hit was 1967’s ‘For What It’s Worth’. The song remains one of the finest protest anthems of the 60s, and exemplified the phenomenon of the ‘right song at the right time’. Stills’ plaintive yet wry and lethargic plea for tolerance was written after the police used heavy-handed methods to stop a demonstration outside a club, Pandora’s Box, on Sunset Strip in 1966. They were protesting about the curfew times imposed. The chorus of ‘Stop children, what’s that sound everybody look what’s going down’ became an anthem for west coast students in their protests against the government. The band always seemed doomed throughout their brief time together. Neil Young’s unpredictability also meant that he sometimes did not arrive for gigs, or quite simply left the band for long periods. His main replacement was ex-Daily Flash guitarist Doug Hastings (b. 21 June 1946, Seattle, Washington, USA). Two official albums were released (a third, Stampede, was planned but only appeared later as a compilation bootleg). Last Time Around was patched together by producer and latter-day bass player Jim Messina, after the band had broken up for the final time. 1967’s Buffalo Springfield Again remains their finest work and is still highly favoured by the cognoscenti. The album demonstrated the developing talents of Stills and Young as major songwriters. Young’s superb, surreal mini-epics ‘Expecting To Fly’ and ‘Broken Arrow’ were equalled by Stills’ immaculate ‘Everydays’ and the lengthy ‘Bluebird’ (about Judy Collins). Furay also contributed strong material, including the heavily countrified ‘A Child’s Claim To Fame’ and ‘Sad Memory’. Both the band’s and the album’s essence, however, was encapsulated in one short track, ‘Rock And Roll Woman’, a brilliant Stills song written about the Jefferson Airplane’s stunning Grace Slick, and co-written by an uncredited David Crosby, who briefly appeared with the band as Young’s substitute at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. The three lead guitars duelled together and the three lead vocals enmeshed brilliantly to enshrine, for a brief moment, the brilliance of a band that could have been America’s greatest rivals to the Beatles.

Following Buffalo Springfield’s split, Furay formed the highly respected Poco, continuing down the road to country rock. Messina briefly played with Poco and later joined with Kenny Loggins in the highly successful Loggins And Messina. Fielder became highly respected as part of Blood, Sweat And Tears, while Hastings joined Rhinoceros. Dewey Martin formed the ill-fated New Buffalo Springfield only to be forced to change the name to New Buffalo. Together with Bruce Palmer, they continued on the nostalgia circuit under the banner of Buffalo Springfield Revisited. Young and Stills went on to mega-stardom as members of Crosby, Stills, Nash And Young and high profile solo careers. More than thirty years later, the massive contribution and importance of the band is recognized as having been the most fertile training school of the era. The magnificent box set issued in 2001 is a fitting tribute to their influence.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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