Buffalo Springfield

From Academic Kids

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Buffalo Springfield album cover

Buffalo Springfield was an influential folk-rock group instrumental in igniting the careers of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Jim Messina. Formed in early 1966, the pressures of an everchanging group and the world around them would disband the group in under twenty-four months, with three albums and a handful of demo recordings, studio outtakes and live offerings for the group to show for their efforts.

After the arrest of their singer, Mynah Birds guitarist Neil Young and bassist Bruce Palmer headed from Toronto out to Los Angeles in Young’s hearse, with only the knowledge that Stephen Stills, an acquaintance from Young's days as folksingers, had already headed out there. Roughly a week later, stuck in traffic in Los Angeles and ready to depart for San Francisco, they were noticed by Stills and Furay (an acquaintance of both Stills and Young whom had already joined Stills), who immediately came over, and thus, the group was born. Adding a name seen on a steamroller and Dewey Martin, a drummer who had played with country artists such as Patsy Cline, the five-piece debuted a week later, opening for The Byrds at The Troubadour. All the songs performed, save for “In The Midnight Hour”, which Martin sang lead on, were originals.

The group quickly teamed up with Sonny and Cher’s management team, Charles Greene and Brian Stone. Greene and Stone secured a contract with Atco Records, and the group started work on their first album in mid-1966. While Young, Stills and Furay would all record demos for the album, only the former two would see their contributions appear on the album, with Furay left to sing three of Young’s contributions after Greene and Stone, producing the album, deemed Young’s voice “too weird”. The album would be released in November, but wouldn’t do much outside of Los Angeles. The group’s presentation by their management as a take-off from The Monkees, didn’t help anything out.

While watching the Sunset Strip riots, Stills wrote the landmark "For What It's Worth", which was released as the A-side to their next single in early 1967. The immediate popularity of the track caused their first album to be re-released, with “For What It’s Worth” replacing “Baby Don’t Scold Me”. Dispensing with their management team (figuring they could do better themselves), they started recording their second album, but new problems quickly ensued. Young, whom had been suffering from epileptic seizures, asserted himself as leader, leading to conflicts with Stills, and to Young leaving and re-joining the group several times due to personal differences. Palmer, in the midst of the group recording in New York, was deported back to Canada for possession of marijuana. Furay, whom had not contributed anything to the first album save for his guitar and voice, would equal Young’s number of contributions for the group’s second album, originally known as Stampede.

Temporarily using pick-up bassists such as Jim Fielder and Bobby West, and finishing the album with Young and Palmer (the latter of whom had crossed the Canadian-American border disguised as a businessman) back in the fold, the group’s second album, ultimately titled Buffalo Springfield Again showed a disjointed group, with a variety of session musicians added to fill out the sound of the group, with only five tracks featuring the full group. Live performances of the group featured whatever incarnation of the group happened to be around. After Bruce Palmer’s second deportation for possession in early 1968, guitarist Jim Messina was hired as his permanent replacement on bass. Young was infrequently present, leaving Stills to often handle all of the lead guitar parts in concert. Recording sessions were booked, and songs recorded with Messina usually producing, but by the end of 1967, the group was teetering on the edge of breaking up.

It was all fated to end soon afterward. In April 1968, after yet a drug bust involving various members of the group as well as Eric Clapton, Buffalo Springfield decided to disband, less than two years after their formation.

After the group’s break-up, Furay and Messina compiled various tracks recorded between mid-1967 and early 1968 into a third and final studio album, titled Last Time Around. The album featured a varying degree of members on each track, and was easily the group’s weakest effort. Young sat out entirely from eight of the album’s twelve tracks, and only sang lead on one. Palmer was present on a single track, Messina on five and Martin on seven. Stills and Furay each appeared on nine, essentially dominating the album. Like its predecessors, it didn't light up the charts.

While never a major force on the charts- indeed, only “For What It’s Worth” was a hit- the group would be recognized later, with the successes of Stills (who started a band with David Crosby of The Byrds and Graham Nash of The Hollies in 1968), Young (who launched a solo career, occasionally showing up on albums by Crosby, Stills and Nash), Furay (who led Poco in their early days) and Messina (who had success as a part of a duo with Kenny Loggins). In 1997, the group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, though Young was not present for the induction. In 2001, the Young-helmed ‘’Box Set’’ was released, featuring many alternate takes, demos and alternate mixes over the first three of its four discs, with the fourth disc containing the group’s first two albums. The third, never a favorite of Young’s, was relegated to highlights on the third disc.

On his 2000 album Silver and Gold, Young sang of his desire to reform the group, to “see those guys again and give it a shot” (somewhat strange, considering Young’s flaky tenure with the group.) Unfortunately, with the October 2004 passing of Palmer, that reformation looks as if it may never happen.


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