The Story: Buffalo Springfield

Buffalo Springfield photo 1This little story must be told so that three larger stories may be told in the future. Our tale begins with a chance meeting on the streets of Los Angeles… (Please follow along silently while I read aloud.)

As a struggling musician back in Canada, Neil Young drove around in a giant, black Pontiac hearse. It was hard to miss. And so was Neil. When a deal with Motown fell through (yes, Motown — Young briefly played in a band with eventual funkmaster Rick James), he and bassist Bruce Palmer packed up the hearse in early 1966 and headed for Los Angeles with the hope of locating fellow guitarist Stephen Stills (he was busy unsuccessfully auditioning for The Monkees TV program and trying to pick up gigs). After a fruitless week of searching—and running through their cash—Neil and Bruce decided to try their luck in San Francisco. Driving down Sunset Boulevard on their way out of town, they noticed some guys in a van trying to flag them down with shouts and waves. It was Stephen Stills and his buddy Richie Furay — they had been traveling in the opposite direction when they saw the Pontiac hearse and figured, “That has to be Neil.”

Buffalo Springfield winterWith the addition of drummer Dewey Martin, Stephen, Neil, Richie, and Bruce had all the pieces for a brand new band. Inspired by The Beatles, The Byrds, and Bob Dylan, they blended folk, rock, and country into a new California sound. The boys soon christened themselves Buffalo Springfield—the name of a steamroller brand they saw parked on the street—and by the end of the year, they had recorded an anthem which launched them into generational spokesband status. 18 months later they broke up in a blaze of drugs, busts, and the ever-popular “musical differences.”

But don’t worry. These guys end up doing alright. Stills helped start platinum-selling, classic rock staple Crosby, Stills, and Nash (and sometimes Young); Furay created long-running country-rock band Poco; and Neil Young formed Neil Young. Even replacement member Jim Messina went on to massive success when he teamed up with Kenny Loggins. Not bad for a bunch of ex-folkies who decided to add some electricity and a beat.

So cease what you are doing! Listen to my exclamation! Query: that sound? (Everybody look what’s goin’ down.) Here’s the least you need to know:

Buffalo_Springfield retrospectiveThe Best Of Buffalo Springfield: Retrospective When it comes down to it, the absolute least you need to know is their lone Top 40 hit, “For What It’s Worth” (also known as “Stop! Hey! What’s That Sound?” — a title the record company eventually tacked on since many assumed it was the actual name of the song). Had Buffalo Springfield never recorded another note, this song alone would have assured their musical immortality. In detailing the Sunset Strip riots that took place in the fall of 1966, “For What It’s Worth” encapsulated the sharp divide between the younger generation and all authority figures—which essentially meant anyone over the age of 30. (98% of documentaries about the latter half of the 60s use this song on the soundtrack.) Basically, this album collects the best of early Stills and Young, which happens to be some of the finest American music of its time. Check: For What It’s Worth & Mr. Soul

Do you need anything else? Well, that depends. Retrospective will satisfy almost everybody, but if you’re a hardcore fan of the music all of these guys made post-Buffalo (or if you become a devoted follower of the mid-60s LA scene—which includes acts such as The Byrds, The Doors, and Love—and the burgeoning Canyon scene) then you will probably want to check out their 3 studio albums: Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again, and Last Time Around.

3 thoughts on “The Story: Buffalo Springfield

    • By all accounts, Bruce Palmer was a phenomenal bassist. Unfortunately, he also embodied the old adage about genius and madness going hand in hand. Drugs, run ins with the police, deportation, mercurial behavior — all led to him being replaced with Jim Messina for the 3rd album. However, despite all the trouble, Stills still tried to make him the permanent bassist for CSN, but he remained inconsistent and the other two wouldn’t go for it. After one obscure solo album, Palmer moved back to Canada and basically retreated from the music scene. In the early 80s, Neil brought him out of retirement to play on his Trans album and the subsequent tour, but after that Palmer returned home. He passed away in 2004.

      I can’t remember exactly what Neil has said about him in the past, but Palmer really must have been a great guy and a fantastic musician for both Stills and later Young to try and bring him back into the fold. It’s a shame he didn’t live to see the revival of the Buffalo Springfield name in 2010-2011 when Stills, Young, and Furay reunited for a number of concerts. I’m sure they would have brought him in again.

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