Neil Young and The Buffalo Springfield


by Mat Snow

Neil Young News

When Neil Young arrived in February 1966, Los Angeles was the pop capital of America. For a city so derided, usually by Californian rival San Francisco, for being "plastic", it is ironic that folk was its fortune. LA had not only those Dylan-endorsed hitmakers The Byrds, but also the icons of new bohemian hipsterism Sonny & Cher. With year-round sunshine to nurture the muse, and LSD still not yet illegal, even those candy-striped squares The Beach Boys had grown their hair and got hip.

Thus it was natural at this point for vagrant folk-rockers to bypass San Francisco, whose own hippy scene was still an in-house secret,and proceed straight to the heart of the action. According to some sources the Stills-Young-Furay-Palmer group, formed to explore directions suggested by Nowadays Clancy Can`t Even Sing, at first toyed with the name The Herd. Serendipity stepped in. "We were living on Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, and workmen were tearing up the street to do resurfacing," Furay recalled. "They were using these big steamrollers to flatten it all out, and they had a nameplate on the side-just two large words Buffalo Springfield. "A drummer, ex-Dillard Dewey Martin, a fellow Canadian demanded by Young in preference of Stills's choice, completed the group.

"We thought we were going to be together for about 15 years,because we knew how good it was, " Young remembered the early promise. And he recalled in 1975 to Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe, hanging out on Sunset Strip wasn`t all work: "I loved the hearse. Six people could be getting high in the front and back and nobody would be able to see because of the curtains. The tray was dynamite. You`d open the side door and the tray whips right out onto the sidewalk.What could be cooler than that? What a way to make your entrance. Pull up to a gig and just wheel out all your stuff on a tray."

But within weeks of Buffalo Springfield forming, a less welcome development entered into Neil's life. He and Bruce Palmer were stoned, standing in a small crowd watching a man demonstrating a Vegematic kitchen slicer when Neil collapsed. He was having his first epileptic fit, a condition whose medical treatment only enhanced his moody and intense personality: simultaneous (such were the times) self-medication of dope,speed and acid didn`t help. His two songs on the self titled first Buffalo Springfield LP, "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong" and "Burned" alluded to bad trips-unusual in an era of psychedelic celebration.

The album was the fruit of a deal engineered with Atco, a subsidiary of New York's premiere black music label, Atlantic, just then diversifying into white pop with Sonny & Cher,whose managers, Charlie Green and Brian Stone, then added Buffalo Springfield to their client roster. Cut at the end of `66 and released in February the following year, that debut album featured five Young songs to seven by Stills.

It was a Stills tune that in March 1967 took Buffalo Springfield to number 7 in the US singles charts and, when tacked on to the debut LP, reinvigorated its hitherto wan commercial performance. In August '66 the local citizenry had tried to clear the area around the Sunset Strip club Pandora`s Box, whose long haired clientele detered legitimate tourism, by having the police enforce a curfew. Protests followed,things turning ugly when the police weighed in with the night-sticks. Witnessing this upon return from a trip to Nicaragua , Stills was inspired: "All the kids on one side of the street, all the cops on the other side - in Latin America that meant there'd be a new government in about a week. "Both a warning and a barricade-manning counter-culture rallying cry, "For What It's Worth" owes much of its power to Young's paranoid guitar. This creative contrast was seldom otherwise captured on record to Young's satisfaction.

Stills: "When we got to our first session,we went into the studio and cut this one song, the voice came over the talk-back saying, "No, that`s too long. Play it faster." Neil and I looked at each other and said , "We better learn how to work this shit ourselves. >From then on it was like a race to see who could learn the most about making records, about electronics and engineering, the whole nine yards." As Young told Nick Kent:" The real core of the group was the three Canadians - me, Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin. We played in such a way that the three of us were basically huddled together behind whilst Stills and Furay were always out front. 'Cos we'd get so into the groove of the thing, that's all we really cared about. But when we got into the studio the groove just wasn't the same. And we couldn't figure out why. This was the major frustration for me as a young musician, it fucked me up so much. Buffalo Springfield should have recorded live from the very beginning. All the records were great failures as far as I`m concerned."

If so, then Buffalo Springfield's second album, "Again" (December 1967), is among the greatest in rock history. Including early country-rock forays, the Jack Nitzsche-arranged "Expecting To Fly" and Young's own equally ambitious productions on "Mr Soul" and the collage epic that is "Broken Arrow," it offers diverse moods and styles, reflecting by then perhaps not so much a world of possibilities as a band in the progress of fragmentation. Bruce Palmer had been deported twice for dope and visa violations, and Young was never short of reasons to leave the group: untrusted management, recording frustrations, mental strain and Stills's high-handed attempts to keep the show on the road.

Young,to Kent:" There were a lot of problems happeng with the Springfield. There were a lot of distractions too. Groupies. Drugs. Then there were all these other people....... They were always around you, giving you grass, trying to sell you hippy clothes....... I never knew what these people really wanted. And there were so many of `em! Not to mention all the women..... all the clubs, places to go, things to do. I remember being haunted suddenly by this whole obsession with 'How do I fit in here? Do I like this?'" That Summer Of Love, Young missed its beacon event, the Monterey Pop Festival. Ex-Byrd David Crosby deputised and so laid the ground for the later partnership with Stills,who later recalled Young's final departure following a gig on May 5, 1968: "I remember we were headed back East to do the Johnny Carson Show, and Neil quits the night before we're supposed to leave. We fell prey to the whole entourage system. Everybody had to have his own entourage and it got stupid. We forgot the intial brotherhood."

Young: "I just couldn`t handle it towards the end. It wasn't me scheming on a solo career, it wasn`t anything but my nerves. Everything started to go to fucking fast. It was going crazy, joining and quitting, joining and quitting again. I began to feel like I didn`t have to answer or obey anyone. I needed more space. That was the big problem in my head. So I`d quit, then I`d come back 'cos it sounded so good. It was a constant problem. I just wasn`t mature enough to deal with it. I was very young. We were getting the shaft from every angle, and it seemed like we were trying to make it so bad and getting nowhere."

As his future manager Elliot Roberts admitted, "When David Crosby was telling me about the Springfield breaking up, he said I should definitly get Neil. He brought intensity to the party that no-one else could muster because he was so much more serious than anyone else. It was all life and death to Neil."

Assembled by engineer/producer Jim Messina (who had also replaced Palmer on bass), the album "Last Time Around" was released three months after Buffalo Springfield broke up. A rumoured "lost" second album "Stampede" exists only in a sleeve front cover and catalogue number. Reunions have been mooted, a possibility welcomed by Young in 1975: "Everbody in that group was a fucking genius at what they did. That was a great group,man...... I'd love to play with that band again, just to see if the buzz was still there." In February 1986, 20 years after the band`s foundation, his wish came true: the original five rehearsed both old and new songs with an eye to playing again. But Young failed to turn up for their third planned get together,later claiming to have "forgotten".


Also, for more on Stephen Stills, Jim Messina and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young pages. Also, see Buffalo Springfield on Wikipedia.

News Articles on Neil

rcmh2004_bow_cuFriends of Mr. Young

Jammin' with Neil

A Neil Young Music Blog Tracing His Influence from alt-country to Grunge

Neil Young