Expecting to Fly: A History

the buffalo springfield

Though they lacked the commercial success of many of their contemporaries, Buffalo Springfield had a significant impact on the direction of American music.   Indeed, it is said that “apart from the Byrds, no other American band had as great an impact on folk-rock and country-rock — really, the entire Californian rock sound.” (allmusic.com)

the line-up
Buffalo Springfield initially consisted of five members: Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer, and Dewey Martin.  Jim Messina would later replace Palmer as the bassist.  Stills and Young were the primary songwriters though Furay would grow to offer significant writing contributions over time.  Though their combined talents created a powerful ensemble of vocal, musical, and song-writing talent, the individual preferences and personalities of its members stand out markedly in the various songs.  Neil Young largely focused on free-form sentimental lyrics while at the same time brandishing a wicked guitar.  Stills had an amazing ear for solid melodies grounded in folk and blues and centered on his great talent as an acoustic musician. Richie Furay was probably the most polished singer of the group though he would later find himself using songwriting to take the group further into the country-rock genre as well as showing an avid interest old styles of music.

Most of the members of the group crossed paths at various times during the early sixties as they moved in and out of start-up bands trying to build their careers.  In the end, Stills and Furay ended up together as a pair in L.A. while Palmer and Young later arrived to the city together as well.  In a well-known story, each pair of musicians hoped to find the other in order to propose a collaboration but it was only with the happenstance of Stills spying Young driving through traffic in his unusual black hearse that they connected.  With the addition of Martin as a drummer, Buffalo Springfield officially came together as a group in April 1966.  Interestingly, their name apparently comes from a couple of signs that they saw posted on the side of a bulldozer outside their studio!

Most of this information comes from the very informative Buffalo Springfield article on wikipedia.com 

successful shows
For some time after the initial start, the group experimented with its sound and identity in live performances while each member honed his personal strengths in writing or playing.  The energy of the group was apparently infectious and they are said to have had some wicked live shows in which the instrumental talents of all the members really shone. Most famously, they played on an ongoing basis at the popular Whisky a GoGo for a number of months.  The original style and obvious talent of the group garnered much interest.

for what it’s worth
The first album of the group was released in October 1966 without much success.  Some of the band members blame this on poor production choices, something that would continue to be an issue throughout the existence of the group. It took the release of Stills’ song “For What It’s Worth” (inspired by the Sunset Strip riots) for the band to have a huge hit nationwide.  Their album “Buffalo Springfield” was re-released in 1967 with this song on it and met with greater success.  The next months consisted of live shows—the energy and caliber of which increased the band’s prestige—and preparations for another album.  

on the verge
During this time, Palmer would be arrested and temporarily deported to Canada.  A variety of players would take over his bass role in the interim.  Young suggests that the members of the group were too young and inexperienced not to be full of themselves at this point, and it is clear that he and Stills as the de facto leaders of the group had clashing egos.  It led to the departure of Young from the group for some time as well.  In the end, the group somehow managed to release a consistent album in November 1967. The album is considered by many to be one of their best and contains a number of impressive and already popular tracks that nevertheless did not become big hits.  As before, the group blamed this on the spirit of their live shows not coming through on the album.  Emphasizing this point is the fact that  bootleg versions of their live shows were playing freely on the radio at the time. 

at the end  
Though the albums were not selling as expected, the popularity, influence, and prestige of the group was still evident at this time, and it seemed that they were poised for great success.  The heady effects of fame and the stress of trying to match commercial success with critical acclaim began to take a toll on their nerves, however, and threatened the groups already strained unity.  Additional problems developed when Palmer was deported for drugs once again and was replaced permanently by Jim Messina.  The group continued to work on yet another album but Young became less and less involved overall.  Even Stills became less interested in the project, and the album kind of became more of a project of Furay and Messina.  The group finally disbanded in April 1968 after which their final album called “Last Time Around” was released.  It is a more polished album and toned significantly differently from their previous releases.  This lack of grit is cited as one of the reasons it is considered the lesser of the Springfield albums though I actually find it to be quite a nice set of music.

buffalo springboard
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about Buffalo Springfield is to realize the great success that many of its individual members would go on to have.  Most significantly, Stephen Stills would help found super-group Crosby, Stills, and Nash which Neil Young would join occasionally as well.  Young also had phenomenal solo success, gaining a versatility and respect in the music industry that would allow him to continue making hit records decades in the future.  Stills would continue to have a good deal of solo and collaborative success as well.  Richie Furay and Jim Messina went on to found the popular country-rock group Poco as well as participating in other successful collaborations later.  Martin and Palmer would have less fame but continued pursuing musical interests and even kept the Buffalo Springfield name alive in tribute bands at various times. 

better late than never
As time has gone on, more and more people have recognized the innovative nature of the music that Buffalo Springfield produced and how it affected a number of movements that followed.  In 1997, the group was rightfully inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  In 2001, a box set of rarities and various live performances was released with much acclaim.  Given their lack of commercial success in their heyday, the group probably would have been quite surprised at the time to know what respect their work would be given in the future.