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Buffalo Springfield – Looking back

After rather exciting BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD acetates were discovered this summer, HARVEY KUBERNIK remembers this highly influential band. Buy issue #81 for our epic cover story


Henry Diltz

Before playing their final show on 5th May, 1968 at the Long Beach Sports Arena in Southern California, Buffalo Springfield released three studio albums on ATCO during an intense, two-year creative burst.

“The band was that first album and it was never captured again,” states Buffalo Springfield co-founder, Richie Furay. “That album represented the five of us together in the studio. After that it started to fall apart. It got worse with the next two albums. There were a lot of people being used other than the five of us.

“There are songs and demos from guys who are part of your life, ‘cause people make bands a part of their life. Then, there are those fans and collectors who can say, ‘Wow! I can get another charge now, not just hearing ‘For What It’s Worth’ for the 20th time.  Or not just hearing a new mix of one of the songs. There’s something new for me to grab on too

“We were always comfortable singing someone else’s song early on. The first album and some of the second, you can hear the cohesiveness was a group effort, there was not the possessiveness of ‘This is my song, ‘ ‘This is my baby, ‘I’m singing it because I wrote it.’  Early on there was this ‘Qhat does this sound like with you singing?’ I know we tried ‘Mr. Soul’ with everybody singing and it sounded best with Neil. The individual members brought their own take on what was being presented to the song. We liked The Beatles with John and Paul singing harmony. Stephen and I did a lot of that unison singing. That we picked up from The Beatles but then there was a lot of experimentation.”

The Hollywood Bowl, 29th April 1967: Henry Diltz

Those albums  – Buffalo Springfield, Buffalo Springfield Again, and Last Time Around – were remastered from the original analogue tapes under the auspices of Neil Young for the boxed set: What’s The Sound? The Complete Albums Collection.

Chris Darrow: (Musician)By 1968, they had a number of hits with Still’s ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Rock And Roll Woman’ and Neil Young’s ‘Mr. Soul,’ as well as ‘Expecting To Fly’ and ‘Broken Arrow.’  The band had some tension among the members, both personally and musically, and began to go in opposite directions.  I went to their final concert at the Sports Arena in Long Beach. The set was long and intense and ended with a long 20 plus minute version of ‘Bluebird.’Country Joe & The Fish and Canned Heat were also on the bill.

Rodney Bingenheimer (Deejay): I went to Buffalo Springfield’s last concert in Long Beach too. Neil was back in the band. I really liked drummer Dewey Martin and at the gig he dedicated ‘Good Time Boy’ to me. I was on the side of the stage and it was the best time I ever heard the group live. I was really sad when the band broke up. I was bummed out when I heard Buffalo Springfield was ending.

Rick Rosas: (Musician) Mark Guerrero and I went.  It was pretty heavy. I was so young. It was really good. Some of the guitars were out of tune.

Mark Guerrero (Musician):  It was a great show with one of its highlights being a hot version of ‘Uno Mundo,’ but it was sad to know it was the end of the road for the band.

Denny Bruce: (Record producer/manager): Neil [Young], Jack [Nitzsche] and I had a limo. Jimmy Messina came home with us. His head down and crying, “I can’t believe it’s over.” It was a sense of relief for Neil. He was glad it was over.

I witnessed Buffalo Springfield live on stage during December 1966 at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium and The Hollywood Bowl in April ’67

Their three ’66-68 albums were always debuted over the Southern California airwaves before the rest of the world discovered them.  You really had to live in Hollywood then to further understand and comprehend the initial impact of these regionally-birthed discs and artwork design.  Thankfully, I was there.

Outside The Third Eye, October 1966: Henry Diltz

On 30th July,  ’68, Last Time Around, a posthumous album by Buffalo Springfield materialised. Besides supplying bass on the LP, Jim Messina served as engineer and producer. He had earlier assisted Young in assembling ‘Broken Arrow’ and engineered Stills’ ‘Rock And Roll Woman’ for Buffalo Springfield Again.

By Last Time Around, Neil Young was faintly involved with the band and had apparently split their group scene for good. But not before providing ‘I Am a Child’ and ‘On the Way Home’.

Richie Furay: Neil could not see himself as second fiddle. He couldn’t and wouldn’t see himself as just a member of the band, one of the five guys.

Pete Johnson in The Los Angeles Times praised the platter: “Within the Springfield were three of the best pop songwriters, singers, and guitarists to be found in any American rock group. I have never seen a group use three guitars as tastefully as they do, weaving a finely detailed fabric whose pattern never blurred from overlapping.”

Before playing their final show on 5th May, 1968 at the Long Beach Sports Arena in Southern California, Buffalo Springfield released three studio albums on ATCO during an intense, two-year creative burst.

“The band was that first album and it was never captured again,” states Buffalo Springfield co-founder, Richie Furay. “That album represented the five of us together in the studio. After that it started to fall apart. It got worse with the next two albums. There were a lot of people being used other than the five of us.

“There are songs and demos from guys who are part of your life, ‘cause people make bands a part of their life. Then, there are those fans and collectors who can say, ‘Wow! I can get another charge now, not just hearing ‘For What It’s Worth’ for the 20th time.  Or not just hearing a new mix of one of the songs. There’s something new for me to grab on too

The Hollywood Bowl, 29th April 1967: Henry Diltz

“We were always comfortable singing someone else’s song early on. The first album and some of the second, you can hear the cohesiveness was a group effort, there was not the possessiveness of ‘This is my song, ‘ ‘This is my baby, ‘I’m singing it because I wrote it.’  Early on there was this ‘Qhat does this sound like with you singing?’ I know we tried ‘Mr. Soul’ with everybody singing and it sounded best with Neil. The individual members brought their own take on what was being presented to the song. We liked The Beatles with John and Paul singing harmony. Stephen and I did a lot of that unison singing. That we picked up from The Beatles but then there was a lot of experimentation.”

Barry Gifford from Rolling Stone hailed the album. “The most beautiful record they’ve ever made. Too bad this isn’t the first time around.” Ellen Sander, writing in The New York Times, observed, “The group has always manifested its multitude of talents in straightforward, professional songs, flavoured with lithe, sweet country sounds. They have made an art out of music that is unfailingly pleasant; no less moving for its tasteful, understated neatness. Their final album, Last Time Around, is no exception. The entire album has a fresh, natural feeling about it, not unlike a soft summer rain.”

Mark Guerrero: Buffalo Springfield’s Last Time Around, was akin to the Beatles White Album in that it was recorded at a time the band was breaking up so many of the songs were not recorded as a band.  It was like three solo artists coming in and doing their thing.  However, it’s still a really good album with some great songs.  Neil Young’s ‘On the Way Home,’ sung by Richie and the acoustic gem ‘I Am A Child’;   Steven Stills’ bluesy ‘Four Days Gone’ in 3/4 time, with his great piano accompaniment;, ‘Questions’one of my favourite Stills’ songs, and  ‘Pretty Girl Why’, a  kind of Latin-jazz song with nice two-part harmony on the choruses; and ‘Uno Mundo’, a Latin-style song with full-blown Latin percussion that was later covered by the East LA band El Chicano.  Richie Furay’s  ‘It’s So Hard To Wait’ is beautiful.”

James CushingOn Last Time Around, every song has that wonderful thing that the very best later Beatles songs have  – that sense that the musicians know all about many different musical traditions and are not hemmed in or limited by them, but who can use them in a joyous way to discover their own language. Country western, rock, samba, folk, it’s all there.

Neil’s ‘I Am a Child’ is spoken from the perspective of someone going back to and celebrating innocence, but he implies that he now lives in a world in which that innocence has been lost. His off-the-cuff poetry stresses the implication of a situation involving an “I” and a “you”, but we get a sense of those characters through statements in a monologue within a relationship, not through imagery.

Kirk Silsbee:  The Last Time Around album was damn good. Stills’ ‘Pretty Girl Why’ showed that the band was capable of being very effective while understating.  Sure, Buffalo Springfield could rock hard and play hard but ‘Pretty Girl Why’ points to a level of sophistication and subtlety that was just coming into rock at the time. Nobody had to yell and scream or show how many hot licks they could play in that song. In that regard, it was anticipating the better angels of the coming singer-songwriter genre.

Maybe Neil didn’t sanction that album but look he gave us ‘On The Way Home’; that’s just a beautiful song. It was on rotation on our AM and the new FM radio playlist  – years after the band was gone.  B. Mitchell Reed, in particular, implicitly positioned the Springfield as an important antecedent by programming tracks well into the early ’70s, but in the context of Crosby, Stills & Nash or After the Goldrush.

 ‘On The Way Home’ is atypical of Neil because it’s an optimistic song. And you don’t get optimistic songs from Neil Young. He deals in dour self-immolation. And it’s Richie Furay at his optimistic, celebratory best. That’s as good as anything they ever did. At the same time you’ve got ‘I Am a Child, something new as well. Yes, it’s Neil indulging his obsessive self-examination, but he’s also leveling a critique of the music industry and painting himself in a very vulnerable light. In that, it’s a window into the future solo Neil Young: you hear similar sentiments on the first Neil Young album in ‘Last Train To Tulsa’. The lyrics on both tunes are from a supine point of view.

On the front cover of Last Time Around, Neil is looking away from the other group members, signifying his continual one-foot-in-and-one-foot-out status in the band.

Neil always asserted his individuality in the Springfield, and probably in his mind, it was time to go; I don’t think he had any compunction or second thoughts.

Last Time Around almost sounded like a different band on every track. So I didn’t have the sense of great ride coming to an end so much as a great band splitting off into different directions.”

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