Monday 9 February 2009

Dewey Martin Tribute Special

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Dewey Martin, drummer with the Buffalo Springfield throughout the whole of their tempestuous three-year career, died on Saturday, January 31st of unknown causes at the age of 68 (although the news was only released to the press last Friday). As well as his work with the pioneering American band who gave the world such talents as Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay (see review no 17) Dewey was a veteran stage and session musician, playing with Patsy Cline, Carl Perkins, The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison and The Monkees among others. Described on the back of the Springfield’s first record as ‘the heartbeat of the group’, Dewey provided a steady, rhythmic beat that helped the band pull through some of their many internal crises and went some way towards achieving their greatest triumphs.

The eldest member of the Springfield, Dewey was born in Canada on September 30th 1940 and is just 9 days older than John Lennon (if you’ve read about a different date for Dewey’s birth then chances are you’ve been reading the original Springfield record sleeves, where Dewey’s age was always marked down from what it really was – not unusual in rock and roll, such as the Stones also used to knock five years off Bill Wyman’s age). When the band were formed in 1965 Dewey was their most experienced musician by far, having become the regular sideman of another then-famous Young – Faron Young – played drums for LA band ‘The Sons Of Adam’ who supported the Beach Boys on one of their 1964 tours and fronted his own locally-successful band ‘Sir Raleigh and the Coupons’, making two higly collectible singles along the way. However his mid-60s stint with The Dillards came to nought when the future bluegrass stars decided to ditch their electric instruments in favour of more traditional music, axing the band’s rhythm section along the way.

It was thanks to that groups’ leader Doug Dillard, however, that in early 1966 Dewey first heard about an up-and-coming American/Canadian band that were after a drummer. Legend has it that the Buffalo Springfield first coined their name on the day that Dewey – the last member to join the group – first met the rest of the band. Their unusual name was taken from a steamroller company which - depending on whether you read Neil’s, Stephen’s or Richie’s account – was either copied, given with the company’s permission or stolen! Either way, the band were said to be demurring over whether the ‘Buffalo Springfield’ name was right for them until Dewey enthusiastically told them their music was ‘heavy’ enough to deserve the name!

Like the rest of the band, Dewey seemed to click quickly with the quirky Springfield personnel (three lead singers, three writers, three lead guitarists and, in fellow Canadian Bruce Palmer, a bassist who always played with his back to the audience, facing the drummer). So did the Springfield’s audience – right from the word go the Springfield were chosen as the support act for The Byrds and frequently ‘blew them off the stage’ in the eyes of both critics and concert-goers. They fared almost as well up against their next headlining act later in 1966 – The Rolling Stones. Soul fan Dewey was a major part of all the Springfield tours, even having his own vocal segment in most shows – at first a cover of Wilson Pickett’s ‘In The Midnight Hour’ (the 1966 tour) and later Furay’s specially-written track ‘Good Time Boy’ (1967). 

Despite being 3/5ths Canadian, the band had the perfect ‘American’ image to match the times, with Stephen Stills dressed as the quintessential ‘cowboy’, Richie Furay the all-American boy-next-door and Neil Young the exotic and brooding ‘Indian’.  The Springfield’s music too was deeply unusual and much praised at the time, even for the mid-1960s when the mania new bands and new styles was probably at its peak, with one critic memorably describing the Springfield sound as ‘a bunch of folkies backed by a Stax-Volt rhythm section’. The future looked even brighter when – after a couple of false starts with the Neil Young songs ‘Clancy’ and ‘Burned’ – the Springfield broke big with the Stephen Stills song ‘For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey, What’s That Sound?)’.

Alas the band would never have another hit again. All the promise shown in the Springfield’s early days never quite translated to the studio, owing to a combination of the band’s rowdiness (Neil left the band no less than four times during the next 18 months) and the inexperience of faithful band managers Charlie Greene and Brian Stone, who had decided to cut out the middleman and ‘produce’ the band’s records themselves, despite having never set step inside a recording studio before. In retrospect, the band simply went through too much too quickly, having been together as a ‘band’ just a mater of months before making the big time (although at least the other members – unlike Dewey – has known at least one other member of the band for a couple of years by that time) and simply didn’t know each other that well before the strain of touring and recording got on everybody’s nerves. Whatever or whoever the cause (and every band member has been blamed for the collapse by somebody), the Springfield collapsed every single time that true stabilising break-through success seemed on the cards (Bruce got deported from America on drugs charges on the eve of a 1967 tour; Neil quit the band the first time when the band were booked for the prestigious Johnny Carson show and a second time right before the band’s appearance at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival).

Dewey’s reported habit of speaking his mind all the time was also less appreciated in the Springfield than it would have been in other bands – with the controlling Stills, peacemaker Furay, brooding Neil and nonchalant Bruce equally reluctant to change their style or ideas. However, Dewey’s contribution to the Springfield has been long overlooked, as the drummer lasted longer with the band than Young or Palmer did and played on practically all of the band’s later material during the Springfield’s later stages, even though by the time of their final album ‘Last Time Around’ the band rarely played together any more.

Martin’s distinctive drum sound played a major part in the band’s success and he attempted several different styles over the course of the band’s lifetime, including light and feathery pop on songs like ‘Rock and Roll Women’, rock and roll on ‘Mr Soul’, ‘rockabilly on ‘Go And Say Goodbye’, shuffle on ‘Pretty Girl Why’, some jungle rhythms on Stills’ early latin experiment ‘Uno Mundo’ and a thrilling orchestral landscape on the mournful ‘In The Hour OF Not Quite Rain’. Dewey also had a wonderful earthy tone that came in handy for several backing vocals (‘For What It’s Worth’ being the most famous example) as well as a cameo singing the opening of Neil’s ‘Mr Soul’ on the guitarist’s pop-art collage ‘Broken Arrow’ and his sole recorded lead vocal for the band, ‘Good Time Boy’. That song – written by Furay especially for the drummer – sums up Dewey’s live-for-the-moment zest-for-life personality nicely (it wasn’t for nothing that Dewey was described as ‘generous’ and ‘sincere’ on the back of the Springfield’s first album cover!) A further vocal, on Furay’s ‘Nobody’s Fool’, remains un-issued strangely, despite the mountain of off-cuts and rarities packed into the box-set ‘Buffalo Springfield’ (1998).

Following the Springfield’s demise after a farewell gig in May 1968, Dewey announced that he planned to make a record with his wife Jane, but instead formed his own ‘successor’ group ‘The New Buffalo Springfield’. The only member included from the Springfield’s line-up, Dewey seemed to be flogging a dead horse but seemed reluctant to let the dream and promise of the Springfield die. However, Stills and Young successfully petitioned for Dewey to stop using the band’s name and – despite forming a third line-up of the band – Dewey finally abandoned the concept in late 1969, after being fired by the rest of the group! (the others carried on under the name of ‘Blue Mountain Eagle’ but found even less success than the Springfield had done).

Dewey was slightly more successful with his early ‘70’s band ‘Medicine Ball’, who released an eponymous album in August 1970 with a guest appearance by Springfield bassist Bruce Palmer. However, the band changed line-ups even more than Dewey’s old band had done and recorded just a handful more songs, all of them still un-issued. After becoming a record producer for a brief time, Dewey finally gave up on the music business and turned to a new career as a car mechanic in late 1971. Dewey returned, however, to co-found the ill-fated ‘Buffalo Springfield Revisited’ with Bruce Palmer in the 80s and 90s – again incurring the wrath of Stills and Young who sought a court injunction to stop their old rhythm section trading under the old band name, although never gained anything close to the following of old and their plans too were put on hold for years after Palmer died **in 1993**.

Had the Springfield lasted just a little longer and had a few more lucky breaks, Dewey’s name would be known by everybody, not just the few aficionados who carry the Buffalo torch as he certainly had the skill of most of his contemporaries and had done more groundwork than most before his big break. Better still, the Springfield might have finally got around to recording their live show for a concert album – nearly everybody that heard the band at the time claimed their live shows were far far better than their records and, let’s face it, they were pretty good – and it’s a crying shame that no recording exists of Dewey playing live until late on in his career (except the depleted Springfield’s short and disappointing set from the Monterey Pop Festival). 

There are still plenty of classic Dewey Martin moments, though, so here is an AAA top five tribute:

5) ‘In The Hour Of Not Quite Rain’ (B.Springfield ‘Last Time Around’, 1968): Only Furay and Martin appear on this fascinating track, written by Richie as part of a ‘write a song for the Buffalo Springfield’ competition, run by American radio station KHJ during 1968. Alas there was hardly any band left to take part in the competition by the time the results were announced – a shame because competition winner Mickeala Callen’s moody lyrics are a fascinating slice of complex poetry that work well with Richie’s sinister, multi-layered music. Without the other Springfielders left to carry the sound, Richie chose to use a thick and heavy orchestral arrangement that brings out the best in Dewey’s playing. His usually bright and breezy energetic sound is reduced to a half-tempo plod and yet this sluggishness, with a few bright tinklings on the cymbals, does much to benefit the mood and feel of the song.   

4) ‘Bluebird’ (B.Springfield ‘Again’, 1967): What with the 1,111 guitars (or so the sleeve says anyway and there seems to be so much going on in this track it’s easy to be convinced!) it’s easy to miss all the twists and turns that Dewey goes through in order to keep up with this most complex of Stephen Stills songs. Like the rest of the band, Dewey comes charging out of the box with a pulsating drum pattern that must have been exhausting to play, adding in drums fills of all sorts whenever the song seems to be calling for one. Like Love’s ‘7 and 7 Is’ from a similar time or anything featuring Keith Moon, this is drum playing on the verge of being out of control without ever quite going over the edge (although is it just me or do I detect Dewey – and thereafter the band – slowing down slightly during Stills’ lengthy acoustic solo near the end of the song?) Even better – from Dewey’s point of view anyway – is the Springfield’s unplanned performance of this song at the Monterey Pop Festival, after a meandering finale to the band’s performance of ‘Rock and Roll Woman’. Recognising that the band are beginning to struggle, Dewey simply yells out at the top of his voice that the band are ‘now going to do our new single…Bluebird’ the band launch into a stinging version of this song, with Dewey’s drums to the fore like never before.     

3) ‘Mr.Soul’ (B.Springfield ‘Again’, 1967): Dewey tried to get his soul hero and fellow AAA artist Otis Redding to record this song until its author Neil Young nixed the idea. A shame as this soul-rock hybrid would have been perfect for the gentle giant – especially if he was backed by Martin on his recording too. Like ‘Rain’, Dewey has pared back the sound a great deal, leaving out all of his usual accessories and kit rolls in favour of a simple rock and roll groove that gives plenty of space for first Young and then Stills to show off their improvised guitar playing. Neil’s angry venomous lyrics lamenting the cost of fame (in the days before he really had any!) find their perfect accompaniment in the Springfield’s rhythm section here.  

2) ‘Can You Dig It?’ (The Monkees ‘Head’, 1968): The easiest way for fellow AAA-loving listeners to get their hand on Dewey’s playing outside the Springfield is to listen to the work Martin and Stills did on the Monkees’ seminal 1968 film soundtrack recording ‘Head’ (see review no 27). While ‘Long Title’ is a joyful rock and roll groove, ‘Can You Dig It?’ shows off much more of Dewey’s skill and – like most of Tork’s handful of songs – is extremely complex, taking in several time changes and differences of mood along the way. Dewey and percussionist Michael Glass kick up quite a storm between them, dominating the textures of Tork’s song of change and Eastern mysticism, keeping the band tight in the first half before backing off to let everyone into a fierce free-flight acoustic solo in the second half. The closest thing on record to a Dewey Martin drum solo, this is proof of the drummer’s talents and how good he was when given room to stretch away from a band as wide and diversified as the Buffalo Springfield.

1) ‘Good Time Boy’ (B.Springfield ‘Again’, 1967): Dewey drums and sings on this track, specially written by Richie to give him something to sing that would match his carefree personality. Dewey’s military-style drumming at last gives him a chance to show off his skills without the band’s three guitarists getting in the way and his vocal is confident, growly and suitably expressive, even if the scat section and hoarse finale is perhaps a little too outré for most Springfield fans. As the lyrics put it ‘’cause now I’m with you, that’s why they call me good ole Dew, and I can’t change right now it seems, but its alright to be a good time boy.’

A Now Complete List Of Buffalo Springfield Articles Available To Read At Alan’s Album Archives:

Dewey Martin Obituary and Tribute:

Non-Album Songs
Surviving TV Appearances 1967-2010
Solo/Live/Compilation albums (Including Poco!)

Five Landmark Concerts and Three Key Cover Songs

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