Monday 1 January 2018

Buffalo Springfield Essay: 'Steve Is The Leader - But We All Are!' Plus Update

Yes that's right, the Alan's Album Archives guide to Buffalo Springfield is available now in e-book form by clicking here!

Dear reader, from here on in to the end of our run in the summer its AAA essays all the way! Until we get a new release anyway...

Some bands aren't destined to last forever. Heck, some aren't even destined to last a week. And sometimes you just know, before a band even get to record a note, that they're not going to last the course together. Buffalo Springfield are perhaps the biggest example of this in the AAA series, lasting for just eighteen months as a recording act or barely over two years as a live act and even that time was punctuated by several major fall-outs and line-up changes (Neil quit the band five times; Bruce three, leading to a ridiculous seven-eight different line-ups of the band over the course of just 25 months). Musicians can be a moody, perfectionist lot and given that most founding line-ups of a band are made up of people who have nothing more in common than the fact they live vaguely near each other (sometimes in the same house courtesy of the Kinks, Oasis and Dire Straits brothers) there are always going to be teething troubles. In fact I don't think there's a single band (as opposed to duo or trio) that went all the way through their career with the exact same people who walked through the door to the band's first rehearsal, amplifiers in hand, all the way to the farewell tour. Music doesn't work like that: much as we want it to be a democracy, with equal voices and equal say (and equal pay) by and large bands fall into the same rough roles even if the edges blur a bit: there's a lead singer, a lead writer, a lead guitarist and a rhythm section, maybe a keyboard player or a horn section to be different or maybe you're in a power trio that share out the jobs between them. Fans of girl and boy bands, where nobody actually does anything creative very much, have even come to use a shorthand: he's the 'funny' one, she's the 'creative' one, he's the 'rebellious' one, she's the 'goodlooking one' and those two are only in the band because their parents are the manager/drove the fan/do the catering. The Spice Girls get so much stick on this site precisely because they're the most blatant version of that technique: that one's scary (even though they all are, a bit), that one's baby (even though they're all stupidly young anyway) and that one is ginger, because the name they should have used, 'Stroppy Spice', won't look as good on the advertising hoardes.
Buffalo Springfield are, in that regard, perhaps the most 'different' sort of band there ever was. They didn't form because they lived together, far from it: Stephen Stills grew up all over the place but was really born in Texas, Richie Furay was born in Ohio, Neil Young was born in Ontario, Canada but mainly grew up in Winnipeg, Bruce Palmer was born in Nova Scotia, Canada and the band didn't even meet their drummer, Dewey Martin, also from Ontario Canada, until after they were formed and already had a band name. Far from thrashing out their early days together in the same all-for-one-and--one-for-all band that lived through highs and lows and grew close together, Buffalo Springfield was a loose conglomerate of friendships: four of the band knew one of the others; none of them knew more than two. Most bands get their first few line-ups out the way in their first few months, usually as part of a 'school band' - Buffalo Springfield did all that growing in public, as strangers. They were  a band formed after years of trying to get it together as part of other acts, with Stills and Furay in the folk band The Au Go Go Singers and Young and Palmer meeting in the quasi blues-heavy metal band The Mynah Byrds, though Stills too had dabbled in heavier rock and Young in folk. They all wanted the same thing - to be in a band, to be successful, to be rich, to be The Beatles (well except for Young, who famously split from the group 'bonding' session watching 'A Hard Day's Night' at the cinema to watch a film about Bob Dylan instead). What they never quite agreed on was what the band should be: pop? folk? rock? country? Heck even the drummer insisted on a 'soul' showcase in the set. Buffalo Springfield were a band that could do everything - and bands that can do everything tend to be the bands who end up doing nothing.
While many bands can and do split up because of a lack of talent, far more bands split up because of an over-abundance of it. With so many possible places to go it takes a strong leader to be able to dictate the 'true' direction without losing the faith the other's have in him. Buffalo Springfield weren't the sort of band to respect anybody and was made up of five very different personality types. Stephen Stills came over as brash and loud and 'in charge' from the outside, but in truth he was shy and insecure, already a perfectionist who worried himself sick over getting things the best they could possibly be and unwilling to take charge of band decisions - he was more interested in dictating the music. Neil Young is in many ways Stephen Stills inside out: he came over as shy and insecure and won over many suitors/managers/wives by having them thinking he needed looking after (his epilepsy illness, which was at its peak during the troubled Springfield years and often saw him have fits on stage, also helped with this). Neil too was unwilling to take band decisions - and yet in the music he was even more adamant and pushy than Stills, determined even this early on that he was going to make his work rough and raw, rejecting the perfectionism that is partner insisted on. He was also as hard as nails and stubborn as a mule though less likely to yell was always more likely to get his way. Both men are potential 'leaders' and will be in their respective bands (CSN alternate who the leader is, but in the early days at least it was clearly Stephen 'Captain Manyhands' Stills calling most of the shots as the band's 'brains', with Crosby the 'heart' and Nash the 'conscience', plus Young as the 'instinct', while Crazy Horse are the perfect non-interfering band for Neil), but in this band the 'natural' leader looked as if it ought to be Richie. He was the band's pin-up, the friendly Paul McCartney one who actually deigned to turn up to band meetings and fan greetings alike and the one singing the lead on a majority of the early songs. Only sweet and friendly Richie with the lovely voice was a little bit behind the others in terms of musical proficiency and too much of a peace-keeper to give the band boat any more rocking than it was getting already. Similarly, quiet and passive, Bruce was happy to keep out the way, even though musically he's actually integral to the Springfield signature sound and the band never sound quite the same without him. However. like Neil, Bruce had a habit of going his own way and not always doing what everyone expected or wanted him to do - one of life's natural rebels. That leaves four passive-aggressive members all trying to control the others without actually coming out and saying that they were - all except Richie, who would have been happy to sing pretty much anything before discovering his own passing for country-rock near the end of the band's lifespan.
What many biographers miss at this point though is two things: one is that for all the arguments and splits and rows and thrown guitars and tension is that all four of these band members generally loved and respected and admired each other and might, with a more defined leadership role, come together more to work as a full democratic unit (the way they only ever did on their first LP). And the second point is that none of them respected the band's only actively extrovert member Dewey Martin, who in turn didn't really respect many of them very much. Richie dryly noted in later life that no one ever listened to Dewey because he was 'the drummer' but it's probably more that Dewey hadn't shared the early dreams and visions for the band (who were drummer-less for the first few weeks). However Dewey always considered himself the band's most experienced member and their star waiting to be discovered from the drum-stool and his demands for attention from a band who weren't grabbing it for themselves (but who didn't want to give it away either) made a fraught situation even more difficult. You can hear, on the Huntingdon Tapes bootleg (the only complete Springfield show to exist complete bar the special case of the shortened set at Monterey Pop) everyone's frustration as yet another song announcement and count-in gets interrupted by Dewey Martin's constant quips and game-playing to the audience. To be fair, it isn't his 'fault': Dewey probably saw the younger, shyer, inexperienced band members and wanted to take over and 'win' the crowd over. Dewey also had the 'chops' to be a star in his own right, with a soulful voice that could have made him a solo act plus a drumming style eclectic enough to bend to all the many genre flavours the other four throw at him. However, even if Dewey was a natural fit in a musical sense, Dewey was never a natural character fit in an already fragile band that needed a docile fifth members, not a wise-cracking percussionist eager to seize the spotlight from his comrades. In many ways the clock is ticking to the band's split from the moment they first walk into the same room.
Steve is the 'leader' then, by virtue of the fact he already has two close friendships in the band and he's the one most buzzing with ideas to do this with that song arrangement and with the most prolific easily understood songs. However, in truth, the Buffalo Springfield aren't the sort of band that was ever going to be led by anyone - and the harder Stills tried the worse it was always going to get. The story is set as early as the mock-interviews on the rear sleeve of the self-titled debut album in 1966, by and large the band's 'introduction' to the world unless you were one of the lucky few people to have caught one of the band's relatively rare shows at the Whiskey-A-Go-Go supporting The Byrds in the eight months leading up to the album's release. 'Steve is the leader - but we all are'. In 1966 Buffalo Springfield were crafted as a kind of benevolent dictatorship. But this wasn't The Dave Clark Five or Herman's Hermits, this was a band without a leader, with every member free to do what they liked. They were, in many ways, a competitive band rather than a democratic band: everyone was free to do what they liked, but if they saw you doing something good they assumed they could do it better. You can even tell that by the band's stage personas: most bands, at least up to when the Springfield formed in 1966, wore similar clothes and haircuts. The Springfield featured Stills who loved dressing up in cowboy style clothes from his home in Texas, which of course meant Young had to dress up as his polar opposite, the mysterious Indian while Furay played up to his well-groomed-boy-next-door image, Bruce was the permanent hippie and Dewey seemed to like wearing no top at all in around a third of the few photographs ever taken of the band (this wasn't just for the cameras either but a personality thing; when Richie married Nancy in 1968 he jokingly pleaded with Neil not to wear his Indian outfit to the wedding - he agreed and instead turned up in a Confederate Army Uniform, complaining 'isn't this what you wanted? I'm smart aren't I?!') As for hairdos Neil's was black, Stills was blonde and Richie's somewhere in between (while Bruce alternated between dying his hair and shaving it near-bald and Dewey kept his 1950s crew cut) and while all three were considered 'shaggy', even for the times, none of them had a style quite like the other (we've already said that Stills and Young were character opposites but this is true for looks as well - in many ways the dark styles preferred by Young made him look like the 'photo negative' version of Stills, especially in this period).
Had the band all agreed to be different they might have lasted yet, only the dynamics of the band blur early on and they end up treading on each other's toes instead. The top question concerning Buffalo Springfield on Google isn't as I expected 'where did the band get their name?' (a steamroller company!) or 'what inspired 'For What It's Worth'? (a riot on Sunset strip with policeman beating up hippies) but 'who was the lead singer in the Buffalo Springfield?' closely followed by 'who wrote the songs for the Buffalo Springfield?' They're good questions, with multiple-part answers. In the band's original concept of what the Springfield were and could be things were simple: Stills was the 'songs guy', the band member coming up with the band 'sound' that was more commercial than Young's work and most likely to be played on the radio (Neil might get some album tracks if he's lucky and Richie hadn't started writing in earnest yet). This will change as Neil and Richie both get more comfortable with their own songwriting voice. At first Furay was the frontman with the pretty looks and the golden voice (especially because Neil wasn't thought to have a 'voice') until he began pushing more and more to sing leads and Stephen began pushing more and more to star on his own work to keep up. Originally Young was the band's lead guitarist simply because he had the most 'distinctive' style  and had been playing a tiny bit longer than the others - though already Stills was snapping at his heels, eager to catch up. This wasn't just a band who could do anything but a band where the front-men could all do each other's jobs pretty much as well as their 'own', with a lot of toe-stamping to get there. Throw in Bruce, who baulked at doing anything and Dewey, who wanted to do everything himself even when he couldn't, plus a young management team in Charlie Greene and Brian Stone who didn't even know as much about this music lark as the band did and you have a band with more cracks than a pottery warehouse over an earthquake epicentre.
In a way it's a wonder the Springfield lasted as long as they did. In fact arguably they might not have lasted that long had the band not taken the sensible decision to cut their own songs largely solo for their second album 'Again' and then brought in the calming presence of Jim Messina as Bruce Palmer's replacement for the third 'Last Time Around' (the quietly strong and disciplined and friendly 'leader' figure they all needed and listened to, give or take Neil who'd quit the band - again).  In retrospect ('retrospective'?) it makes perfect sense that this was a band named after a steamroller: everyone's ideas got flattened by a combination of enthusiasm, ideas, arrogance and insecurity (that's also why 'Stampede' would have been the perfect name for that aborted second album, with a wild herd of buffalos running away in different directions to each other). Nowadays it's quite common for a band to have a 'psychologist' on tap - especially for bands as young as the Springfield were. Had that been a normal thing in 1966 you sense they'd have had a breakdown quicker than any of the band - this wasn't a band you could sit down and tell to play 'nice', not when the band were all so easily to come up with ideas and upset when they weren't being used, even if they handled being told 'no' in very different ways (Stephen  blew up, Neil sulked, Richie sighed, Bruce withdrew and Dewey fought). The Springfield weren't natural partners in the sense that they didn't have a shared musical vision or similar personalities and on the one hand didn't have the shared years of working together of most other bands while simultaneously all having their own tales of woe and desperation that made them doubly needy and hungry for fame. They say sometimes that The Beatles were the 'four headed monster' joined at the hip who went everywhere together. If so then the Springfield were the five-headed monster who couldn't even get it together enough to walk in the same direction without falling over!
That's not to take anything away from the Springfield individually or collectively. All five members were great at what they did and the three members on the frontline grew into each other's shoes at an impressive rate. Had the band met when they were younger and had more time to mould the band sound into shape (or older when they would have learnt more coping strategies for taking turns and keeping out of each other's way) the Springfield could feasibly still be going now and in some parallel universe has just released their latest album '38th time around' (featuring a combination of Stills' latin numbers, Furay's Christian country-pop and Young still banging on about American Indians). But some people just aren't meant to be in bands - especially those as keen on getting things done 'their' way as most of the Springfield were. It speaks volumes that all five will go onto release solo albums in their future careers, however many bands they end up joining (what other band even had the drive to do this, Beatles aside? And even some of Ringo's were made half-heartedly) and that CSNY, who share half their DNA with two-thirds of the Springfields, will split almost instantaneously the moment Stills and Young start butting heads again. Many onlookers wondered why Stills and Young ever dared to work together again after all that happened with the Springfield, even with Atlantic records boss Ahmet Etrtegun urging them to get back together again.
And yet, equally, how could the band keep away? For all the pain, drama and heartache the Springfield have a magic sound not despite but because of all their differences. This band were magic not because of all the dramas and rows but because it meant they cared enough to have all those dramas and rows and they were special precisely because they were a band that could have gone anywhere and done anything with a wide variety of styles to choose from, instead of repeating themselves. Most fans don't care who did what as long as the end result sounded great (as it nearly always did) even though, to a band as insecure, desperate and talented as the Springfield, who did what mattered very very deeply. Today, now that all the tempers have cooled and the three Springfielders left all have their own very different but very profitable careers, Steve Richie and Neil all speak very fondly of their time together, remembering the magic more than the mayhem. Neil even wrote his own song 'Buffalo Springfield Again', named after the band's second album, for his 'Silver and Gold' album in 2000 ('We were young and wild, it ate us up...I'd like to see those guys again and give it a shot, maybe now we can show the world what we have got!') And yet even now, in old age, old competitions flare to the point where out of at least four (that we know about) reunions prepared in private or public three all came to premature ends and the fourth only lasted for six shows. More often than not whenever the band get back together in twos or threes one of them will shout from the stage 'the spirit of the Buffalo Springfield is back!', quoting what the band used to feel and think like a talisman from better days. But the power of the Springfield is still a double-edged sword that comes with a curse: the spirit of the Springfield isn't just about the beautiful music but the ugly splits that come along with it, with every spontaneous get-together ending every bit as spontaneously, usually leaving two or more of the band puzzled and confused. It seems as if the Springfield was simply too full of talent and ambition to stay together for very long, even if that ambition and talent was rarely equalled even with all the brilliant music from the five band members still to come post-1968. The best summary is from Neil in 1969, a year later, who admitted that he handled the split rather badly 'quitting because I couldn't take anymore - but then rejoining because it sounded so good!'

Richie Furay "Hand In Hand"
(eOne Music, March 2015)
We Were The Dreamers/Hand In Hand/Don't Lose Heart/Don't Tread On Me/Wind Of Change/Someday/Love At First Sight/Let It Slide/Still Fine/Kind Woman/A Good Feelin' To Know/Love At First Sight
"We blazed a trail for generations to come"
Poor Richie. Excited by the Springfield reunion of 2010-2011 after a time away from music, he was sure that this time the band were older and wiser and things were going to be permanent. Enthused, he wrote a whole series of songs from the point of view of both a rockstar lured out of retirement and a fan who'd kept the faith alive all those years, sure the band would go on to make a record. When the reunion was called off after just eight gigs without warning he suddenly had a batch of new material and no outlet for it, his own contract as a solo star having lapsed some time before. It took a while to get a new one, by which time these songs about new beginnings and second chances must have sounded bitter and ironic. Instead they don't - this is a pretty and pretty upbeat collection of songs with plenty of hope. Interestingly the setting is right back in mid-Poco era rather than Springfield eclecticism, full of country-rock guitars with Furay working in Nashville with session musicians to make the album and giving it a much different 'spin' to the one he probably intended when he wrote it. The result is a likeable album, consistent rather than spectacular, made more appealing through re-makes of two of Richie's most loved songs (including [61] 'Kind Woman'), although the 'oldies' don't really fit on this album of new chances and second opportunities. Neither does the cover of Richie and Nancy as newly-weds way back some nearly fifty years ago - though it is a very sweet picture it has to be said.
'We Were The Dreamers' is very Poco-ish, with occasional references to country guitars, although it's clearly about the Springfield in its first draft at least. 'We were the trailblazers for generations to come!' cries a proud Richie, content with his legacy as part of perhaps the ultimate 'cult' band, before proudly standing in the spotlight alongside his worthy colleagues. Though it would have sounded nicer as a rocker rather than a country-rocker, this is a sweet song that just about gets away with its egotism thanks to Richie's kindly lead.
'Hand In Hand' itself is a lovely ballad about Richie still feeling as hopelessly in love with his wife all these decades on as he did on first meeting her. Though there are occasional surprises and 'more rivers to run' he feels safe and secure and knows he made the right choice, the lovers still 'hand in hand' the way they always were.
'Don't Lose Heart' is a pretty country pickalong that places emphasis on Richie's vocal - thankfully it's more than strong enough to take it. Richie knows what it's like to be down-and-out, forgotten, ignored and overshadowed, but he knew that his time would come again and he tells us not to give up our dreams also. This one has Disney movie written all over it, but it's well handled and works well in a sarse setting.
'Don't Tread On Me' is the album's epic, encroaching 'Crazy Eyes' territory as Richie watches a man with a 'broken heart' over a moody elongates seven minutes of sobbing and howling on a country-blues that's a slow burner but worth getting to know.
'Wind Of Change' is perhaps the weakest song here - it's the track that sounds most like a generic country-pop song without any of Richie's characteristic touches and too many country fiddles for my tastes. There's a nice chorus though and Richie, in great voice across the whole album, sounds particularly good here on a track about keeping the faith of better times.
'Someday' is a fiery rocker, not unlike [14] 'Go And Say Goodbye'. A young Richie is telling his new girlfriend about all the things they're going to do together 'someday down the road' - all these years on and they're still finding new things to enjoy doing together. It's a sweet hoe-down with a nice groove and sounds not unlike what former writing partner Chris Hillman got up to with The Desert Rose Band.
'Love At First Sight' is a sweet ballad in the same style as 'Believe Me', perhaps the highlight of the album. Richie stands in awe as he first meets Nancy, aware that it's the moment he's been waiting for his whole life. All these years later he still stands in awe, realising anew just how special and life-changing that moment was. A sweet song, performed with real beauty and grace.
'Let It Slide' is a cover of a slow brooding country-rock ballad by Poco rivals The Cate Brothers which appeared on their third, self-titled LP in 1977. Richie's version is a little tougher but also sadly a little slower - this song needs fattening up a bit being a bit treacly and the organ backing doesn't help. It's tale of partings also seems at odds with the album's spirits, even if the narrator is keen to return - 'If I ever should ever roam it would be for a walk'.
'Still Fine' is a Dire Straits style 1950s-80s number that again finds Richie celebrating his marriage, amazed that his wife still 'picks up the mess I make and you don't seem to mind!' In another world Shania Twain has just had a big hit with this likeable if generic country-rock-pop song.
The second re-make of [61] 'Kind Woman' 'works' in the sense that the song is perfectly balanced, a twenty-something Richie singing his first love song for the wife he still adores at seventy-something. But oh how that treacly backing sticks in the throat, insincere and pompous compared to the sparse pure beauty of the original from 1968. An indulgence too far I fear even if it beats the 2006 version hands down.
Richie's Poco classic 'A Good Feelin' To Know' works better and is a worthy album finale, with a bigger band sound and a much angrier, stronger guitar riff (sounding not unlike Stills). It's a bit of an all-star ensemble singalong, which is a bit of a shame in many ways given that these voices don't really belong together, but the sentiments that you can't feel down when 'somebody loves you'  sums up both Richie and the album well.
Some CDs carry a bonus track, a duet re-make of 'Love At First Sight' sung by dad Richie with his daughter Jesse Furay-Lynch. She has a lovely voice and it's a lovely song, but like many of these father-daughter duet things is a bit icky and incestuous - she's singing about her dad's love for her mother after all but sung direct to her dad. Still, though, this is a common country album problem!
Overall, then, 'Hand In Hand' might not add to your understanding of Richie and after a nine-year gap between studio records feels a tad short-changed. However there's a warm glow about this record that makes it Richie's best in quite a while with themes of solidarity, love and stability that makes it a worthy addition to his back catalogue. Springfield fans will like it - Poco fans will love it!

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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