Neil Young’s new album, Silver and Gold features a plaintive ballad titled “Buffalo Springfield Again,” where he expresses nostalgia for the band that first put him on the map. Singing “I’d like to see those guys again and give it a shot / Maybe now we can show the world what we’ve got,” he hints toward a reunion, which would neatly dovetail the recently completed Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young road show and give legs to the long-awaited Buffalo Springfield box set. Indeed, now that CSN&Y have re-lit their flame, it would seem to be the perfect time for Young and Springfield cohort Stephen Stills to dig a little deeper into the past.
Fans shouldn’t hold their breath. Members of the often brilliant band that was derailed by intramural jealousies and individual ambition still carry considerable baggage. And while the contentious competition between Young and Stills is now resolved, getting the other three members on the same stage — or even the same room — is a dicey proposition.
For a band with such a spectral influence, the Buffalo Springfield were exceedingly short-lived. The five members first met in an L.A. traffic jam in April 1966 and played their last show just two years later. Along the way there were three albums: A self-titled debut, the diverse Buffalo Springfield Again and Last Time Around, more a collection of individually produced tracks than a group effort. “The first album was the best we made and captured how we sounded as a band,” guitarist/singer Richie Furay recalls. “The others were piecemeal.”
Furay, who later led Poco, holds the key to any reunion. Unique as former rockers go, he is now the pastor of a Colorado church — acknowledging his past but not waiting around for the call to reunite. In fact, when the CSN&Y tour visited nearby Denver, Furay didn’t think the occasion was important enough to reschedule the regular Bible study class. But Furay is at least open to the idea of playing with his old pals — even though his offer to put together an opening band for the CSN&Y tour was rebuffed. Would he participate in a Springfield reunion? He supplies an enthusiastic “Yes!” but adds, “I would have to know the details and have some input.”
Drummer Dewey Martin is another story. Ebullient at sixty, he is still riding the reputation of his finest hour, two short years that ended more than thirty years ago. He doesn’t play much anymore, but has invented and patented a variable height drum rim that he says “will change how drummers play.” But while Martin certainly has time on his hands, he still holds a grudge against Stills for “defrauding” him out of royalties and preventing his use of the Buffalo Springfield name (which is actually a position shared by Furay and Young).
Bassist Bruce Palmer, who was in and out of the band due to drugconvictions, is now living on 100 acres near Bancroft, Ont., where he isn’t doing much of anything. Palmer is coy about how long it would take him to get into musical shape, saying, “Great players never divulge that information,” but Martin estimates that “it would take about three weeks for him to get his chops together.”
Even so, Furay, Stills and Young with another rhythm section would satisfy at least the promoters. Furay won’t rule out such an arrangement, but points out, “It wouldn’t be a Buffalo Springfield reunion then, would it?”
If there is little chance of an actual reunion, the box set — now slated for a November release — will go a long way toward establishing Springfield on a level comparable to their contemporaries, such as the already anthologized and canonized Byrds, Doors and Jefferson Airplane. Said Young in an unused promotional interview supplied by Reprise Records to Rolling Stone: “We didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t have the kind of direction we needed and didn’t have the production assistance we needed. We were too young and didn’t reach our potential.”
The box set has been on and off of Elektra’s release schedule for the past two years (Elektra gobbled up Atco, for which Springfield recorded). Last slated for late 1999, it was further delayed when Young invited Stills to his Woodside, Calif., ranch for a listen. The two got sidetracked into a session with David Crosby and Graham Nash, which led to an album and a successful tour. “If it wasn’t for Stephen and Neil working together on the box set and realizing they could get along in the same room for five minutes, this whole CSN&Y thing wouldn’t have happened,” says Palmer.
Few official details on the box are available aside from the projected release date, which could again change. “It has been ready for more than a year,” says John Einarson, a Winnipeg high school history teacher who co-wrote a book about the band with Furay. “Neil has given the project a lot of care and attention. He remembers this period with much fondness.”
The four-CD set will not contain every track from the band’s albums. Instead, it will be composed of some previously released songs, alternate versions of the familiar and about one third unreleased or newly discovered material.
“It’s a chronological history of the group from the demos all the way through the albums,” Young said in the Reprise interview. “You can see the development of the group from the beginning to its hottest points, to when it starting splintering apart to when it became a vanilla shake or something.”
“Neighbour Don’t Worry” and a Stills-sung version of Young’s “Down to the Wire” are the best-known rarities, along with a long jam titled “Raga.” Others include “Whatever Happened To Saturday,” a Young track intended for the third Springfield album; “We’ll See,” which Einarson calls “a great Stills song that represents one of the last examples of the unison singing they did so well”; up to four songs later recorded by Poco, including a take of “I Guess You Made It” and a Stills rendition of the buoyant “What a Day.” Furay calls this particular track “a nice surprise.”
As good as these newly released recordings may be, the band’s best work — live performance — is lost in the ephemera. Beach Boys sound man Steve Desper said he recorded every one of the Springfield’s shows when the two bands were on tour in 1967 and 1968, but erased the tapes after a standard performance critique. These shows sounded great because both bands used Desper’s “doubling” technique to enrich the vocal sound.
One set of Springfield tapes that exists in some form captures their performance at 1967’s Monterey Pop Festival, where David Crosby filled in for the then-departed (and soon to return) Young. While the tapes might have some historical significance, Einarson says their presence on the box set is “not likely” because of Young’s absence.
It is ironic that Young has taken on the archivist task, as he essentially scuttled the band. He quit several times — once on the eve of a Tonight Show appearance — deflating the band’s momentum. But the others don’t object to his prodigal interest. “Neil’s in charge here because of his initiative, and his proclivity for collecting and preserving things,” says Palmer. Furay agrees: “Neil doesn’t do things halfway. He’s done a great job with this.”
At the same time, all participants approach any reunion talk with extreme caution. In 1988 the five met and played informally, planning to meet a few months later. Feelings about the session were mixed. Palmer recalls the session as “terrific,” and Furay says it was nice to get reacquainted. “It could have had some magic,” says Martin, “but Bruce’s chops weren’t up, and I was sick with the flu. We should have warmed up on something familiar, but were playing all this new stuff.”
They all agree, however, as to what happened next. Young didn’t show for the next rehearsal. “He just forgot,” Palmer said. “So we all said, ‘What’s the use?'”