Buffalo Springfield is on the short list of bands that had great influence on rock's evolution despite a brief tenure together. Buffalo Springfield's repertoire of folk-rock, country-rock, and psychedelic hard rock were all state of the art in their day; their classic songs remain in frequent rotation on classic rock stations. Perhaps even more important than their music is the assemblage of talent within the band. Retrospectively, Buffalo Springfield was the launching pad for A-listers who went on to even greater heights afterwards. Birthing the subsequent solo careers of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay (Poco), and Jim Messina (Poco, Loggins and Messina), Buffalo Springfield's legacy continued robustly through the 70's and 80's and still can be felt now. California rock owes a lot to these guys; only the Byrds rivaled them in Los Angeles in the 1960's.
The band's formation has been legend so long it's hard to verify how true it is, but as the story goes, it was a standard Los Angeles rush hour traffic jam on Sunset Boulevard that was the catalyst for their meeting. In April 1966, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay were driving together on Sunset when stop-and-go traffic randomly deposited them in back of an old 1953 Pontiac hearse bearing Canadian license plates. Stills recognized the hearse as belonging to Canadian Neil Young, whom he had met variously around town earlier. With Young was bass player Bruce Palmer. Young and Palmer had spent the better part of the past month on a cross country joyride in search of a musical career that had so far eluded them; both were preparing to leave L.A. for destinations unknown.
This incident lad to the formation of Buffalo Springfield; within the two cars was the nucleus of a great band: Neil Young on vocals/guitar, Stephen Stills on vocals/guitar, Richie Furay on vocals/guitar, and Bruce Palmer on bass. The drumkit went to Dewey Martin, who briefly drummed for The Dillards, a top-notch progressive bluegrass outfit.
Young had been born in Toronto in 1945; his father was a sports journalist. His parents divorced while he was a child, and he and his mother re-located to Winnipeg where he began playing guitar in high school bands. His early garage band was called The Esquires; he also made the folkie circuit where he initially met both Stills and Joni Mitchell. Returning to Toronto, he played a solo acoustic folk set and gained local notice. His first recordings were as a member of The Mynah Birds, which also included fellow Canadian Bruce Palmer and American Rick James (of "Superfreak" fame). The Mynah Birds were Toronto-based and recorded an album's worth of material for Motown records, which has never been released. This would have been Motown's very first attempt to crack the rock market, and the project apparently was received with little enthusiasm. The band met an unexpected end in March 1966 when James was hauled off for being AWOL from the U.S. Navy; the band had been unaware of his military status. While it may not have seemed so at the time, this misfortune had a silver lining, as Young and Palmer were released from their Motown contract, which permitted them to join Buffalo Springfield. Their month-long jaunt from Toronto in Young's hearse landed them on Sunset on that fateful day.
Stills was born in 1945 in Dallas, TX. Stills developed an interest in music early, and had his first professional gig at the age of 15. He eventually dropped out of college and headed for New York City's fertile folk-rock scene, where he met Richie Furay from Ohio while playing in Greenwich Village in 1964. Catching their act was local impresario Ed E. Miller who put them in a group together with members of the Bay Singers. This new ensemble evolved into The Au Go-Go Singers after becoming house band for legendary Cafe Au Go-Go, later home to The Blues Project. The Au Go-Go singers released an album on Roulette, They Call Us Au Go-Go Singers, in 1964; it went nowhere. The pair bailed in 1965, and headed for Los Angeles. In early 1966 Stills auditioned for a role on the TV series The Monkees; the role went to Michael Nesmith instead. In April 1966, following the meeting with Young and Palmer, the four formed the Herd, later renamed Buffalo Springfield. Dewey Martin was added the same week; by week's end they had their first professional gig as a five-piece, opening for no less than the Byrds, at the Troubadour Club on Sunset Strip. The band performed only originals, save for a version of "In The Midnight Hour" which featured Martin on vocals.