This Day in Music Spotlight: Buffalo Springfield Play Their Last Show… for 42 Years
May 5, 1968
Special thanks to ThisDayinMusic.com.
Buffalo Springfield ended almost as fast as it began. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers – best-known for their 1967 hit “For What It’s Worth” – lasted a mere 25 months. And, in that short run, the lineup was in a constant state of flux, with members being deported, not showing up for gigs and being replaced by others. On this day in 1968, the band played their final show.
Two years earlier, Buffalo Springfield had come together a bit haphazardly. With their most recent band (led by Rick James!) having just fallen apart, guitarist Neil Young and bassist Bruce Palmer traveled to Los Angeles to see if they could find singer-guitarist Stephen Stills – whom Young had met in 1965. Unable to find him, the pair were about to leave for San Francisco when they got stuck in traffic on Sunset Boulevard. Stills and his friend and bandmate Richie Furay were stuck at the same intersection, and recognized Young’s car – a black 1953 Pontiac hearse. Thanks to a quick U-turn by Furay, the four musicians met up and decided to start a band.
Soon after, they brought on country music drummer Dewey Martin and took their band name from a steamroller made by the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company. They made their live debut on April 11, 1966 at the Troubadour, then toured with The Byrds and made a name for themselves as a must-see live act during a residency at the Whiskey a Go Go.
By the end of the year, they had signed a record contract with Atco and put out a well-received, self-titled debut album. In early ’67, a new single written by Stills, “For What it’s Worth,” rose to #7 on the Billboard charts and went gold. But that pretty much marked the end of the easy times for Buffalo Springfield.
Just as the single was taking off, Palmer was arrested for marijuana possession and deported back to Canada. When the band toured and made promotional appearances, they had to enlist other bassists. For on TV appearance, they made their road manager hold a bass and face away from the camera, while the rest of the members mimed to a pre-recorded track. The band also began work on their second album, and the sessions were fraught with tension between Stills and Young, who each had their own vision of how their songs should sound.
Palmer was able to return to the group in summer, by which time Young had left the group – who were performing with replacement guitarists, including The Byrds’ David Crosby. But Neil came back to the band before the October release of Buffalo Springfield Again, which contained a few classics (including two written by Neil, “Mr. Soul” and “Broken Arrow”). The album did better than its predecessor and was reviewed enthusiastically. Meanwhile, the guys toured with The Beach Boys.
Just when it appeared that things had stabilized, the bottom dropped out on Buffalo Springfield again. Palmer was deported for a drug arrest in early ’68 and was permanently replaced this time by Jim Messina. Young sporadically stopped showing up at gigs and although the band began making a new album, although only a couple of members would appear on each track. It was clear that this was the end for the band.
On May 5, 1968, they performed their last show at Long Beach Arena. The final song was Stills’ “Bluebird,” which was extended to a long, jammed-out version. Their final album, Last Time Around, produced by Messina, came out in the summer and featured Young’s “I Am a Child.”
Although Buffalo Springfield did pretty well during their two-year run, just about every member would go onto greater success following the band’s break-up. Neil Young went solo and released his first album in the fall of ’68. Stephen Stills formed a supergroup with buddies David Crosby (of The Byrds) and Graham Nash (of The Hollies) and Crosby, Stills and Nash released their self-titled, multi-platinum debut in May of 1969 (by 1970, Young would also join the band). Furay and Messina teamed up to create the country-rock group Poco, who also put out their debut album in May of ’69 and had a minor hit with “You Better Think Twice.”
Founding members Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer wouldn’t go on to have the quite the same level of success. Palmer was originally going to play bass with CS&N, but plans changed due to personal issues with the members. He released a solo album and then played on Young’s Trans album and tour. Martin put together the New Buffalo Springfield in September of ’68 (with Dewey as the only original member), and although the band toured a bunch, they were soon threatened with legal action by Stills and Young. In the ’70s, Martin retired from music and became a car mechanic.
In 1997, Buffalo Springfield were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, although Young did not attend the ceremony. The rock legend seemed to change his tune a few years later, when he released the song “Buffalo Springfield Again” and sang about giving a reunion “a shot.”
A decade later, Young’s words would come to fruition when he, Stills and Furay played together for the first time in 42 years at the Bridge School Benefit (founding members Martin and Palmer had since died in 2009 and 2004, respectively). Then, in 2011, the reunited Buffalo Springfield members announced a small tour, including an appearance at the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival. If everything goes well, the reunited Buffalo Springfield have a chance at lasting longer than the original incarnation of the band.