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Buffalo Springfield again: A conversation with Richie Furay

The last time Buffalo Springfield performed live, The Beatles' 'White Album' topped album charts around the world and man was a year away from walking on the moon. It’s been a long time, but the country-rock pioneers have risen again.
Buffalo Springfield reunion

From left, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Neil Young of Buffalo Springfield perform together during the Bridge School Benefit concert in Mountain View, Calif., Oct. 23, 2010. Associated Press photo/Eric Risberg.

By Ken Sharp

The last time Buffalo Springfield performed live, The Beatles' 'White Album' topped album charts around the world and man was a year away from walking on the moon. It’s been a long time — 43 years to be exact — but the seminal country-rock pioneers have risen again, first performing two special charity shows in October 2010 as part of Neil Young’s Annual Bridge School benefit shows, then, in 2011, embarking on a slate of West Coast shows with a 30-city tour slated for the fall. With the loss of Springfield members bassist Bruce Palmer and drummer Dewey Martin, the front line of Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay are ably augmented by bassist Rick Rosas and drummer Joe Vitale. Goldmine spoke with Springfield founding member Richie Furay, who fills us in on the rise of the buffalo.

Now this isn’t the first time the band has reunited. From what I understand, Buffalo Springfield reunited privately three times.
Richie Furay: Well, each time we got together there were different things going on. The first time we were all there. The second we were all there, but we weren’t there, and then the third time we tried to get there, and it never really happened.

(Discover the Heart and Soul of Country Rock Pioneer Richie Furay in his own words)
Where did these reunions take place?
Furay: The ones back in the ’80s happened at Stephen’s (Stills) house. Everyone was there except for Neil, who wasn’t there the last time we agreed to get together. He missed out on that one.

Did the band click during those mini-reunions?
Furay: No. Obviously it didn’t, and that’s why it didn’t go any further than those three attempts to try and get together. This time was entirely different; for whatever reason, I have no idea. But this time that we got together was entirely different. It all just had a flow to it. It went from the get-go where the other reunions didn’t take off at all.

Buffalo Springfield in 1966

Buffalo Springfield in 1966 (clockwise, from top left): Richie Furay, Bruce Palmer, Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Dewey Martin. Photo courtesy Rhino/Henry Diltz.

There’s a right time for everything.
Furay: Yeah, and this certainly was the right time. Of course, we missed not having Bruce (Palmer) and Dewey (Martin) there, but Joey (Vitale) and Rick (Rosas) sure took up the slack. Getting back together this time, I felt no apprehension (laughs). Neil was right on board, and I felt if he was on board, then everything was gonna really flow. And I know that it was a great opportunity to reunite for the Bridge School event. It’s a different age; it’s a different time. There was no agenda. There was nothing to stand in our way. It was like, “Hey, yeah, man, my goodness, let’s do this; this sounds like a lot of fun and who knows how much longer we have to do it.” There was no apprehension on my part that it wouldn’t come together.

How did Rick Rosas and Joe Vitale become involved?
Furay: Joe Vitale plays drums with Stephen and Rick Rosas plays bass with Neil. The way that came down is Stephen picked the drummer and Neil picked the bass player. That was democratic, and I agreed (laughs).

Was there any thought to Jim Messina taking part in the reunion shows?
Furay: I didn’t really give much thought to it. Once we made the decision that Stephen would pick the drummer and Neil would pick the bass player, I didn’t really think too much of it. You know, people think of Jimmy being part of the Buffalo Springfield simply because he was the last guy in. And he played with us on the last tour that we did with The Beach Boys. But I think the right decision was made to bring in the guys Neil and Stephen were comfortable with, and they’re both great guys and great players.

Were there specific songs you were looking forward to take a stab at?
Furay: I shot some songs off to Neil, and Stephen had shot some songs off to him. So we already had all these songs on a list, and if there was a song one guy mentioned and another guy didn’t, they’d be considered too. But we started with the songs that were on the list that everybody agreed we would do. I’m not really sure how we finalized it to the songs we performed. They were just the ones that we started rehearsing after we all got together. They were the ones that worked, and they were the ones that were left in there. Of the songs that I would have thought we would consider and ones I’d been working a little bit on my own just to get prepared were “Hot Dusty Roads” and “Sit Down I Think I Love You” and “Hung Upside Down.” We were only supposed to play for 40 minutes (at Bridge School) and we ended up performing for an hour. So with the songs that we did, there just wouldn’t have been any more room. I would have loved to have sung “Sad Memory.” You know, the ones that we did covered all three albums (“Buffalo Springfield,” “Buffalo Springfield Again,” “Last Time Around”) so there was something from all three albums. I think we were really looking to reach back to that first album as much as we could, because that album was probably the most cohesive of the whole band being one. Once the second and third albums came out, they were a little more scattered in us being a unified band.

Hearing from folks who saw the band live back in the ’60s, they routinely rave that as good as the records were, Buffalo Springfield really excelled as a live unit.
Furay: I think that’s true. When we first got together way back when, we were the house band at the Whisky a Go Go for, like, six weeks, and that was the tightest that the band ever got. We played every night, and we played a couple times a night. We played the same songs; we played a lot of the first album just over and over and over because that was basically our repertoire at the time. And then when different things started to happen, when Bruce (Palmer) had immigration problems and Neil got antsy, that’s when we had to make changes here and there. We took a step forward and two back, so that made it difficult. The tightest that we were in the beginning was probably the first six weeks that we were together.

Buffalo Springfield

Buffalo Springfield. Photo courtesy Rhino.

Are those your happiest days with the band?
Furay: The answer’s yes. Absolutely. After that, it just became fragmented. We were bringing in other people as other members were going out. Then we were bringing other people back in. You just could never get the ball up the court (laughs).

Stephen and Neil’s guitar interplay in Buffalo Springfield is undeniable. What makes them mesh so well as guitar players?
Furay: Well, obviously a lot of the parts they played were worked out 40 years ago, and they were things we refreshed our memory with. We were a guitar band, three guitars in a band, and it left me room to really perfect rhythm guitar and to support them along the way. Stephen and Neil both had different sounds and different styles, but yet they were able to blend those styles and sounds to make the whole Buffalo Springfield sound cohesive. We did the (Bridge) reunion shows acoustically, which made it a little bit different. I think Stephen, in particular, was yearning for the electric guitar more (laughs) ’cause it’s easier to play. He was having a little bit of difficulty; I don’t know if he has carpal tunnel, but he’s got some pain in his hands but you sure couldn’t tell it either night. They both do enjoy playing off each other, and I think that was one of the signature things from the Buffalo Springfield from years ago that just made us unique. We had two exceptional guitar players, but two very stylized guitar players that could play off each other, and it just made it very unique.

Neil’s always expressed a deep love for the band and even wrote a song about the group called “Buffalo Springfield Again.”
Furay: I think part of his connection might have to do that it’s the beginning and launching of a very significant career. As time goes by, he probably looks back and reflects; without Buffalo Springfield, it might have been a different situation for him. But I don’t really know; you’d really have to ask him. But the Springfield was a special launching pad for all of us.

And listening to Springfield’s body of work, there’s a timeless quality about the music. When you hear an old Springfield song, what memories go through your mind?
Furay: It probably goes back to when and how and what were the circumstances when we recorded a certain song. After the first album, for the songs that appeared on the second and third album, there were some that we didn’t all play on. They were just recorded individually. Certainly the last album it was, “OK, here’s a couple of songs, put these on,” and then Jimmy (Messina) and myself finished the compilation of the third album. But hearing some of the songs, you just go back to the time and the moment and you remember the studio and what was going on. I also remember “Sad Memory” in particular. I was waiting for Stephen and Neil and the rest of the guys to come into the studio, and I was just sitting out there playing the song with my acoustic guitar. Neil comes in and flips down the talkback button and says, “We gotta record that song.” So it made it onto the second album. I can remember we were recording at Sunset Sound, and Stephen was putting amplifiers everywhere, outside, down the hall, clearing another studio, with these big Marshall amps and playing something like “Hung Upside Down.” I just go back to the moment; I’m not critically examining how a song felt.

Buffalo Springfield excelled in its versatility, from the country lilt of “A Child’s Claim to Fame” to the snotty punk overdrive of “Mr. Soul.”
Furay: Yes, that’s true. The first album was recorded at Gold Star on a four-track, so we were all out there playing live like we were at the Whisky a Go Go. Then we’d go in and do a few little overdubs. We had to record a few songs in a session. We captured the moment and wanted to represent the performance aspect in the studio. We wanted to have a live feel on our records. By the time we recorded our second album, it really started to drift. “Mr. Soul,” “Hung Upside Down,” “Rock & Roll Woman” were all band songs, and then you start looking at “Broken Arrow,” you start looking at “Sad Memory,” “Bluebird,” “Expecting to Fly,” they were all songs that were recorded individually with help from the rest of the band at another point. “Mr. Soul,” “Hung Upside Down” and “Rock & Roll Woman” were the last songs we recorded that showed what the band really was together. Looking back, I had a sense when we recorded “Mr. Soul” that it was special. And the guitar riff in it (imitates riff) is great.

It’s like “Satisfaction” but with a twist. Did you recognize its similarity back then?
Furay: Oh yeah. Absolutely (laughs).

Bring us through playing the two shows at the Bridge School Event and the feeling of stepping out onstage together for the first time since 1968.
Furay: There was a real sense of triumph. I looked at Stephen, and I looked a Neil, and I could tell there was a sense of accomplishment. Everyone was pleased with both shows. From what we shared with one another, and there’s gonna be other people backstage that are gonna pat you on the back no matter what, but when we came off stage, nobody went into a funk. Everybody was pretty well pumped up.

“A Child’s Claim to Fame” is a song highlight. Can you recall penning that classic?
Furay: I look at that song as a real achievement. Number one, we got James Burton to play on it. Ricky Nelson was an idol of mine, and James played with him, so that was quite a thrill. I’m trying to think of Dewey, Bruce and myself playing that song. I’m pretty sure Neil’s part was merely an overdub; I don’t remember what Stephen played on it exactly. He did overdub a guitar riff on it. That song was definitely a precursor to the country rock aspect of everything we had going on, although “Go and Say Goodbye” also had that sense to it. It was probably the second song of mine that ever got recorded. Lyrically, what inspired me was there was probably some frustration going on at that time that I was releasing.

Forty-four years ago, Buffalo Springfield performed at the Monterey Pop Festival. Will the footage of the band’s entire performance ever be released?
Furay: What I have heard of our performance at Monterey we were definitely not in. It was not a real good representation of the band, from my perspective. Neil wasn’t there, and that was disappointing. David Crosby sat in with us for our set. Monterey wasn’t our best performance. I was just coming off tonsillitis and I was half there myself. (Laughing) It was just not a really good representation of how I’d like the Springfield to be remembered. Now, you go back to the Shoreline Amphitheater (2010 Bridge School Benefit), and I think it was a good representation of who we are and what we are capable of doing and why we all have been recognized at one time or another into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Precious few live tapes exist of Buffalo Springfield live in the ’60s albeit a new tape has started to circulate in collector’s circles of the band performing at Whittier High School in January 1968.
Furay: I haven’t heard that yet, but I sort of remember the show, if you can believe that, way back when. It’s amazing when I look at some groups, and they’re documented from day one of their career, and there wasn’t much documented on Buffalo Springfield. But maybe it also has to do with the fact that we didn’t stay together for very long (laughs).