Second Time Around: Buffalo Springfield- An Interview with founding member Richie Furay
With the release of the much anticipated Box Set by Buffalo Springfield, now seems as good a time as any to look back on this seminal band and rediscover its potent music.
Despite the fact that the Springfield exisited for only two years, the band had a major impact on American music with its pioneering blend of folk/rock. It paved the way for Crosby Stills Nash and Young, Poco and Loggins and Messina, as well as solid solo careers for Stills and Young.
Formed in April 1966 the band included three Canadians, guitarist/vocalist Neil Young, bassist Bruce Palmer, drummer Dewey Martin and two Americans, vocalist/Rhythm guitarist Richie Furay and guitarist/vocalist Stephen Stills. The band’s live shows (unfortunately very few tapes exist) were said to be legendary with Young and Stills engaging in long drawn out guitar battles especially on the Stills classic “Bluebird.”
Throughout its brief career it was plaged by inner turmoil, drug busts, immigration problems (Palmer got deported) as well as other problems all led to the band not achieving its true potential. Neil Young, an integral part of the band left on several occasions only to rejoin. In fact, Young was missing from the band’s performance at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. His place was taken by at this point by guitarist Doug Hastings and David Crosby from the Byrds also made a guest appearance with the band. Other short-term members included bassist Ken Koblun, Ken Forssi, Jim Fielder (later of Blood Sweat & Tears) and Jim Messina. Of course, Messina was the band’s engineer for their best album, Again. He also, with the help of Furay and Stills put together the posthumous album, Last Time Around in 1968 after the group had fragmented. Who knows what the band might have achieved had it stayed together. They were certainly equally talented contemporaries to the Beatles and the Byrds.
The band is perhaps best known for the Stills’ scathing political statement “For What It’s Worth” which actually made number seven in the singles charts in 1967. The three albums, the self-titled debut, released in 1967, the Again, released the same year and finally Last Time Around in 1968 are all classics in their own right, but the most impressive is the eclectic and musically sophisticated Again.
Of all the reissue/archive projects in the past few years the much-reported, but often delayed Buffalo Springfield box-set is one of the most anticipated. Well, finally it is here in the shape of a four CD set that contains an expansive 88 cuts, of which 36 are rare or unreleased tracks. Disc four also features the band’s first and second albums in their entirety (and newly mixed.) The first album is presented in its mono mix (prefered by Stills and Youngremember when this album was recorded stereo was relatively new and a lot of stereo mixes sounded thin). The box set contains everything from the three released albums with the exception of two cuts from Last Time Around (Messina’s medicore “Carefree Country Day” and Furay’s stark “In the Hour of Not Quite Rain.”)
The set features excellent sound, extensive sleeve notes and recording information and is presented in chronological order beginning with mostly acoustic demos. There’s an abundance of alternate takes and unreleased songs. There are early versions of Young’s “Old Laughing Lady” and Furay’s “My Kind of Love” and “Nobody’s Fool.”But it’s songs of the caliber of Young’s ethereal “Expecting to Fly” the bizarre “Broken Arrow,” the rocking “Mr.Soul,” Stills’ Hung Upside Down,” “Bluebird,” “Special Care” and Furay’s “Kind Woman” and “A Child’s Claim to Fame” that show just how much talent there was in this band. All of these songs sound remarkably fresh and vital, even 30 years after they were recorded. This box set comes highly recommended.
After the Springfield called it a day Furay and Messina formed the pioneering (and arguably the best) country-rock band Poco which went on to record numerous albums. Messina also went onto more commercial success with Loggins & Messina, while Stills initially formed Crosby Stills & Nash. Young made a solo album and then teamed up with Crazy Horse. Of course, Stills and Young again met up in CSN&Y and became mega stars not to mention the fact that individually and collectively they made some of the greatest music of the 20th century. Martin carried on the Buffalo Springfield name for a while with the help of session players, while Palmer recorded one solo album, The Cycle is Complete (with help from Kaleidoscope members) that was released in 1971 on Verve. In fact, the Palmer album was really just a jam session with friends and quite eclectic. Sadly, its been long out of print. What follows is an interview with founding member Richie Furay. These days Furay is a minister in Colorado, but he also plays with Poco on occasion. And as you’ll see he hints at the idea that there just might be a chance for us to experience the magic of the Buffalo Springfield again.
M.S. Firstly, I’d like to say that I really enjoyed the box-set. It’s got some fabulous stuff on it. It’s been one of those projects that has been a long time in the making. Why did it take so long?
R.F. I think that number one, when the Springfield broke up and everybody went off in different directions. I think it just took the time for Neil (Young) in particular, you know, to come to the place where he was in his life to be able to accumulate and collect and put all these things together and get demos, masters, and all the tapes that he had while still doing the career that he was certainly out on. I think that was it. Neil had the idea to do it and it all worked around his schedule and his career. And that is basically why it took the time that it did.
M.S. You say that the project was Neil’s idea. How much of a cooperative effort did it end up being from all the other former members?
R.F. From my standpoint it was very simple. Some people might ask aren’t you offended that he didn’t ask you to come out and give your input when he started doing this ten years ago and all. But he didn’t. It was three years ago that he called up and said “I want you to come out to the ranch. I have been working on this and I want you to hear it.” At first I thought, what is this, just a courtesy call or something, and it wasn’t that at all. It was very much, “you know, here this is what I have been working on for the last ten years and I want to do this project and I want your input and I want to know what you think, if you hear anything that should or shouldn’t be there.” It was something that he really wanted sincere input on and I thought that was pretty neat. But he did all the groundwork. I wouldn’t have had the time or I wouldn’t have had the resources to do what he did. So, I think the way that it worked, because it was his idea, he got everything together. He listened tediously to all the tapes and the songs. Oh man. How much time must he have spent and put into that? You know when he got it to a place where he said you know this is a place where we can all listen to this and see what’s what. He said I want you to listen to it. I don’t know how much input Steve (Stills) had but my input came at that point in time about three years ago when we actually thought it was going to be coming out. I got a chance to say here’s what I think, and basically you know what I heard, I thought, Neil you have done a fantastic job.
M.S. I don’t know how much material you listened to but what does the finished project represent in terms of what Neil listened to? Did the biggest percentage of the tapes get used or was a lot of stuff passed over?
R.F. I think it is all there now. This is going to be the definitive work now. If you want to hear what we did outside of what was recorded on the three albums. Here they are. These are the songs. These are the things that we worked on that we wrote and were all a part of that time and if anybody wants it, here it is!
M.S. There were a couple of things missing that consider the length of the CDs would have been put on the discs. Like there’s one song of yours from the Last Time Around album.
R.F. “In the Hour of Not Quite Rain.”
M.S. Right. There’s also the Jim Messina song, “Carefree Country Day” and the extended (ten minute) version of “Bluebird.” Was there any reason for leaving those particular songs off the set?
R.F. I don’t know. As far as “Bluebird” goes I have heard that Steve just didn’t really want the extended version put on the CD, so he had input there. As far as Jimmy’s song I think Neil’s perspective was that this was the original band. This is kind of like what the original group was. It’s about the group that was inducted into the Hall of Fame. This was the band and this was the music that that band recorded. As far as “In the Hour of Not Quite Rain” goes I was asked —not particularly by Neil, but I think it was Kenny Viola that asked me about that, and to tell you the truth Mick, it just didn’t matter to me.
M.S. I’m just looking at it from the fans perspective, kind of a completist attitude.
R.F. It could certainly have been included. It wasn’t. I obviously had the opportunity to say. Look I want this song on here, but it really didn’t matter to me that much to me.
M.S. Speaking of your songs I particularly liked the early versions of “My Kind Of Love,” “Nobody’s Fool” and “What a Day,” all songs that you would do with Poco eventually. It was really nice to see the development of those songs.
R.F. Yes, isn’t it neat? The same thing happened to me, because as I am listening to them, I obviously have forgotten about half of them. I remember titles of songs and when I listen to them I remember maybe what I thought they were, but as they go on I realize that perhaps that’s probably one of the reasons why this one wasn’t included on a record. But it was kind of fun going through all that. One of the things that really got me was “What A Day” and Stephen sang it. I didn’t even know, number one that the Springfield had ever even recorded it as a possibility you know demo or whatever and number two, that Steve actually sang it. I thought that’s pretty cool.
M.S. In some ways you and Stephen have similar vocal deliveries although your voices are not that similar.
R.F. Well, yes, the phrasing. We were really good at working on phrasing together. Stephen put an edge to what I mellowed out. Together when we would sing a lot of the songs together in unison, which we did as the Springfield, it would give a different quality than if Stephen sang the song solo or if I did. When we sang in unison it was like there was another person that was singing.
M.S. “Hung Upside Down” is a good example of that.
R.F. Yes, it is. It’s me singing at the beginning and then Steve comes in and he sings the harder part.
M.S. So I assume that it was Neil’s idea to present the project in chronological sequence. That’s an extremely good one. What did you think of that?
R.F. I think it was excellent. As far as the project and how it has been developed I can only give Neil the greatest compliment for what he has done. There has been a lot of tedious hours put into this and how he went back and got those early demos and kind of sequenced them along the way. He did a good job.
M.S. It starts out with the stripped down acoustic demos and ands up with the culmination of your achievements on disc four, Buffalo Springfield Again album in its entirety and newly mixed. That album has to be one of the most diverse and polished albums ever. It’s up there with classic albums such as Sgt. Pepper’s and more.
R.F. Thank you. I agree there are some really awesome moments there.
M.S. Do you have real fond memories of the Springfield? Or do you just not think about it?
R.F. I do think about it. I don’t think about it in such a way that I live my life in the past but I think that this was a wonderful time. I had an opportunity, and I hope they all feel the same, Stephen and Neil particularly, but Bruce and Dewey as well, that what we did was significant and to have played and made music with some of the finest creative people in the business. Who knows if I would have continued on in the music industry. Who knows what a career I might have had, but I didn’t. Certainly, Neil and Stephen have gone on to make tremendous marks in the world of music and rock and roll and I just really feel very privileged to having been a part of contributing to their success as well as them contributing to the things that I have done too.
M.S. Do you feel that Buffalo Springfield could have gone even farther or do you think that you kind of eclipsed yourselves with Again to the point where there was just too much talent in the band?
R.F. Well. It wasn’t so much that. It was we couldn’t keep together what we had, no matter who played in the band and there were like nine people in and out of the band in that two year period of time. The only band that made real sense to me was the original five and because we couldn’t keep the original five together there’s where we lost the momentum. We would take a step forward and be knocked back two rather than two forward and one back. After a while we just couldn’t go on.
M.S. Do you know how much cleaning up they had to do on the tapes? They sound really good.
R.F. I really don’t know. I think they sound good too. When I heard the first demo I thought this sounds like something recorded today.
M.S. It’s amazing what modern technology and things like Pro Tools can do with old recordings.
R.F. Oh boy, it really is amazing. You know one thing also that as I listen to the demos and some of the songs that didn’t originally get released. I listened to Stephen and me singing. I can’t remember which song I was listening to yesterday that we were singing as a demo and I remember thinking, man, we are singing dead on pitch. It was like a one-take thing. It wasn’t something that we went back on and dealt with digitally. This was something that we sang right there and it was very impressive to me.
M.S. I’m sure that that stuff is going to impress a lot of other people as well. Is there something that you recorded with the Springfield that’s a particular favorite?
R.F. You mean overall, in general.
M.S. Yes. Something that you sang!
R.F. Oh golly. From my own personal standpoint, “Sad Memory,” because when I sang “Sad Memory” it wasn’t even planned on being on a record. It was something that I was doing while I was waiting for Steve, Bruce, Dewey and Neil to show up at the studio. I was just getting some acoustic sounds and all. Then Neil came in and heard the song and really liked it. The song held a real special place in my heart, and he said I want to record on this right away. That was impressive. I think some of the songs that we sang together such as “Go and Say Goodbye” or even “Sit Down I Think I Love You” from the early thing, they were songs that hold a special place for me. I would have to go back to that first record. “ Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It.” I really related to that song. But some of the songs that never got put out, “So You’ve Got A Lover,” I really like that song of Steve’s. “Bluebird” was the song that I thought was going to launch our career. I didn’t think it would be “For What It’s Worth.” I thought it would be “Bluebird” because it was probably around about that same time when we were working it out. I was taken completely by surprise by the success of “For What It’s Worth.”
M.S. Looking at the recording dates in the booklet this stuff was all recorded in a very short time frame, barely two years. With so many other 60s, ’70s bands that have had reunions is there a significant reason why the Buffalo Springfield never had one and is it too late now?
R.F. I think the busy-ness of both Stephen and Neil’s career had a lot to do with that and who is to say whether or not this group will give people the opportunity to see it live again. I don’t know. Certainly you have to read into “Buffalo Springfield Again” that Neil put on his last record and say “what is he thinking here?” because if it does happen and I do believe that the heart and soul of that band in 1965 and 1966 was Steve, I think that it will be Neil’s call if we do get together. He’ll say “okay you guys what do you think, let’s try this.” He did while he was putting all together. He had Bruce and Dewey come over and I know they sat down and played a few songs together. Who knows what is going on in Neil’s mind. He would not let me leave the studio or the ranch until I heard what they did. They were just playing an old fifties song and I can’t even remember what it was, but it was some old 50s song and they played it and he wanted me to hear it as if to say “These guys can still play.” Who knows what is in his mind and what will happen when this box-set comes out.
M.S. Personally I’d love to see it.
R.F. Wouldn’t that be something.
M.S. The real thing would be to do a Buffalo Springfield, Poco and Crosby Stills Nash & Young family event!
R.F. Oh my gosh that really would be something wouldn’t it.
M.S. What are your expectations for the box set?
R.F. From the commercial standpoint I do hope that people want to by the record, but for different reasons. I think that people that are Buffalo Springfield fans are going to want to hear this record, because it is not just another reissue of the three records that we did that they already have 15 different compilations of. This is something that is new. I think they are going to be able to say “this is a band that really had an impact on my life upteen years ago and now there is something new that I can hear from this band and the fact that all five members are still alive is something pretty interesting.” After 30 years we are all still here. In what shape I don’t know. We are all alive and we are all well. I think I want people to grab onto this and say, here’s some other things that they did that we have never had the chance to hear. They can hear some of the things that were going on in our lives as they go through the things that were written and the photos and everything. They are going to be able to go back and say this is an important part of me. It is interesting because music is an important of people’s lives and they relate to groups and they relate to what the group had to say and why they liked the music. So, any Springfield fan of years ago will really be able to latch onto this and say there is still more after we thought the well was dry.
M.S. Going away from the Springfield. I thought Poco was one of the all-time great, lively, feel-good bands. Is there any more things in the archives. I know they’ve released some stuff already, but is there any more, perhaps live shows?
R.F. I don’t know. From the time I recorded with them I don’t think that there is too much lying around from the time I was there. I know that Paul, Rusty and George and Jack are working on another project right now and I have told Rusty that I would certainly love to be a part of that. Whether or not if I am I don’t know. It’s all new stuff. I don’t know if there is anything that Rusty or Paul has done over the years that since I left the band that is still laying around, I don’t know. There might be some things with Tim.
M.S. Now you still sit in with them on occasion right?
R.F. Yes, whenever they are in town. They are coming back here to Colorado in July and if I am in town at the time I’ll certainly go out and see them because we still remain friends till this day.
M.S. I’m a little disappointed that your solo material such as I Still Have Dreams and I’ve Got A Reason are not available on CD. Has there been any talk of that?
R.F. That’s got be one of the most frustrating things for me, Mick. If you have any influence with anybody tell them hey listen go for it.
M.S. I just might put a bug in someone’s ear!
R.F. I think even Rhino, right now is interested in doing something with some of my solo music, because quite frankly it is music that has never been heard on a wide scale. People have heard it. I think it’s some of the best music that I wrote.
M.S. Was there no live Buffalo Springfield material that could have been included on the box-set?
R.F. I don’t think so. I just don’t think it is there. I wish even Monterey wasn’t there to tell the truth. From my point of view the best that did was at the Whiskey A Go Go and I am sure that that was never recorded. That’s when the band, as far as I am concerned, was at its best.