Thursday, February 1, 2018

Repost: Buffalo Springfield - 1966

On the Sunset Strip in 1965 and 1966, an electrifying scene appeared from nowhere, exploding into a frenzy of creativity. So much astonishing music, art, and social revolt came from one place at one time that it's difficult to grasp how it all happened at once. From the moment The Byrds debuted at Ciro's (today’s Comedy Club) on March 26th 1965 (with Bob Dylan joining them onstage), right up to the riots of November 1966, Strip nightclubs featured The Doors, Love, Buffalo Springfield, The Mothers Of Invention, Captain Beefheart, The Turtles, The Mamas & The Papas, Joni, Jackson, James. The Strip was a hotbed as well for garage punk bands such as The Standells, The Electric Prunes, and The Seeds. Folk-rock and psychedelia were born there, while it was also a favorite hangout and inspiration for The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and The Velvet Underground. (Check out innumerable AM posts.)

When Neil Young arrived in February 1966, Los Angeles was already the pop capital of America. For a city so derided, usually by Californian rival San Francisco, for being "plastic," it’s ironic that folk was its mainstay. L.A. had not only The Byrds, but also the icons of new bohemian hipsterism Sonny & Cher. With year-round sunshine to nurture the muse, and LSD still legal, even those candy-striped squares The Beach Boys had gotten hip.

On March 3rd, 1966, Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay formed Buffalo Springfield in Los Angeles. Among the first wave of American bands to become popular in the wake of the British invasion, the group combined rock, folk, and country music into a sound all its own. Their million-selling song "For What It’s Worth" became a political anthem for the turbulent 60s.

Rewind: On Feb. 1, 1963, the 17-year-old Neil Young played his first professional gig at a country club in Winnipeg, as part of the group The Squires. Born in 1945, by 1958 Young had already begun his musical journey, learning his chords on a ukulele, a gift from his father. After his parents divorced, he settled with his mother in Winnipeg and formed his first band, the Jades, while a student there. That soon led to the Squires, who scored a local hit with a song titled ‘The Sultan.’ Neil dropped out of high school and was soon working the folk club scene, where he first met Joni Mitchell. He also scored his first hit as a songwriter when the Guess Who took his song "Flying on the Ground is Wrong" to the Top 40 in Canada. By '66 Young was playing in a group called the Mynah Birds, which featured future "Super Freak" star Rick James as its front man (how's that for nuts?). When The Mynah Birds disbanded, Young and bass player Bruce Palmer decided to try their luck in Los Angeles, where Young lived illegally until he got his green card in 1970. But that didn't stop he and Palmer from joining Stephen Stills, Ritchie Furay and Dewey Martin to form Buffalo Springfield, whose debut album in 1966 finally gave Young the commercial break he'd been looking for.

"We were living on Fountain Avenue, Los Angeles, and workmen were tearing up the street to do resurfacing," Furay recalled. "They were using these big steamrollers to flatten it all out, and they had a nameplate on the side-just two large words Buffalo Springfield. "

"We thought we were going to be together for about 15 years,because we knew how good it was," Young remembered. And he recalled in 1975 to Rolling Stone journalist Cameron Crowe, hanging out on Sunset Strip wasn't all work: "I loved the hearse [a 1948 Buick Roadster that Neil called Mortimer). Six people could be getting high and nobody would be able to see because of the curtains. The tray was dynamite. You'd open the side door and the tray whips right out onto the sidewalk.What could be cooler than that? What a way to make your entrance. Pull up to a gig and just wheel out all your stuff on a tray."

Within weeks of Buffalo Springfield forming, a less welcome development entered into Neil's life. He and Bruce Palmer were stoned, standing in a small crowd watching a man demonstrating a Vegematic kitchen slicer when Neil collapsed. He was having his first epileptic seizure, a condition he later addressed not only through prescribed medications, but with drugs and psychedelics. Two contributions to the self-titled Buffalo Springfield LP, "Flying On The Ground Is Wrong" and "Burned," alluded to bad trips – among the first in an era of psychedelic celebration.

 "For What It’s Worth" (Stills) announced to the world the frustration of American youth. In August 1966 the local citizenry and county sheriff imposed a curfew around the Sunset Strip club Pandora's Box, whose long haired clientele "deterred legitimate tourism." Protests followed and things turning ugly when the police weighed in with the night-sticks. Witnessing this upon return from a trip to Nicaragua, Stills was inspired: "All the kids on one side of the street, all the cops on the other side - in Latin America that meant there'd be a new government in about a week." Both a warning and a barricade-manning counter-culture rallying cry, "For What It's Worth" owes much of its power to Young's paranoid guitar. The age of protest had begun.