They put out three albums and had only one top 10 single, but by their final gig—on May 5, 1968—Buffalo Springfield had helped shape the music of the hippie generation. Between Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, Neil Young, Dewey Martin, Bruce Palmer, and, later, Jim Messina, they managed to incorporate blues, folk, and country into a new kind of rock & roll that captured the freewheeling, collective spirit of the time and blew open doors for the fledgling country-rock sound. After seeing kids and cops tangle in an L.A. riot, 22-year-old Stills wrote the group’s 1967 hit, ”For What It’s Worth,” which-with its haunting opening line, ”There’s something happening here”— became a Flower Power anthem.
But Buffalo Springfield, which pulled its name off the side of a steamroller, fell victim to what Stills recalls as ”Hollywood pressure”: ”We were becoming very famous very quickly . And when you first start out, all that stuff is really strange—as we just found out from the unfortunate situation in Seattle with Nirvana.” Clashes with managers over finances, and Young’s departure for a solo career, brought an end to the group after just two years. Furay, joined by Messina, formed Poco; Palmer went solo; Martin disappeared after trying to use the Springfield name to front another band. By the summer of ‘68, a new success story had begun: Stills got together with ex-Byrd David Crosby and Graham Nash (from the Hollies) to form Crosby, Stills & Nash. Shortly after CSN’s first album came out in 1969, Young came aboard as well.
Their distinctive sound—ethereal harmonies with a rock sensibility—made them an instant smash. The collaboration has continued ever since, in various configurations of C, S, N, and sometimes Y. But what has been widely reported as repeated breakups and reunions due to clashing egos turns out to have been careful planning. According to Crosby, 52, Stills, 49, and Nash, 52, speaking from an L.A. studio where they’re making a new album, CSN&Y were driven by an agreement based on their experience with Buffalo Springfield and the other bands. ”We started it coming out of groups where we had been locked into a role and locked into a group,” says Crosby. ”So we built in a great degree of freedom when we put this one together.” That freedom has enabled the 48-year- old Young, in particular, to pursue a solo career in which he has reinvented himself nearly as many times as Madonna. At the same time, CSN&Y have remained true to their original spirit, and even to that of Buffalo Springfield.
The producer and record mogul David Geffen thinks Buffalo Springfield’s music holds up as well now as it did in ‘68. ”Lots of great music has come out of all of them,” he says. ”Maybe it was too much talent to be contained in one group.”