Neil Young and Stephen Stills met in 1965, at the Fourth Dimension in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Young was there with the Squires, a Winnipeg group he had been leading since February 1963, and Stills was on tour with The Company, a spin-off from the Au Go Go Singers. When Stills' band broke up at the end of that tour, he moved to the West Coast, where he worked as a session musician and auditioned unsuccessfully for, among other bands, the Monkees. Told by record producer Barry Friedman there would be work available if he could assemble a band, Stills invited fellow Au Go Go Singers alumnus Richie Furay and former Squires bass player Ken Koblun to come join him in California. Both agreed, although Koblun chose to leave before very long and joined the group 3's a Crowd.
In early 1966 in Toronto, Young met Bruce Palmer, a Canadian who was playing bass for a group called the Mynah Birds. In need of a lead guitarist, Palmer invited Young to join the group, and Young accepted. The Mynah Birds were set to record an album for Motown Records when their singer Ricky James Matthews—James Ambrose Johnson, Jr., later known as Rick James—was tracked down and arrested by the U.S. Navy for being AWOL. With their record deal canceled, Young and Palmer headed for Los Angeles, where they encountered Stills.
Drummer Dewey Martin, who had played with garage rock group the Standells and country artists such as Patsy Cline and the Dillards, joined at the suggestion of the Byrds' manager, Jim Dickson. The group's name was taken from a brand of steamroller made by the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company. The new group debuted on April 11, 1966, at The Troubadour in Hollywood. A few days later, they began a short tour of California as the opening act for the Dillards and the Byrds.
Management and first recordings
Chris Hillman of the Byrds persuaded the owners of the Whisky a Go Go to give Buffalo Springfield an audition, and they essentially became the house band at the Whisky for seven weeks, from May 2 to June 18, 1966. This series of concerts solidified the band's reputation for live performances and attracted interest from a number of record labels. It also brought an invitation from Friedman to Dickie Davis (who had been the Byrds' lighting manager) to become involved in the group's management. In turn, Davis sought advice from Sonny & Cher's management team, Charlie Greene and Brian Stone; unbeknownst to Davis and Friedman, Greene and Stone then aggressively pitched themselves to the band to be their new managers. Friedman was fired, and Davis was made the group's tour manager. Greene and Stone made a deal with Ahmet Ertegün of Atlantic Records for a four-album contract with a $12,000 advance, following a brief bidding war with Elektra Records and Warner Bros. Records, and arranged for the band to start recording at Gold Star Studios in Hollywood.
The first Buffalo Springfield single, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing", was released in August, but made little impact outside Los Angeles, where it reached the Top 25. Young and Stills have long maintained that their own mono mix was superior to the stereo mix engineered by Greene and Stone. The band's eponymous album was released by the Atlantic subsidiary Atco in mono and in stereo in December 1966. A revamped version issued both in mono and stereo with a different track order was issued in March of the following year.
In November 1966, Stills composed "For What It's Worth" in response to a protest that had turned into a riot following the closing of a nightclub called Pandora's Box on Sunset Strip. The song was performed on Thanksgiving night at the Whisky a Go Go, recorded within the next few days, and on the air in Los Angeles on radio station KHJ soon afterwards. By March 1967, it was a Top Ten hit. Atco took advantage of this momentum by replacing the song "Baby Don't Scold Me" with "For What It's Worth" and re-releasing the album. "For What It's Worth" sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc.
Lineup changes and breakup
In January 1967, Palmer was deported for possession of marijuana. A number of different bassists were used, such as Mike Barnes, and Jim Fielder of the Mothers of Invention. Under these conditions work on the new album, tentatively titled Stampede, was markedly tense. Ever distrustful of Greene and Stone, Young and Stills bickered between themselves, and each insisted on producing the recording sessions for his own compositions. Furay, who had not written any songs for the first album, contributed three songs this time around.
Palmer returned to the group at the beginning of June, while Young was temporarily absent. (Guitarist Doug Hastings filled in for Young during this period.) The band, with David Crosby sitting in for Young, played the Monterey Pop Festival. Young returned in October, and the band severed ties with Greene and Stone, then divided its time between playing gigs and finalising the second album, ultimately titled Buffalo Springfield Again. Produced by Ertegün, Buffalo Springfield Again was released in November 1967. It includes "Mr. Soul", "Rock & Roll Woman", "Bluebird", "Sad Memory", and "Broken Arrow". The band toured as support for the Beach Boys during early 1968. In January of that year, after Palmer was again deported for drug possession, Jim Messina, who had worked as engineer on the band's second album, was hired as a permanent replacement on bass. During this period Young began to appear less and less frequently, and he often left Stills to handle lead-guitar parts at concerts. Recording sessions were booked, and all the songs that appeared on the final album were recorded by the end of March, usually with Messina producing. In April 1968, Young, Furay, and Messina were arrested for disturbing the peace after making too much noise during a party with Eric Clapton. Following a gig at the Long Beach Arena on May 5, 1968, the band held a meeting with Ertegun to arrange their breakup – Stills and Furay staying with Atlantic, Young going to Warner Brothers. Furay and Messina then compiled various tracks recorded between mid-1967 and early 1968 into the third and final studio album, Last Time Around (1968).