For What It’s Worth: An Interview with John Einarson

Posted: April 27, 2018 in 1960s, 1990s, 1997, Buffalo Springfield, Neil Young, Stephen Stills
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While digging through my digital archives, I came across this 1997 email interview I conducted, for my old website, with Canadian rock music historian John Einarson, author of such respected tomes as Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied, Desperados: The Roots of Country Rock, and Hot Burritos: The True Story of the Flying Burrito Brothers, about his then-current There’s Something Happening: The Story of the Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth.

It was, and remains, the best book on that influential band.

**********

To my way of thinking, despite recent acclaim and their induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the Buffalo Springfield remain one of the most overlooked and under appreciated bands that the 1960s produced. That’s an arguable fact, I’ll grant you. After all, “For What It’s Worth” is the song de rigueur used in movies to echo the mood of the ’60s … yet, blank stares still grace too many faces whenever the band is mentioned. “Buffalo who?”

Hell, the day of the Springfield’s entrance into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I listened in horror as a disc jockey at a local, respected music station reported the news and then went on to describe the band’s lineup as including “Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay, and David Crosby.” Excuse me? Crosby!? Yeah, he did hang out with Stephen Stills; he’s said to have come up the guitar lick Stills based “Rock & Roll Woman” on. He sat in with them at Monterey Pop, joined them at a couple other gigs. But a member of the band?

You’ve gotta be kidding me.

The David Crosby “saga,” such as it is, receives its rightful mention in John Einarson and Richie Furay’s book, There’s Something Happening: The Story of the Buffalo Springfield – For What It’s Worth, with colorful quotes from Bruce Palmer (“Crosby stunk to high heaven”) and fill-in guitarist Doug Hastings. The same can be said for every other important event in the band’s lifespan and beyond, including an ill-fated “reunion” in 1988 that Neil Young skipped at the last minute. Einarson does a deft job of documenting these moments, interspersing a crisp narrative with first-hand observations from some, if not all, of the participants.

Aside from delving into the inner-group dynamics that drove (and ultimately broke up) the band, the book is thankfully respectful of private lives. This is no tell-all/groupie-laden chronicle, in other words, but a serious examination of the Springfield’s career. That’s not to say you don’t get clear pictures of the principles. Stills, for example, comes across confident and cocky, a young man sure of himself and his talents. He strove not only to write and sing the songs, but play lead guitar, too. In short, he saw the band as his. Neil Young, on the other hand, didn’t just doubt his role in the Springfield; he doubted the group itself. That he skipped out on the eve of their biggest break – an appearance on The Tonight Show – says it all. He possessed (still does) a distinct vision of what rock music should and shouldn’t be. And in the shadows of those two opposites stood the good-natured Richie Furay, not necessarily content with his role but accepting of it all the same.

OGC: What led you to write a book about the Buffalo Springfield?

John Einarson: The idea to do a Springfield book stemmed from several factors, really: the subject seemed logical given that I covered Neil’s career up to that point in a previous book [Neil Young: Don’t Be Denied]; I have always had a great appreciation and fascination with the Springfield’s music and troubled history; and because there is a strong Canadian connection and all my previous books tend to have that thread through them. But besides that, I’ve always been a Springfield fan. I’m probably dating myself here but I first got into the Buffalo Springfield in late 1966/early 1967 when I first heard their debut album on the radio here in Winnipeg. Neil was home for Christmas and he brought a copy with him and a local deejay played it (actually Neil only lived up the block and one street over from me). I was fascinated with the Springfield sound because I was into folk rock and I found their style unique from the Byrds and other folk-based groups at the time. “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” ranks as my personal all-time favorite song.

OGC: What role did Richie Furay play in the book’s creation?

Einarson: Richie was my main source on the group. I found him extremely open, receptive and eager to get the Springfield story documented accurately and completely. The group holds a very special place in his heart and he didn’t want a toss-off book. I spent four days with him in Boulder, Colorado in intense interviews, plus several lengthy follow-ups by phone. Throughout the entire research and writing process, Richie was directly involved and approved the final manuscript. Given his participation, the book becomes the authentic, authorized story of the Springfield. Richie and I first hooked up back in 1992 at Neil Young’s suggestion when I was researching Don’t Be Denied. When I decided to pursue a Springfield book, I first contacted him because I viewed his participation as pivotal to the book’s development. We renewed our friendship and took it from there. He is a man of integrity who had no particular agenda or axe to grind. He tells it like it was. And you couldn’t meet a nicer guy than Richie. He also provided me with contacts to interview other people associated with the group and loaned his scrapbooks and rare collection of photos which appear throughout the book.

OGC: While doing your research, did you discover anything that surprised you?

Einarson: TONS!! Where to begin? It’s all in the book I guess. When I undertake a project, whether an article or a book, I immerse myself in research in order to be well-prepared for interviews, Actually Richie was knocked out at my detailed knowledge and chronology. However, given that I had a more than casual knowledge of the group’s checkered history I was still overwhelmed with the volume of new information I discovered. For example, Neil’s epilepsy was a far greater issue than ever assumed and affected the band several times (even being the catalyst for “Mr. Soul”). I never envisioned the enormity of the Stills-Young rivalry. The attempt to oust Dewey for Skip Spence. The influence of two Moby Grape songs on “For What It’s Worth.” The whole Au Go Go Singers and Company story. The sheer volume of songs recorded yet left unreleased (and still languishing in vaults unheard). The problems putting Last Time Around together. That the group considered going on as a 4 piece on two occasions. Neil’s self-indulgence and lack of commitment. Bruce’s many drug busts. The fact that their bass position was far more in flux than I realized. The fact that the group had decided to break up long before their May, 1968 swansong. The ineptitude of their managers…. and on and on. It was quite a revelation, albeit pleasant.

OGC: Were you able to interview all of the principles? What were they like?

Einarson: I interviewed just about everyone in or associated with the group plus key contemporaries at that time. As well, I interviewed people associated with several members’ previous groups like the Au Go Go Singers, and Squires. I had interviewed Neil Young a few years back while researching Don’t Be Denied and we had talked about the Springfield so I had that already, a lot I hadn’t used in that book. Stephen Stills was a different story though. He refused to cooperate. Richie, who collaborated with me, was disappointed that Stephen refused all entreaties to cooperate even after he personally attempted to break through. It seems Stephen doesn’t share the same regard for the past as some others do and I was informed that he was planning his own book down the road sometime. But by collaborating with Richie, it gives the book a unique perspective because he was the man in the middle between these two creative yet often combative factions, Stephen and Neil. His insights into their personalities are quite revealing. I did manage to interview several dozen key people such as Dickie Davis, Dewey Martin, Doug Hastings, Bruce Palmer, Miles Thomas, Rusty Young, Chris Hillman and notorious manager Charlie Greene.

OGC: Don’t Be Denied covers Neil’s early years. For What It’s Worth picks up with the Springfield. Do you have plans to document the next “chapter(s)” in Neil’s career

Einarson: No, I’ll leave that to others more knowledgeable about his later period. My expertise is in the early years and every book written on Neil Young since Don’t Be Denied was published has borrowed from my research and acknowledged my work. That’s where my interest lies. I’m currently collaborating on a European CSNY book that will cover each of the four members from the earliest years up to today. Several writers are involved and I’m doing Young and Stills’ early period up to the end of the Springfield.

OGC: Are you a fan of Neil’s post-Springfield work? Stephen’s? Richie’s?

Einarson: I like some things from each of them. I liked Neil’s work through to the end of the 70s but sort of lost interest since 1990, the godfather of grunge period. I loved Richie with Poco and the Souther Hillman Furay Band. I still think he has one of the best country-rock voices around and hope he gets back to performing. I guess out of the three I followed Stephen’s solo career less, though I love Crosby, Stills & Nash, still do. That debut album was phenomenal.

OGC: The portion of For What It’s Worth that dealt with the possibility of David Crosby’s joining the band fascinated me. Do you really think he would have joined if Stills had asked? Or, as he claimed on a radio show a few months after Monterey Pop, was his sitting in with them just in keeping with the times?

Einarson: David denied it again when I posed the question to him while researching the book but I think that he might have jumped ship if the timing had been right. If Stephen had asked at the point when the Byrds kicked Crosby out, in the fall after Monterey, I think he might have accepted. But by then Neil and Bruce were back and it was full steam ahead. There’s no question that once the Springfield members had decided to call it a day, Stills phoned Crosby first. Chris Hillman still maintains that Crosby wanted to be a Buffalo more than a Byrd by 1967. Certainly the Springfield were more creative than the Byrds by then. Who knows. Interesting that for a brief time three Buffalos–Stills, Young, & Palmer–were together with Crosby and Nash in CSNY. But David didn’t like that very much.

OGC: Would you agree with the assessment that the Springfield was “Stephen’s band”?

Einarson: Yes. Now that’s not to negate the contributions of the others but from the outset Stephen Stills set the course, arranged the music, made most of the major decisions, conducted most of the interviews as spokesman, and wrote the most commercially successful songs. To the average person at that time, the Buffalo Springfield was the voice of Stephen Stills. And he hung on until the end still trying to make the group work. One can see how someone as singularly focused as Neil Young could have problems with that, especially after “For What It’s Worth” became a hit.

OGC: Overall, where would you rate the Springfield in the pantheon of rock ‘n’ roll?

Einarson: Right near the top. Their influence shaped the sound and style of so many other artists that followed them. The Springfield’s folk rock was quite different from the Byrds or anybody else at that time, drawing instead on an earlier folk tradition that incorporated acoustic and electric guitars together laying down intricate lines woven around each other. Theirs was a truly unique sound that later found success in groups like The Eagles. As well, their emphasis on developing individual singer/songwriting styles within one group, as evidenced by their Again album which is highly diverse, helped set that whole singer/songwriter trend of the early seventies and the whole California country rock/soft rock genre. Their induction into the Hall of Fame, a group who really only scored one Top Ten hit not even a Number 1 record in a brief two year lifespan, is testament to their importance to the development of rock music. Almost all their recorded work was never fully appreciated because it was ahead of its time. That masterpieces like “Bluebird,” “Expecting To Fly,” and “Rock And Roll Woman” could fail to crack the Top 40 remains bewildering. Unfortunately when people think of the Springfield, they tend to focus on who came out of it and the success achieved by the individual band members following the demise of the group.

OGC: What’s the next project on tap?

Einarson: That’s always a secret. I just might take on a project in a completely different direction. I currently have a couple of offers and some irons in the fire. Doing the Buffalo Springfield story was a personal dream of mine that I am very pleased to have fulfilled. I hope it brings many more people back to their music and maintains their legacy.

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