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How Neil Young and Stephen Stills formed Buffalo Springfield in a traffic jam


Neil Young and Stephen Stills’ respective musical journeys began with heartbreak which diverted them to Los Angeles. The timing would be perfect, their paths colliding, and the duo formed Buffalo Springfield after a traffic jam proved to be the final slice of fortuitous luck they needed to get the project off the ground.

Before Buffalo Springfield, Young enjoyed a tiny taste of success with his previous band. However, things ended disastrously for the group, and he was back at square one. Young first met Bruce Palmer in Toronto and agreed to join The Mynah Birds, an outfit somewhat bizarrely fronted by super freak himself, Rick James.

The soul singer, at the time, had fled to Toronto to avoid being drafted into the U.S. Navy. Things would then turn sour in 1966 when the band’s manager apparently ‘lost’ their advance money from Motown and was fired in return for the mishap. Following an argument with the band over finances, the manager then informed Motown that James was AWOL from the Navy.

The singer was then taken into custody and incarcerated by the Navy, an incident which led Motown to scrap plans to release a Mynah Birds album, and Young’s dream was over. Following the singer’s incarceration, Young and Palmer were clueless as to what to do next. Then, on a whim, they decided to pack their bags, sell their belongings and drive to Los Angeles — a decision which inadvertently led to Buffalo Springfield being born.

Stephen Stills came to The Golden State with the same aspirations and soon landed an audition in The Monkees. After suffering rejection, Stills became intent on being the master of his destiny and decided he was forming a band. He didn’t want to go down the manufactured shortcut to success and, instead, wanted to head down the traditional route. Stills just needed to find some bandmates. His friend Richie Furay had already joined him on his journey to Los Angeles, and the two played in a group together in New York and made the move together in search of riches.

Stills had met Young a year earlier in 1965 in Ontario, and they got on famously. When Shakey arrived in LA, he began searching for Stills. He’d ask around at any venue in town to see if they knew where he was, but Young was getting nowhere. After a week of hunting Stills, Young and Palmer decided that it was time to head to San Francisco. Coincidentally, Stills, Furay, and their manager Barry Friedman found themselves stuck in a traffic jam when they clocked a black hearse heading out of town in the other direction. They honked, and they waved but got nowhere. Even though Stills didn’t see a driver, he knew nobody else apart from Young would be eccentric enough to drive that vehicle. Miraculously, they somehow changed lanes and caught up with the pair.

Shortly after, Young and Palmer headed back to Los Angeles, and Buffalo Springfield got underway. “It didn’t take any time before we all knew we had the right combination,” Young recalled in the Jimmy McDonough-penned biography Shakey. “These were people who had come to LA for the same reason, identical, all finding each other. Time meant nothing; we were ready.”

Young and Palmer would probably have returned to LA from San Francisco, found each other and started the band a few weeks later. However, things could just have quickly gone down a different route, and their two careers may have never aligned.

Buffalo Springfield was the catalyst that Neil Young needed to discover himself and begin his journey. Everything he’d done building his name in Canada was building up to this moment. He and Stills shared a collective hunger. Together they proved to be a perfect partnership with Buffalo Springfield and beyond.

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