Buffalo Springfield bassist Bruce Palmer died Monday of an apparent heart attack; he was fifty-eight. Born in Canada in 1946, Palmer was an early collaborator with Neil Young, first in the Mynah Birds, a band that also featured the recently deceased Rick James. The group broke up after James was sent to prison for going AWOL from the military. Palmer and Young moved from Ontario to Los Angeles in the spring of 1966, making the journey in Young’s black hearse. The pair soon joined forces with Stephen Stills, drummer Dewey Martin and singer/guitarist Richie Furay to form Buffalo Springfield.
In just two years Buffalo Springfield captured the spirit of folk-rock protest with songs such as “For What It’s Worth,” and revealed a more rocking side with “Mr. Soul.” The group served as a springboard for some of the biggest bands of the late Sixties and early Seventies, with alums going on to form Crosby, Stills and Nash; Neil Young and Crazy Horse; Poco; and Loggins and Messina.
“There’s not a person who listened to the Buffalo Springfield that wasn’t drawn to the way he played bass,” says Furay. “He made the music move — Bruce was truly a musician’s musician. I consider it a privilege to have played with him in such a creative time in my life.”
Buffalo Springfield split in 1968 after two years and two albums, in part due to Palmer’s ongoing difficulties with U.S. immigration, which sought to deport him for a pair of marijuana-related convictions. Palmer left the group shortly before its break-up and was replaced by Jim Messina.
Palmer went on to record one solo album, 1971’s The Cycle Is Complete, recruiting his old bandmate Rick James to contribute percussion and vocals. More than a decade later, Palmer re-teamed with Young to join his live band and play on Young’s 1983 Trans. In the mid-Eighties, Palmer and Martin resurrected the Buffalo Springfield name, performing shows as Buffalo Springfield Revisited. The closest the group came to a full reunion was in 1988 when the original members got together for an informal rehearsal. Palmer told Rolling Stone in 2002 that the reunited Springfield sounded “terrific,” but plans for a reunion were scuttled when Young didn’t show up for the next scheduled rehearsal a few months later. “He just forgot,” Palmer said. “So we all said, ‘What’s the use?'”
An enigmatic stage presence, Palmer frequently performed with his back to the audience and was often photographed with his hair covering his face. “Bruce was the mysterious one in the group,” says Furay. “You may not have always known what he was thinking as he just looked at you and smiled, but when he plugged the bass in, there was no mistaking his life was truly about the music.”