Dewey Martin: Drummer with Buffalo Springfield

Spencer Leigh
Saturday 07 February 2009 01:00

Because Buffalo Springfield only existed for two years, many rock fans were surprised when the group was inducted into The Rock And Hallof Fame in 1997. Even more surprised were the members themselves, who had put aside their differences tobe together. The arrogant and aggressive Dewey Martin had not been an ideal team member, but the band did create some remarkably good and inventive music.

Walter Milton Dewayne Midkiff, who became Dewey Martin, was born in Chesterville, Ontario in 1940. He started playing drums for a school band, the Jive Rockets, and graduated to several local bands. He moved to Nashville in the early 1960s in the hope of picking up sessions and although it was very much a closed shop, he did occasional work for the Everly Brothers and Carl Perkins.

In 1964, in the wake of the British invasion and now living in Los Angeles, he formed Sir Raleigh and the Coupons and released several singles including a rock version of "The White Cliffs of Dover". In 1965, he played drums for the surfing band, the Standells, and then spent time in the Dillards. The Dillards had beenmoving towards rock but, in April 1966, decided on a more traditional sound without a drummer and Martin was sacked. However, Doug Dillard told him of a new band that was looking for a drummer.

That was the embryonic Buffalo Springfield, so called because they saw a steamroller made by the Buffalo-Springfield Roller Company. The musicians included fellow Canadians Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, and Americans, Stephen Stills and Richie Furay. They had recruited a drummer, Billy Mundi, but he had moved on and Martin arrived at an opportune time. Chris Hillman of the Byrds secured them a residency at the Whisky a Go Go in Los Angeles. Stills and Young had difficulty in working together and Martin knew how to fire them up, but they appreciated his talent. Young said, "He feels the music: you don't have to tell him."

Their debut album, Buffalo Springfield, featuring seven songs by Stills and five by Young, was released in December 1966 and was followed by a US hit single, "For What It's Worth". Stills had written the song about heavy-handed police reaction to student demonstrations, and Dennis Hopper called it "the most revolutionary song of our times". Although Martin did not write any of the song, he claimed he had fuelled Stills's creativity by supplying him with LSD. Martin's percussion on the single, inspired by Lee Dorsey's "Get Out Of My Life, Woman", is his finest moment and he supplies backing vocals.

Buffalo Springfield was a disparate group, partly evidenced by theirclothing, to which there was no uniform style – Neil Young was in fringed buckskins, while Martin wore trendy fashions. Young frequently announced he was leaving, but replacing himwith Doug Hastings was short-lived. Jim Messina came in for Bruce Palmer following an arrest for drug possession. Their second album, Buffalo Springfield Again (1968), was as diverse as the Beatles' White Album, and Martin sang lead on "Good Time Boy". Being the most experienced member of the band, he wanted more say in its direction and fancied a Tamla Motown sound.

Following further arrests and an argument after a concert in Long Beach, California, the group split up in May 1968 and their leftovers were released in the disappointing Last Time Around. A few months laterMartin, then drinking heavily, formed the New Buffalo Springfield, butStills and Young took exception and Martin was prevented from using the name. Following an agreement to abandon future royalties from Buffalo Springfield's recordings, Martin was allowed to work as New Buffalo. He attempted to retrieve his rights in 1974 and though the matter was settled out of court, he felt that he had been mistreated.

In 1969, Martin formed the heavy rock band Medicine Ball with Bruce Palmer and they recorded "Indian Child", which he wrote. Again, though, his heavy drinking made him unreliable and he had the embarrassment of being dismissed from a tribute band, Blue Buffalo. He became a car mechanic and in 1983, a religious experience made him change his ways and he joined AA. In 1986, he joined Bruce Palmer's band, Buffalo Springfield Revisited, but he fell out with Palmer, forming Buffalo Springfield Again in 1991. In 1993 he retired from the business but he was happy to talk to fans and was proud of his work.

Walter Milton Dewayne Midkiff (Dewey Martin), drummer: born Chesterville, Ontario 30 September 1940;married; died Van Nuys, California 31 January 2009.

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