Dewey Martin

  • Dewey Martin memorial
  • Courtesy of Nick Warburton

    dewey martinBorn Walter Milton Dwayne Midkiff in Chesterville, Ontario on Sept 30, 1940, Dewey Martin’s post-Buffalo Springfield career has never received the attention bestowed to his fellow cohorts Steven Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay. Like his erstwhile colleague, bass player Bruce Palmer, Martin struggled to maintain a profile in the aftermath of Buffalo Springfield’s premature demise. While Stills and Young found international stardom in the supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and as successful solo artists, and Furay as founder and guiding light of country-rock pioneers Poco, Martin’s own projects, the ill-fated New Buffalo Springfield and Medicine Ball quickly faded into obscurity. The fact that he revived the name of his former group suggests that Martin recognised his best hope of securing a musical future lay in carrying on where the old group had left off.

    Yet when Buffalo Springfield performed their final date on May 5, 1968, the prospect of anyone reviving the band’s name was an unlikely proposition. Initially, Martin’s plans involved going on the road as a duo with his wife Jane, but this idea never progressed beyond the statement he made to the music press that spring. Indeed, according to a Teen Set press release from August 1968, the Martins spent the best part of the summer playing golf, while Martin looked around for suitable players to back him in an unnamed group specialising in soul, country, blues and jazz.

    A month or so later, Martin’s band began to take on shape with the recruitment of three musicians that he’d spotted playing at a club in Phoenix, Arizona. Studio bass player Robert C Apperson, drummer/vocalist Don Poncher and lead guitarist Gary Rowles were old friends from the San Fernando Valley in California, but had only been playing as a band for a month. Rowles had organised the trio after leaving his previous employer Nooney Rickett.

    A short while later, Rowles and his former colleagues from Rickett’s band, drummer George Suranovich and bass player Frank Fayad were approached by Arthur Lee of Love, who was searching for a new support band, post-Forever Changes. Rowles however, had already made a commitment to Martin by this point, a decision he’d come to regret later.

    Back in L.A, the quartet added session horn player Jim Price and (no relation) rhythm guitarist/vocalist David Price, an old college friend of Mike Nesmith’s from San Antonio who’d been closely involved with The Monkees’ studio work. David Price had acted as Davy Jones’s stand in and also appeared as an extra in many of the episodes of the popular TV show, most notably as the chemist in The Prince and The Pauper. It was his close ties with The Monkees that brought him into contact with Martin (Dewey had played on several Monkees sessions and was part of that group’s social circle).

    In late October, Martin’s group relocated to Boulder, Colorado for three weeks to rehearse material (mixing old Springfield songs with band originals like Jim Price’s “The Pony Express Man”) and to play some warm up gigs. It may well have been during this period that the decision was made to adopt the Buffalo Springfield moniker. According to Gary Rowles, none of the group was a party to the decision and only realised the fact when they started turning up at concerts only to find the band billed as “New Buffalo Springfield”. The fateful decision to use the name would subsequently lead Rowles and others to desert Martin’s band once Stills and Young took legal action. He suspects the band’s manager, Mike Zalk, was instrumental in persuading Martin to use the name.

    Whatever the circumstances behind the decision, The New Buffalo Springfield soon hit the road. On November 16, they opened for The Turtles at the Honolulu International Center in Hawaii, and soon afterwards joined The Sir Douglas Quintet for a concert date in Salt Lake City. More shows followed, including an appearance at the Exhibit Hall in the Community Concourse in San Diego, which was greeted with muted response. Critic Mike Martin who was in attendance was not convinced and felt the “whole scene was a cheap ride on the well-earned fame of the Buffalo Springfield. Regrettably, someone is making money off the deception.”

    Neither Stills nor Young were in California at the time, and it was only later when they caught wind of what was happening. In fact, it was probably Furay who alerted them to the deception after his new outfit (then called Pogo) noticed that Martin’s bogus group was playing across town on the weekend of December 25-26. On that occasion, Pogo were performing at the Fillmore West in San Francisco while Martin’s band was taking part in the highly publicised Holiday Rock Festival, held at the Cow Palace. The show was New Buffalo Springfield’s biggest concert date so far and also featured top acts, Canned Heat and Steppenwolf among others.

    As Rowles recalls, Mike Zalk pulled out all the stops and hired the local hell’s angels to escort the band in its limousine to the palace! Despite the festivities, many no doubt had been led to believe that the original group had reformed for a one-off date. Having caught wind of Martin’s activities, Furay presumably contacted Stills, who was back in L.A. after a brief stint in London rehearsing his new project, Crosby, Stills & Nash.

    Early in the New Year, Stills and Young took legal action to prevent Martin from using the name. Martin retaliated but lost the case, and with it his royalties. Nonetheless, he refused to give up and simply shortened the name to New Buffalo. While all this was going on, Jim Price took the opportunity to find employment elsewhere joining Leon Russell and later Delaney & Bonnie’s backing group. Robert Apperson and Gary Rowles also dropped out – Apperson subsequently pursued session work, while Rowles found employment with Love, the group he’d been asked to join the previous autumn, later appearing on the album False Start.

    In February 1969, Billboard magazine revealed that Martin’s band (still called New Buffalo Springfield, and presumably still containing David Price and Don Poncher) had been signed by Atlantic Records to record an album. For some reason these plans never materialized and the remaining members spent the next six months or so playing small club dates, largely around the Northwest, abetted by a succession of side musicians. Who exactly these musicians were is not clear, although it’s rumoured that former Bobby Fuller Four member and brother Randy Fuller was among them. Lead guitarist Joey Newman (aka Vern Kjellberg) from Northwest groups Don and The Goodtimes, The Liberty Party and Merrilee Rush & The Turnabouts (and L.A. outfit Touch) may also have been involved.

    Whatever the case, it wasn’t long before Martin found himself searching for new musical avenues, as the new line-up demanded more of a say in the way the group was run. In July, Martin broke away from New Buffalo and signed a solo deal with Uni Records. Shortly afterwards, he returned to the studio and, abetted by several session musicians (including guitar ace James Burton), recorded a version of the country favourite “Jambalaya (On the Bayou)” backed by his own composition “Ala-Bam”, as a prospective single. Still under the musical direction of Mike Zalk, his former group meanwhile changed its name to Blue Mountain Eagle and recorded an eponymous album for Atco Records. Listening to it, the record bares all the hallmarks of the Buffalo Springfield sound.

    By the time Blue Mountain Eagle’s album appeared in the shops in January 1970, Martin was busy working on his next project, which was a more straightforward country-rock affair. The seeds of the new group, later to be called Medicine Ball, had been sown in the autumn of 1969 shortly after the release of his solo single “Jambalaya (On The Bayou)”. Credited to Dewey Martin, the single attracted little attention and even fewer sales, although this probably had something to do with the fact that only a handful of copies were pressed. Undeterred, Martin set about piecing a new group together with 12-string guitarist John Noreen, a former member of folk-rock band The Rose Garden – and best known for scoring a top 20 US hit in 1967 with “Next Plane to London”.

    Martin and Noreen initially recruited a bass player called Terry (no one remembers his surname) and two musicians (a guitarist and drummer), who’d just come off the road with pianist Billy Preston. However, a few weeks before Christmas, Martin ran into lead guitarist Billy Darnell in Nudie’s tailors and asked him to join the fledging group. It wasn’t the first time the two had met.

    Born in Michigan and raised in the San Fernando Valley, Darnell first bumped into Martin during a session break for Buffalo Springfield Again in late 1967. Popping out to buy some drum sticks from a local music store, Martin noticed Darnell playing “Go and Say Goodbye” on a guitar and the pair immediately struck up a rapport. Though Martin subsequently invited Darnell back to the studios to watch Buffalo Springfield record, the pair wouldn’t meet again for another year, when Darnell found his band opening for New Buffalo Springfield on a couple of southern Californian dates.

    Darnell’s previous musical accomplishments were modest – besides working with a Hollywood band called The Orphans and playing a couple of local dates with Albert King, his other notable achievement was doing session work for Dave Allen & The Arrows. Nevertheless, Darnell would ultimately become Medicine Ball’s longest serving member and would continue to work with Martin, on and off, over the next three decades. Within days of Darnell’s arrival, Martin decided to dispense with the drummer and guitarist and the remaining quartet began rehearsing in a studio in the San Fernando Valley.

    The rehearsals lasted only a few weeks however, as Martin and Darnell became disenchanted with Noreen and the bass player and began looking around for fresh blood. To fill the bass slot, Martin turned to an old acquaintance from the Northwest scene, Terry Gregg, who was formerly a member of Merrilee Rush & The Turnabouts. A few weeks later the group was expanded with the addition of singer/songwriter and guitarist Ray Chafin and keyboard player Peter Bradstreet.

    While Chafin’s involvement with Medicine Ball would prove to be brief, Bradstreet, like Darnell, became another Medicine Ball mainstay. He’d also later co-found the country-rock band Electric Range with Darnell in the early ’90s. Born in Chicago and raised in Buffalo and Dayton, Bradstreet had moved out to L.A. in late 1969 and was playing in a trio with his old friend, singer/songwriter John Alden and folk musician Dave Garrison when Martin spotted him.

    With Darnell arranging material and former Rolling Stones engineer Dave Hassinger producing, Medicine Ball entered the studios in early 1970 to record two group compositions – Ray Chafin’s “The Devil & Me” and Peter Bradstreet and John Alden’s “I Do Believe”. While the strong material bode well for the group’s future, it soon became apparent that Medicine Ball was not going to be a democratic band; rather it was merely a vehicle for Dewey Martin’s solo career. This realisation led Chafin and Gregg to move on after the first session and in their place, Martin recruited former Sir Douglas Quintet bass player Harvey Kagen and ex-Blue Mountain Eagle member Randy Fuller on rhythm guitar and vocals. Martin also began to take over production duties from Hassinger and the new line-up proceeded to cut three more tracks – Martin’s “Indian Child”, a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby”, (which Darnell claims Fuller was originally going to sing) and Bradstreet’s “Race Me On Down”.

    A rare photo of Medicine Ball was taken up in Decker Canyon before further personnel changes ensued. Next to leave were recent recruits Fuller and Kagen, who were replaced by session steel guitar ace Buddy Emmons and former Danny Cox bass player Stephen Lefever. Around the same time, Billy Darnell also left Medicine Ball (albeit temporarily) following a dispute over his guitar solo on “Maybe Baby” – and Martin invited his former Buffalo Springfield cohort Bruce Palmer to record one of his own compositions, the raga “Recital Palmer”. Darnell agreed to return to Medicine Ball on a session basis a few weeks later and contributed to the final sessions, which culminated in the recording of five tracks.

    Amid all this activity, Martin received some much-needed exposure in the national music press when a Billboard article entitled “Dewey Martin As Innovative Producer” appeared discussing the fruits of the sessions. In the review, published in July 1970, Martin revealed that he had been “using pan techniques in recording drums, steel guitar and strings”. The supposed advantage of using such effects was that an instrument could “move from one channel to another”.

    However, despite the advances in the studio, the group was slowly imploding. Following the final sessions, Peter Bradstreet dropped out (he subsequently reunited with Darnell in Doug Kershaw’s road band) and a new short-lived line up featuring Martin and Darnell alongside bass player Tom Levy and singer/songwriter and pianist Charles Lamont, formerly a member of Alexander’s Timeless Bloozband came together. The quartet were given a studio in Universal City to rehearse, but despite working on some interesting jazz-inspired material, the project quickly fell apart.

    While Martin struggled to keep Medicine Ball together, Uni released the group’s eponymous album, which attracted a positive write up in the August edition of Variety magazine. Indeed, although it has often been slighted, there is much to commend it. With the exception of a few tracks, the album stands up surprisingly well and this is largely due to the group’s stellar performances and Martin’s careful choice of material. As he had indicated in Billboard in July, Martin had selected all the songs for the album “looking first at the lyrics”, since the album was his first vehicle as a singer.

    Among the highlights are covers of Jim Ford’s sprightly “Right Now Train”, two introspective Ron Davies songs – “Silent Song Thru’ The Land” and “Change”, and the excellent Bradstreet/Alden collaboration “I Do Believe”. (Incidentally, Bradstreet and Alden composed a number of songs during this period including, “Gone Under No Uncertain Terms”, apparently a reference to Darnell’s brief departure, which would be recorded some 25 years later with their group Electric Range). Yet despite this positive review and the publicity surrounding the use of Martin’s composition “Indian Child” on the soundtrack to the film Angels Die Hard, Uni Records dropped the band shortly after the album’s release. A one-off single deal was struck with RCA and resulted in “Caress Me Pretty Music/There Must Be A Reason”, released in early 1971. While the single is credited to Dewey Martin & Medicine Ball, in reality the record is the work of session musicians brought in to back up Martin. Both tracks incidentally, are reminiscent of the music Martin was pushing with New Buffalo Springfield.

    The single pretty much ended Martin’s recording career; after producing an album for Truk, entitled Truk Tracks, and appearing on a late ’70s Hoyt Axton record, he dropped out of music for the rest of the ’70s and became a car mechanic. (Martin did briefly reunite with Darnell and bass player Tom Levy in the mid-’70s and worked with songwriter P F Sloan on a proposed album. The project however, failed to progress beyond the rehearsal stage.)

    During the mid-’80s, Martin did return to the drum stool reuniting with Bruce Palmer in the tribute group Buffalo Springfield Revisited in 1985. The band toured fairly extensively (an appearance at the Vietnam Veteran’s Benefit concert at the L.A. Forum in February 1986 being among the highlights) and recorded a version of Neil Young’s “Down To The Wire”, before Martin opted out.

    Reunited with Darnell, Martin worked with a short-lived band called Pink Slip. The group, which also included former Byrds bass player John York and ex-Crazy Horse guitarist Michael Curtis, gigged informally in the San Fernando area, but never recorded any material. At the same time, Darnell, Martin and York made a demo with former Eagle Randy Meisner, which resulted in both Darnell and Martin being recruited in to Meisner’s band Open Secret. Led by ex-Firefall singer Rick Roberts, and also featuring Bray Ghiglia, Open Secret subsequently changed name to the Roberts-Meisner Band.

    Darnell and Martin however, soon lost interest and dropped out to form a new group with Michael Curtis and former Al Stewart bass player Robin Lamble, which went under the name Buffalo Springfield Again. Not surprisingly, Martin’s latest project soon ran foul of the other original members, most notably Richie Furay, who took legal action to prevent him from using the name. Martin retired from the live work soon afterwards and since then has been busy developing his own drum rib.

    Despite the quality of musicianship, Martin’s post-Buffalo Springfield work with New Buffalo Springfield and Medicine Ball failed to capture the public’s imagination. Nevertheless, the Medicine Ball album includes some first-rate material that, arguably, is comparable with the work produced by Martin’s erstwhile colleagues from The Buffalo Springfield. The album’s release on CD, including the non-album tracks, is long overdue.

    On Jan. 31, 2009, Martin was found dead by his room-mate in his Van Nuys, California apartment. It’s reported he had health problems in recent years, and apparently had died of natural causes. He was 68.

  • With notes from Dan Brisebois, Trevor Brooke, Carny Corbett, Billy Darnell, John Einarson, Randy Fuller, Jerry Fuentes, David Peter Housden, Don Poncher, and Gary Rowlesn.

Neil Young