Dewey Martin dies at 68; drummer for Buffalo Springfield

Dewey Martin performs with Buffalo Springfield in a 1967 gig at the Whittier High School Auditorium. He played on "For What It's Worth," "Rock 'N' Roll Woman" and "Mr. Soul."
Dewey Martin performs with Buffalo Springfield in a 1967 gig at the Whittier High School Auditorium. He played on “For What It’s Worth,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Woman” and “Mr. Soul.”
(Don Kelsen / Los Angeles Times)

Dewey Martin, drummer for the short-lived but long-resonating rock band Buffalo Springfield whose career after the group split never ignited like those of his former band mates Neil Young and Stephen Stills, has died. He was 68.

He was found dead Sunday by a roommate in his Van Nuys apartment, longtime friend Lisa Lenes said Thursday. The cause of death has not been determined. “We believe it was natural causes,” Lenes said, adding that he had suffered health problems in recent years and performed publicly only sporadically.

Dewey Martin: The obituary of Buffalo Springfield drummer Dewey Martin in Friday’s California section gave the title of the song “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” as just “For What It’s Worth.” —

Martin was one of the founding members, along with Young, Stills, singer-songwriter-guitarist Richie Furay and bassist Bruce Palmer, of Buffalo Springfield, a key progenitor of country-rock music. The group existed for just two years and recorded only three studio albums before disbanding amid rising tensions and musical ambitions of the band’s talented but explosive leaders.

In his autobiography “Shakey,” Young praised Martin’s musical sensitivity. “You get harder, he hits harder. You pull back, he hits back. He can feel the music -- you don’t have to tell him.”

“It’s a great loss,” Micky Dolenz, drummer for the Monkees, said Thursday. Dolenz said he became close friends with Martin in the late ‘60s when both were working in and around Hollywood. “We never worked together, we just hung out a lot. We went to shows together at the Whisky and the Troubadour. He was a great drummer -- it’s a well-known fact. And he was a really nice guy.”

Martin played on Buffalo Springfield songs including “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound),” “Mr. Soul,” “Rock ‘N’ Roll Woman” and “Broken Arrow.” He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the group in 1997.

“He didn’t want to go to the induction,” Lenes said. “But I told him, ‘You need to be there, you need to be acknowledged.’ When I saw him on TV, it was so great.”

When Buffalo Springfield broke up, Young launched a solo career that’s still going strong 40 years later; Stills moved on to Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young) and Furay formed Poco, another early country-rock outfit. Martin’s fortunes remained closely tied over the years to his time with Buffalo Springfield.


An earlier version of this article gave the title of the song “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)” as just “For What It’s Worth.”

He first began performing as the New Buffalo Springfield with other musicians. “We have a more powerful sound . . . that’s the way I would compare it with the old group,” Martin told the Oakland Tribune in 1969. “Before it was east-going country-western. Now we’ve added some electronic sound devices and Jim Price on amplified trumpet and trombone.”

Stills and Young successfully sued to prevent him from using the name without their participation. Nevertheless, in the mid-’80s, he and Palmer toured as Buffalo Springfield Revisited, and for a time in the ‘90s Martin played shows as Buffalo Springfield Again, mostly in the Southland at venues such as the Taste of Newport in Newport Beach.

Guitarist Rick Corradini backed Martin as part of a pickup band for some of those shows. “He was a great guy and seemed as enthused to play with us bunch of guys as he was to play with those other hotshots,” Corradini said Thursday.

Martin was born Walter Milton Dewayne Midkiff on Sept. 30, 1940, in Chesterville, Canada, according to Buffalo Springfield scholar Nick Warburton’s Sixties Rock Archive website.

He moved to the United States looking for work as a musician and played on sessions in Nashville in the early-’60s. Even though Young and Palmer were also Canadians, they didn’t meet Martin until all had migrated to Los Angeles to take part in the burgeoning folk-rock scene here that was spearheaded by the Byrds.

Young, Stills and Furay had crossed paths previously, and when they reconnected in L.A. in 1966, they decided to start a new band. Within days of starting rehearsals with Palmer, they brought in Martin to handle drums. Nine days later, they opened an arena show for the Byrds in San Bernardino.

Byrds founding member Chris Hillman recently recalled touting the group to Whisky A Go-Go co-founder Elmer Valentine the first time he heard them, which led to a residency at the club that helped launch Buffalo Springfield’s career.

Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun quickly signed the group to his label at a time when he was trying to expand its roster into rock after years of focusing primarily on R&B, soul and jazz.

The group wasn’t a huge popular success at the time -- the highest any of its original three albums charted was No. 42, and “For What It’s Worth” -- which includes the line “Stop, hey, what’s that sound?” -- was its biggest hit, peaking at No. 7 in 1967. But the group’s songs, mostly written by Stills and Young, but also including some of Furay’s, have become an enduring part of the classic-rock canon.

Outside of his Buffalo Springfield incarnations, Martin formed several other groups, including Medicine Ball, which released one album that failed to chart. In recent years he’d worked on developing a new type of drum head.

Lenes said Martin would be buried in Canada at his family’s request, and that plans for a memorial service in the Los Angeles area were in the works. Information on his survivors was not immediately available.