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Inside the All-Star Drug Bust That Helped Break Up Buffalo Springfield

Rhino
Rhino

An all-star rock and roll bust went down on March 20, 1968, and the implications for music history were huge.

Seems Buffalo Springfield were hanging out at the home of Stephen Stills‘s then-girlfriend, nestled in California’s Topanga Canyon, when Neil Young, Jim Messina, Richie Furay and Stills began a jam session with pal Eric Clapton. “They were partying … the Marshall amps were stacked,” friend Linda Stevens told Jimmy McDonough in the Neil Young biography Shakey. “Clapton and Stephen were playing so loud, the mountains were ringing. One of the neighbors didn’t think it was so cool.”

Even as the police were called, band member Dewey Martin was leaving. He saw the patrol car headed toward them, but “it was too late to warn the band,” Martin said. As the cops arrived, band members and friends tried valiantly to dispose of any illegal substance. “Being the road manager, they handed it all to me,” Chris Sarns said. “I tried to flush is down the toilet and the toilet backed up. The cops came running in the bathroom, and I’m sitting there looking at this pot floating around.”

Everyone there was arrested. Well, everyone except Stills, who managed to crawl out of a window and escape. The rest were hauled off to jail where, according to Jim Messina, Eric Clapton’s long hair and manner of dress – including pink boots – amused the cops. “They set him out front of us to humiliate him,” said Messina. “It was a time when long hair was not cool.”

Stills, in the meantime, already had phoned attorneys for his friends. All those arrested were found guilty only of disturbing the peace. Both Clapton and Young avoided any deportation threat, while Sarns received a fine of $300 and a three-month probation. Yet bad vibes surrounding this drug bust have been blamed in part for Buffalo Springfield’s eventual breakup. The band played their last concert just weeks later.

Sarns says that’s all the more distressing, since he’s always felt the bust was a set up. The police arrived in force, he claims, well after the music had stopped.

“Eight or ten cops turned up at 9:10 for a noise complaint – five sheriffs from Malibu, and five from West Hollywood, so they had to have planned this days in advance,” he told Uncut. “They were looking for an excuse.”

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