RICHIE FURAY – ” The Albums “

Posted: November 17, 2019 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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Richie Furay’s, Rock history career is a smorgasbord of tales of the lost and forgotten, of things that went awry and never quite were. But Richie Furay’s long and winding story jumps out.

Furay, now 72, stood at the epicenter of musical and cultural change from the 1960s into the 1970s. Onstage, he literally stood at the center of the Buffalo Springfield, the short-lived quintet that foreshadowed and implemented so many of the rapid, diverse musical changes then unfolding. Offstage, Furay played the talented buffer between the explosive egos of Neil Young and Stephen Stills. They were bigger, flashier artists who would keep driving the music’s evolution in then-undreamt-of directions—and in the process overshadow Furay’s own pioneering artistry.

What happened to Furay with Poco. The Springfield’s ashes were still warm in 1968 when he founded that band, with fellow Springfield refugee guitarist-producer Jim Messina. The quintet forged a model for the country-rock hybrid that would dominate airwaves and sales for decades, scored a few moderate hits and critical raves, and wowed crowds with their showmanship. But Gram Parsons, the Grievous Angel, aiming in his own ways at that target with the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, soon loomed larger: for starters, Furay wasn’t getting blasted with Keith Richards, and the Stones weren’t covering his songs. Messina left Poco to team up with Kenny Loggins, and others followed, including Furay in 1973.

In that era of “supergroups,” Furay joined forces with old pal Chris Hillman (Byrds, Burritos) and singer-songwriter J.D. Souther in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band for two uneven albums. The first went gold; the second tanked. To many, Furay, like the tired concept of supergroups, was starting to seem like a historical footnote.

That’s when pedal steel genius Al Perkins (Burritos, Manassas) started talking with him about Christianity. Worn out by record-biz bullshit, frustrated and disappointed by his career, his marriage on the rocks, Furay left L.A. for Colorado and became a believer. In 1976, he cut an early Christian rock album, ‘I’ve Got A Reason’; hardly anybody cared. In 1983, he quit music to become the culturally conservative pastor of Calvary Chapel, halfway between Denver and Boulder. Until 2007, he rarely performed. Then he formed a band, released a fine live two-CD set, toured briefly, and lapsed back into silence. Two years ago, he put out another solid album, and has been touring pretty steadily ever since.

Richie Furay wasn’t some sort of Zelig, luckily standing in the right places as the right times. His talents made him crucial to how events unfolded. He has a great, underrated voice and a high-energy, exuberant presence (two talents as important to a preacher as to a musician); has written a couple dozen classic tunes that clearly evince his complex musical craft and deft, surprising word play; and plays one helluva rhythm guitar. He deserves to be more than a footnote in the bands history he helped shape.

Our story begins in early 1960s New York City, where two young singers, Furay from Ohio and Stills from Texas, met in the folk-revival scene. Soon they worked together in a short-lived hootenanny group called Au Go Go Singers. On their album, against a pallid period-piece backdrop, Furay sings a Tom Paxton tune, “Where I’m Bound”

After the Au Go Go Singers fell apart on the road, Stills lit out for L.A., and discovered a fascinating scene in flux. Almost immediately, he was pushing Furay to follow him; the Monkees’ producer told Stills he’d find work once he assembled a band, so he went at that goal hard. Next came the fabled accidental meet-up with Neil Young and Bruce Palmer. Unable to locate Stills and Furay in L.A., the duo was heading to San Francisco in the 1953 Pontiac hearse they’d driven down from Canada, but got stuck in a traffic jam on Sunset Boulevard. Somebody spotted somebody else—who did what when in this oft-told origin story depends, as in Rashomon, almost entirely on who’s talking—and the foursome managed to get together. It was the birth of the Herd, soon to become the Buffalo Springfield—a name they all agree was copped from a sign on a steam roller.

Following their incredible sold-out six-week run at the Whisky A Go Go and record company offers and counteroffers, Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, looking for a handhold in this bustling L.A. scene, flew in from New York and signed the band for $12,000.

Initially, Furay was the Springfield’s front man. Young wrote the eccentric “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” their first single, but Furay, who’d learned it from Young months earlier back in New York, sang it. He also did the vocals for Young’s “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It?” and “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong”
Young likes to say the producers didn’t like his odd voice and he was paranoid about singing, and no doubt that’s true. After all, these particular producers’ chief claim to fame was discovering Caesar and Cleo, later known as Sonny and Cher; the Springfield unanimously hated the way their first album sounded, and afterwards basically produced themselves. But Furay delivered Young’s lyrics with characteristic nuance and conviction. “Clancy,” the band’s debut single in July 1966, became a regional hit and set them up for stardom.

Their stint in the Au Go Go Singers allowed Stills and Furay to work together more naturally. They easily shared and traded off vocals on early Stills tunes like “Sit Down I Think I Love You” and “Go and Say Goodbye” . That kept up through later Buffalo Springfield classics, like the raw, powerful “Hung Upside Down” from Buffalo Springfield Again.

In a telling musical and psychological touch, their contrasting vocals here personify two sides of the narrator’s mental anguish. A Child’s Claim To Fame Furay put his own pen to work too, on tasty tunes like “Sad Memory Can’t Keep Me Down, Words I Must Say My Kind of Love” and “Nobody’s Fool”.

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But what every Buffalo Springfield fan surely remembers are the brilliant, wistful country-rock “A Child’s Claim to Fame” and the immortal country-soul ballad “Kind Woman” If he’d only written and sung these two songs, Furay would probably have earned his 1997 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In mid-1968, Young left the band for the last time. Furay and Messina, who’d barely just joined the group when it disintegrated for good, pretty much pieced together the last Springfield album, compiled the excellent Retrospective and then launched Poco.

Now, of course, the whole idea of country-rock seems stupifyingly obvious, what with everyone from the Eagles to Waylon Jennings and 40 years’ worth of descendants working the vein everywhere from New York to Nashville to L.A.. So you have to go back to grasp how strange it seemed, in the context of the multiplying cultural rifts across America.

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Poco, reflecting Furay’s personality, set out to establish country-rock as a neutral zone for story-telling and musical experimentation. Furay outlined these themes in “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” the classic title track from their 1969 debut which, despite its seminal brilliance, wasn’t reissued on CD until 1995. The task brought out the best in Furay’s songwriting and confirmed his talents as one of rock’s most compelling front men; he wrote and sang almost all the songs on the band’s first two albums. Poco turned out to be ridiculously agile stylistically, a true child of the Springfield; it could rove easily from shit kicking twang to lovely ballads to heavy grunge. Messina dropped in tasty guitar licks from the books of James Burton, Albert King, and Steve Cropper. George Grantham’s drums could rock out and country-shuffle with the best, and his harmonies gave Poco’s vocals the Everly Brothers sound their material craved. Randy Meisner (who defected to the Eagles, to be replaced by Timothy B. Schmit, who’d do the same) contributed in-the-pocket, hard-driving bass and harmonies. Last but far from least was musical maniac Rusty Young on dobro, banjo, and pedal steel, which he often fed through add-ons like his organ pedal to yield spectacular sonic effects; as for showmanship, well, he set his axe on fire during their sole 1971 Carnegie Hall show. Yee-hah! with Furay’s carefully crafted songs unleashed Poco’s musical range to maximum advantage. The best Poco tunes bristle with interwoven parts: deceptively sly and sophisticated lyrics with textured vocal arrangements, endless hooks and catchy riffs, all layered so richly even a casual listen is likely to drop your jaw.

“What A Day” recycled and re-energized from its Buffalo Springfield days, kicks off their debut album with deliberate optimism and joy—and insistent rhythmic shape-shifting to get blood and feet moving. “Nobody’s Fool” a gorgeous bit of white boy soul; First Love and Tomorrow typically touching Furay ballads; and Short Changed a raunchy rocker—all showcase the band’s ability to genre-shift with the best.

But for unexpected twists are “Make Me Smile” and “Consequently So Long”. Then came the Souther-Hillman-Furay band with a Furay-penned hit, Fallin’ in Love the flight to Colorado and Christianity and bouts of silence until “Alive” in 2007. That double-album serves up a surprisingly good retrospective of many of Furay’s best songs, including Child’s Claim to Fame

In 2009, Furay’s past and his old-time fans started catching up with him when he rejoined Poco for scattered dates. In 2010, thirty years of on-then-off Springfield rumoured reunions were capped when Furay, Young, and Stills (minus the deceased Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin) actually came together at Young’s annual benefit for the Bridge School, which serves children with severe physical and communication issues. The following year, they managed a few shows in Oakland, L.A., and Santa Barbara. Furay apparently had high hopes for an ongoing run. But Young—seriously, what’d you expect?!—bailed. After that, Furay performed only sporadically again.

Last year’s album, “Hand in Hand” seems to have reinvigorated the rock and roller in him. Maybe he worked through some demons via this song about the Springfield and/or Poco. Or maybe doing this Neil Young medley with a few choice comments is cathartic. Maybe it’s that he’d hit the big 70. Whatever the reasons, he reissued ‘Alive’ in a deluxe edition and is on the road again. Good news: his touring band has serious chops, and his voice—unlike Stills’ sadly husk, can still deliver on greatest hits like “Good Feelin’ To Know”.

Over a year ago on November 16th, 2018 the Poco “DeLIVErin’” album was recreated, recorded and filmed at the legendary Troubadour in West Hollywood. There is a forthcoming audio & concert film release of this show in early 2020 including 10 additional songs, totaling 23 in all.

There are so many ironies turning in Furay’s career that following them can make you feel like a skydiver caught in a whirlwind. But I can’t resist closing with this one: a YouTube video of the Buffalo Springfield at Monterey Pop. The credits list Neil Young, who wasn’t there, and David Crosby, who filled in for Young, and the Monkees’ Peter Tork, who introduced the band. But you won’t see the name Richie Furay, although you can’t miss him even in these blurry shots, standing center stage just like he did in Buffalo Springfield shows.

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