Let us now praise famous men…” Ecclesiasticus 44:1
What can be said about this season of our lives? Changes are many and losses are great. As the Baby Boomers slowly move into their sunset years, there comes a time for appreciation and respect. We have been the dominant generation for a long time now. But our time is passing.
All in all, the last two years have been about realizing the limits of our lives and our lifestyles. But our memories are clear and dear. It is the music, the soundtrack of our lives, that remains with us as we continue to celebrate life. After all, and through it all, isn’t that why we are here in this small space of time?
So, like the beginning of the eulogy that opens the classic Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire, asks can we close our eyes and remember how we were?’ The answer is yes, we can. Maybe we can remember with our eyes wide open and with gratitude for the music that has journeyed with us over the last half a century. It is the voices of the best of us that resonates these days. In this bit of writing, I wish to honor one such voice.
As country-rock legend and Americana pioneer, Richie Furay, bids farewell to the touring he has been consistently committed to for the last two decades, it’s easy to call up the memories that take us back to years like 1965. As Furay has made clear in recent statements and appearances, this does not mean he’s going away. He’ll still be recording, writing, and continuing his ministry in the Christian faith that has kept him alive, well, and in great voice today. But, as the time passes, some changes are inevitable, and so, for this famous man it is now a good time to honor his ongoing legacy and give him the gift of our appreciation and gratitude. Even if the words can never match the sheer joy of hearing his voice in song over my life time. Nevertheless, that is the intention of this article.
The sun still shines bright on Richie Furay’s current musical journey with the pending release of his latest album, a collection of country classic covers, In Country. This makes sense considering he is one of a small group of folk-rock singer-songwriters who embraced pure country music integrating it into the music of his early ground-breaking bands, Buffalo Springfield, and Poco. Before Furay and friends like Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman arrived in 1965, there was no genre known as country-rock. Today, rock influence is considered an essential element in mainstream country music.
Along with a new album release, there is also a long-overdue documentary, Through It All: The Life & Influence of Richie Furay, a crowd-funded film covering his story. It is narrated by Cameron Crowe, the writer-director best known for popular films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Almost Famous. He was also the first writer in the fledging magazine known as Rolling Stone to publish an interview with Furay while still in his teens. It was his first interview.
Also important is the key anniversary of 50 years that has occurred for so many classic albums and rock music events. From Woodstock to the Beatles’ Let It Be, there is a need for us to remember musical milestones that have shaped our lives. Richie Furay has already hit a few important anniversaries, like the 2011 Buffalo Springfield Reunion. However, on November 16, 2018, in anticipation of the 50th anniversary of the classic live Poco album, DeLIVErin’, he returned to the site of the club where Poco had their debut: Doug Weston’s Troubadour in West Los Angeles. It is where, in 1968, Poco debuted. It is where Rick Nelson, teen-idol and rockabilly great, first saw and heard Randy Meisner playing with Poco. It wasn’t long after that Meisner became a part of Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band.
The 2018 DeLIVErin’ show was a magical night when the best elements came together at just the right moment. As witnessed by the release of the 2021 live album of the show DeLIVErin’ Again, the music is on fire, energetic and inspired. Furay was in his element celebrating the best of his music. Timothy B. Schmit, whose career began in earnest as Poco’s vocalizing bass player and then went on to join the Eagles, was a special guest performer. The audience included Peter Asher and Poco/Eagles co-founder, former Poco/Eagle Randy Meisner. But it was the music originally created by Furay and his bandmates that was front and center. His voice was as fresh as when he first stepped on a concert stage hitting those familiar high notes like an eagle in flight. Best of all, the Troubadour show was filmed and will be included in the soon-to-be-released documentary.
Sadly, last year saw the passing of two major members of Poco with the deaths of Paul Cotton and co-founder, Rusty Young. Richie paid tribute to them both at his recent New Jersey farewell concert with covers of their respective songs, “Bad Weather” and “Crazy Love.” Cotton joined the band in 1970 as a replacement for Jim Messina. He brought with him the same country-rock sensibility that informed Furay and band. Songs like “Indian Summer,” contributed to Poco’s country-tinged legacy, but it was his more pop oriented country-rock song, “Heart of the Night” from 1978. It became one of Poco’s biggest commercial successes.
Rusty Young was there during the 1968 transition from Buffalo Springfield to Poco. When Jim Messina and Richie Furay were scouting pedal steel guitar players for the new song, “Kind Woman,” they hired a young lifelong lap steel guitarist from Colorado named Rusty Young. The seminal recording of “Kind Woman” on Buffalo Springfield’s final album, The Last Time Around, is also the session that started up Poco. Young was responsible for much of the musical fire behind the band as he approached the instrument with a Hendrix-like zeal. On stage he was unforgettable. He also sustained the band when Messina and Furay left. Poco, under Rusty Young’s guidance experienced their great commercial success well into the 21st Century.
Richie performs with original members of Poco in 2015.
On Rusty Young’s death, Richie Furay issued this statement to Variety magazine:
“I just received word that my friend Rusty Young has passed away and crossed that line into eternity. My heart is saddened; he was a dear and longtime friend who helped me pioneer and create a new Southern California musical sound called “country rock.” He was an innovator on the steel guitar and carried the name Poco on for more than 50 years. Our friendship was real and he will be deeply missed. My prayers are with his wife, Mary, and his children Sara and Will.”
Today, with his passing, Poco belongs to the ages. But what an age it has been.
And Richie Furay’s legacy continues.
Following Poco in 1974, after a two-album run and short-lived tour with Souther, Hillman & Furay, Richie was signed by Asylum Records where he released three solo albums. Over the years he formed the Richie Furay Band, a homegrown band of Colorado friends and family, who have been his longest lasting musical association. The members include Scott Sellen, Jack Jeckot, Aaron Sellen, Alan Lemke, and daughter Jesse Furay Lynch.
During his 35 years he has served as pastor of Calvary Chapel-Broomfield, Colorado with occasional breaks for musical activities. During that time, He recorded two studio albums of devotional songs (“I Am Sure,” “In My Father’s House”) with music that bore his trademark country-rock sound. Rusty Young, Jim Messina, Paul Cotton, Jeff Hanna, and Chris Hillman are among the participating musicians.
In 2007, he returned to mainstream country-rock with the studio release, Heartbeat of Love, perhaps the best album of his solo career up to that point. It is the one that fulfilled the request of his friend, the late rock historian and critic, Pete Fonotale, who wondered when Richie would come up with a “masterpiece” of a solo album he expected. This was it without a doubt; it is an album that reflects Furay’s Buffalo Springfield and Poco history with his own vocal and writing talents at the very center of the proceedings. Many of his famous friends joined in. Among the participants are Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Kenny Loggins, Paul Cotton, Mickey Raphael, Jeff Hanna, Timothy B. Schmit, Kenny Loggins, Mickey Raphael, Sam Bush, Al Perkins, Rusty Young, Stephen Stills, Mark Volman, and Jesse Furay Lynch.
Through the years, it has always been Richie Furay’s voice that runs through his musical legacy and brings it all together in celebration and soul. From his first recordings with the Au Go Go Singers to his upcoming release In Country, his voice highlights and supports what is best in the music and brings his own unique love to the songs. Furay’s technical gift, his distinctive vocal quality, range, and character allow the song to glow in unique ways that would be hard for other vocalists to touch.
But what sets him apart from other singer in the country-rock genre is his vocal approach. While entirely original, he embraces the song in ways similar to the great soul singers of the 1960s. In this way, he is more akin to Otis Redding and Sam Cooke than to traditional country singers. This is apparent on solo recordings like “Ooh Child,” and Poco songs like “Anyway Bye Bye,” and the Poco/Buffalo Springfield song, “Kind Woman,” which was covered by Percy Sledge. The songs he has covered represent cherished moments that every songwriter craves. That is to hear their song reach full potential, to come off the page, out of the imagination into something soulfully beautiful. This is clear on his interpretations of Neil Young songs, especially, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” and “On the Way Home.” Most recently, his vocal work on Carla Olson’s album, Have Harmony Will Travel, gives us a rare opportunity to hear Richie Furay’s take on a Byrds/Gene Clark classic, “She Don’t Care About Time.”
Another remarkable Richie Furay vocal interpretation is included on 2017’s tribute to Dan Fogelberg, the classic “Run for the Roses,” recorded with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. The vocal blend between Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s lead vocalist, Jeff Hanna, and Richie gives a new breath of life to the song. This recording makes a strong case for further collaboration between Furay and Hanna.
As a songwriter, Richie Furay has been known for his most celebrative and uplifting songs including “Picking Up the Pieces” and “A Good Feeling to Know.” But, a closer look at his catalogue of songs reveals more depth and dimension than can be spotted on the surface. Early on, his frustration with Neil Young’s characteristic inconsistency during the Buffalo Springfield years, caused him to write the piercing bite of a sarcasm and disillusion, “A Child’s Claim to Fame.” Lyrics like “There goes another day and I wonder why; you and I keep telling lies.” And “So sadly I watch the show as I see what you became: truth is a shame, too much pain.”
Additionally, in 1973, he wrote and recorded the song “Crazy Eyes,” an epic plea, a kind of love letter to Gram Parsons, who was known for his drug and alcohol excesses. Ironically, four days after the song was released on the Poco album of the same name, Parsons died of a heroin overdose in Joshua Tree, California.
On his innovative debut solo album, 1976’s I’ve Got a Reason album, he explores life before, during, and after a spiritual transformation that brought him into the Christian fold. As promised to David Geffen—with no direct religious overtones—Furay describes in song his experience, containing insightful dark edges and illuminating truth about his personal redemption. On the title song, Furay writes, “Music was my life, it finally took everything. Ain’t it funny how you have it all and not a thing.”
Most recently, his 2015 album Hand in Hand, although it includes his best love songs since Heartbeat of Love, he also takes us through the disillusionment of the political landscape of recent times on the song “Don’t Tread on Me.” “Winds of Change” warns us of the perils of putting all of goodwill eggs in political baskets. It is a song of strength and resolve.
Finally, in the end, Richie Furay’s career in music has provided an example of how to not only survive in the popular music culture of our times, but how to thrive and grow. It has long been said that rock ‘n’ rollers live short lives of sex, drugs, and self-destruction, but Richie continues to show us how to live through faith, love, and dignity even while we play our music loud with passion and energy.
During his history, Richie Furay has accomplished so much in music culture was one of three front men in one of the most artistically important bands of in rock ‘n’ roll. His short time with Buffalo Springfield earned him induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Beginning with the Buffalo Springfield and Poco, he helped create a new genre of music that has become part of the today’s mainstream music. Allowing for the marriage of country music and rock laid the foundation for one of the most successful bands in music history, the Eagles. Richie Furay is their direct influence. He has quite literally kept the faith, joining a spiritual movement at a time when it wasn’t a popular thing to do. It was a risky move both artistically and commercially. He proved the cynics wrong with authentic albums and performances that kept the edge of his music alive. His move would later be followed by Bob Dylan. Today, thanks to Richie and others that came afterward, the music world accepts religious-spiritual perspectives in the songs and stories from artists like Kanye West and U2.
As a solo artist, he grew his music organically from where he lived in Colorado and, again, came up triumphant with inspired gospel and country-rock mainstream albums that celebrate his past and has kept his focus in the moment and on the road ahead.
As he retires from touring, if his current projects are some clue, Richie Furay isn’t going anywhere even if he may stay deservedly close to the fires of home. He will remain the creative soul he has always been with the certain light that shines through his music and life. He will remain an open book of truth, love, and harmony for his family, fans, and friends.