Music » Interviews

Richie Furay on Buffalo Springfield, Poco and the roots of Americana


Sound and Furay: “Poco was Americana before Americana was ever a genre.” - GEORGE BEKRIS
  • George Bekris
  • Sound and Furay: “Poco was Americana before Americana was ever a genre.”
Buffalo Springfield, the ’60s supergroup-in-reverse that launched the careers of Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, definitely had a way with bleak songwriting. From the prescient paranoia of Stills’ “For What It’s Worth” to Young’s clinically depressing “Broken Arrow,” the L.A. band served as a kind of antidote to the good vibrations that linked the British Invasion to the Summer of Love.

All of which made Richie Furay’s contributions stand apart from the rest. His best known Buffalo Springfield track, “Kind Woman,” was an achingly sweet love song that bore no trace of anger, irony or bitterness. The Ohio native’s boyish optimism was even more evident on “What a Day,” with its opening lyric: “It’s a good mornin’ and I’m feelin’ fine / Hey, it’s such a lovely day / Smile, a frown would be passé / I want to play, oh, what a day!”

While “What a Day” never made it past the demo stage prior to Buffalo Springfield’s 1968 breakup, it turned out to be a perfect fit for Furay’s next band, Poco. He followed up with country-rock signature songs like “A Good Feelin’ to Know” and “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” as well as the more somber “Crazy Eyes,” an elegy to the late singer-songwriter Gram Parsons that surrounds Furay’s distinctive tenor vocals with producer Bob Ezrin’s ominous string and brass arrangement.
“Gram was a troubled guy,” recalls Furay. “When you looked in his eyes, you could just see there was something there that was very different.”

Alongside The Byrds and Parsons’ Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco quickly established themselves as early pioneers of country-rock and, by extension, Americana.

Furay left Poco in 1974 to form The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with J.D. Souther and Chris Hillman. By this point, he and his wife had moved to Colorado, which had become a kind of Rocky Mountain refuge for L.A. singer-songwriters. A decade later, he became senior pastor of Broomfield’s Calvary Chapel, where he continues to deliver Sunday morning sermons.

Apart from an ill-fated Buffalo Springfield reunion tour in 2011, the singer-songwriter’s musical focus has mostly been divided between fronting The Richie Furay Band and recording the occasional solo album. His most recent release, Hand in Hand, is a finely crafted collection that includes a remake of “Kind Woman” with both Neil Young and Kenny Loggins contributing backup vocals.

Furay and his group are currently rehearsing with his former bandmate Paul Cotton for an Aug. 25 “Songs of Poco” show at Tri-Lakes Center for the Arts. We caught up with him recently to talk about Poco’s influence on the Americana genre, the rise and fall of Buffalo Springfield, and the lure of Colorado.

Indy: I’d like to begin with a question about “What a Day,” which is still one of my favorite songs to get going in the morning. Do you think that song would have fit in with the rest of Buffalo Springfield’s repertoire, which tended to be pretty dark?

Richie Furay: Well, there is a version of it on the Buffalo Springfield box set with Stephen singing the lead, and it was an honor to have him give it a shot. But Buffalo Springfield was very disjointed at that point. We’d started out as five guys working as the house band at the Whisky a Go Go for six weeks and playing concerts together. But then a lot of things started to happen. And Neil decided he was going to be leaving the band. And then he was coming back in the band. So when the band broke up, we went on to Poco and recorded it. And that was a new day for us, and what a day!

I’ve also heard that, during the Buffalo Springfield reunion tour, it was Neil who was most reluctant to keep it going. Do you find him to be a pretty mercurial guy?

Well, Neil marches to his own drum, and I think all of us were a little disappointed. I mean, don’t take this the wrong way; it’s not like my life was dependent on Buffalo Springfield getting back together or continuing to tour. But we’d kind of made an agreement that, after those seven or eight dates leading up to our Bonnaroo Festival show, we were going to do a 30-date tour the following year. But then after Bonnaroo, we kind of all went our separate ways and never really talked to one another as a group. So for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen, and that’s the way it goes.

During the first 20 years of your career, you released about one album a year, and now it’s more like once a decade. Why is that?

Well, you know, music was our life back then, and we had various writers, so it wasn’t just up to one person. But now it just takes a while to get the songs to where I feel like “Okay, these are worthy of being released.” I’m not really what you would call a prolific writer.

Your most recent album definitely has a vitality that fits right in with your early bands’ work.

Thank you. I think Hand in Hand is probably the best album I’ve been involved in. My wife and I, by the grace of God, celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary on March 4th, and that’s what Hand in Hand is really all about. We’re still going strong today.

Was Christianity an element of any of the songs that you did with your early secular bands?

You know, people like to say that they hear certain things in some of the songs, but I can’t say that during Poco or Buffalo Springfield I really was giving much thought to that. But, I mean, when you’re talking about picking up the pieces and we’ll all go home soon, you can take that a couple different ways, you know?

Why was it that so many L.A. musicians moved to Colorado?

Well, I can only really speak for myself. We moved here because we just wanted to get out of Southern California — all those freeways, cars and trucks — and find some peace and quiet. So when Nancy and I landed in Colorado, we knew we were here for the duration. It’s just such a beautiful place to live.

I’m curious what you think of the current wave of Americana bands. Do you hear a connection between them and the kind of music your bands pioneered?

You know, to be honest with you, I don’t listen to much current music, but I do know for sure that Poco was Americana before Americana was ever a genre. And a lot of Americana bands are going back to the roots of country music, as well. But I think the music that Poco did back then tends to get overlooked. We took it in so many different directions.

I have just one more question for you, and it’s an easy one: Which of your old bands is most likely to reunite?

Probably none of them. [Laughs.] I mean, it’s not going to be Buffalo Springfield, that’s for sure. Well, people say “never say never,” and so I’ll say never say never. But it’s highly unlikely.

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