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Higher beat rocks Furay
"When I listen to country music today, I think it is the best music on the radio," says Richie Furay. As a founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the musician helped invent the country rock that would in time transform the sound and style of both its parent genres.
"I hear everything we (Poco) were doing more than 30 years ago, but it's been perfected," says Mr. Furay during a telephone interview from a church near Boulder, Colo., where he is pastor. "We pioneered that sound — that's been my role in music. I haven't always reaped the benefits or the financial rewards, but I have helped open some doors."
The Eagles certainly owe a debt to Poco. "Glenn Frey used to sit on my living room floor when I was rehearsing Poco back in 1969, working on songs for our first album," Mr. Furay recalls. Poco later even acted as a farm team for the Eagles, supplying bassists Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmidt.
Mr. Furay will be revisiting all the past musical chapters of his life Wednesday night at the Birchmere in Alexandria — and at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis Monday evening at 7— on his first major tour of the East Coast in more than 20 years. He'll be performing with a full electric band as part of a twin bill with Chris Hillman, who, as a founder of the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, played a role similar to Mr. Furay's in the genesis of country rock.
Mr. Furay never enjoyed the commercial success his Buffalo Springfield brethren Stephen Stills and Neil Young were to experience. Jim Messina, who joined Springfield in its final stages and co-founded Poco, went on to major chart success as part of Loggins & Messina. Mr. Meisner and Mr. Schmidt, of course, enjoyed huge success with the Eagles. Even Poco finally hit pay dirt with their "Legend" album in 1978 (five years after Mr. Furay had quit).
If there was one point in his career that really broke Mr. Furay's heart, it was the failure of "Good Feeling to Know," a near-perfect slice of country rock from Poco's 1972 album of the same name, to score a hit.
Everyone had felt sure that song would finally get Poco the national attention it deserved. But it stalled coming out of the gate, while at the same time the Eagles' first single, the stylistically similar "Take it Easy," soared into the Top 20.
"I was like, 'Oh man, if this song doesn't make it, Poco is never going to have a hit.' " He left Poco the next year to form a supergroup with Mr. Hillman and J.D. Souther, who had written hits with the Eagles. The Souther, Hillman & Furay Band recorded two albums, the first of which went gold in 1974. But the next year its second album was a big step down in quality and sales, and the band soon folded its tent.
But not before a life-changing event for Mr. Furay, who had noticed a fish symbol and "Jesus is Lord" emblazoned on one of the guitars of supporting musician Al Perkins. That made Mr. Furay uneasy, and he lobbied to have Mr. Perkins sacked. But the guitarist was retained, and after repeatedly turning aside Mr. Perkins' invitations to join him in prayer, Mr. Furay finally gave it a try, and a new door opened for him.
He became a devout Christian, and recorded his first solo album, "I've Got a Reason" with the goal of putting together a No. 1 rock 'n' roll band for God.
David Geffen, who was still at Asylum records then, said "You're not going to give me any of this Jesus rock are you?" Mr. Furay assured him that his album would "cross some boundaries, and not just be limited to the Christian music field." But the record never gained traction. Nor did two more solo albums in a similar, but more secular mode.
"Just as I had been too rock for country, and too country for rock, I was too religious for rock, and too rock for the religious market," says Mr. Furay. "At that point, I just held up my hands and said 'Lord, show me what you want me to do.' "
Mr. Furay took time off from the music business and began hosting Bible study in his home in Boulder. Things grew from there, and today he is pastor of Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, near Boulder.
In the ensuing years, Mr. Furay recorded only two albums of devotional music. But last year he recorded "Heartbeat of Love," his first album of secular music in 25 years. Much of the album sounds like classic early Poco and features a bevy of superstar guest appearances from his past, including Messrs. Stills, Young, Messina and Schmidt, Paul Cotton of Poco and Jeff Hannah of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, among others.
Mr. Furay is now 63, but his voice sounds unchanged from 1967, when he sang Young-composed songs like "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" on the first Buffalo Springfield album. (Mr. Young was then too insecure about his voice to sing his own songs.)
Mr. Young guests on guitar and backing vocals on a remake of "Kind Woman," originally on the Springfield's "Last Time Around" album. "Neil had actually quit the band by the time we recorded it, so I thought that after all these years, I'd finally get him to record it with me." The album was recorded in Nashville with a band Mr. Furay calls "the A-list" of Music City session players, including guitarist Dan Dugmore.
Preaching a good sermon is similar to turning in a good musical performance in that they both have to come from the heart, says Mr. Furay. "You bare your heart and your life before your congregation in the same way you do before an audience with a song."
Some people ask him how a man of God can go on the road and play rock music. "I tell them, 'You know what man, I'm just sharing my life,' " he says. "If I get a chance to talk to someone about the Lord, great. But I certainly don't proselytize in my performances, although I will include a couple of songs from my devotional albums."
Of course, being a pastor puts many additional demands on him. "I am a people person, but sometimes it can still get pretty heavy when people think you can answer all their questions and solve all their problems," he explains. "I can't. Only the Lord can do that. But I am an encourager — a Barnabas kind of guy. I try to give people hope in the midst of a crisis and assure them that they are going to make it."
So who would make a better fellow pastor, Stephen Stills or Neil Young? "Ha! I'd have to look at those guys from a whole new perspective. I don't have an answer for that one!" he admits.
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