Sunday, June 21, 2009

Richie Furay - Part Two: The Interview

No, this blog is not turning into an "all Poco all the time" publication. It's totally coincidental that June has turned into Poco month. Rest assured that July is going to be completely different as more contemporary fare will be discussed.

In the meantime, as promised last week, Poco's former leader and founder, Richie Furay, agreed to participate in an email interview for Bloggerhythms. For those of you unfamiliar with Furay's biography this post will have more meaning for you if you read part one first.

I asked Furay for the interview because I believe he is a very fascinating individual who is an unusually positive example from the world of music.

I thank you, Richie, for your time and cooperation.
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CR: Until very recently I assumed you had retired from public performance. I had no idea you ever made another recording after Legacy, the CD released by the original Poco lineup in 1989. So, I would like to ask what made you decide to form The Richie Furay Band and go back out on the road, and why now?

RF: Once the music is “in your blood” chances are even if you put it down for a while it’s gonna surface again. Since Legacy I’ve recorded four CD’s – 2 devotional – In My Father’s House (1996), I Am Sure (2005); one studio project Heartbeat Of Love (2006) and a double “live” CD called The Richie Furay Band “ALIVE” (2008) so you can see I have been pretty active. It all started innocently enough when Poco was entertaining a reunion in the late 80’s. My music partner Scott Sellen and I had been writing songs and playing as a duo (he is a multi-talented musician). We were playing mostly in churches but when the idea of a Poco reunion came up we started writing songs for that project. Interestingly enough two of the songs we wrote were presented to the group and management and rejected them (one turned out to be the title of the Heartbeat CD). Truthfully, I had no idea where it was all going when we set out on this part of the journey. After many years of Scott and I playing as a duo we added his son Aaron and a drummer and played as a four piece for about two years. When my daughter Jesse moved back to Colorado from NYC we added her to the mix because of the vocals she could offer. An agent (who has become my friend) came to a show I was doing at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, CA and offered to help get me back out on the road. It took several years to get “the band” together but once the ball got rolling we’ve been at it ever since. I decided to go back out and do live music - # 1 because the band sounded so good and played my music with so much professionalism and passion and #2 because “it’s in my blood”. I did think it was over at one time but – it seems like there’s still a little life in it – so we’ll keep doing it as long as we can and as long as it’s fun!

CR: What are the goals of the new band? Are you strictly an oldies band playing your old songs or do the other members get to contribute material too?

RF: Right now it’s primarily “my music” – past and present that we play, doing a history from the Buffalo Springfield days, through Poco and SHF and into my solo career. Obviously we’re not just an “oldies” band because we play music written and recorded as recently as 2006. Most all the music is written either by myself or Scott and my self. One of the things we’re doing right now is letting my daughter Jesse sing a few songs in the set (I’m actually taking her to Nashville June 28 to record her). She will be doing the songs she sings on the “ALIVE” CD and we’re recording some songs Aaron and Alan Lemke have written so we are broadening our set in that regard. So we want to be “fresh”. Yes it’s a “walk down memory lane” but it’s taking the audience to where we’re at today as well. (Yes we play both secular and devotional in the set, but lean on the secular primarily.)

CR: Are you currently writing new songs?

RF: Yes! I’m not writing as much as I’d like but there’s always a melody running through my head and lyrics.

CR: How did you and Scott Sellen, who is both a member of your new band and your church, get together to write and record music?

RF: Scott and I met over 20 years ago at a church in Denver. We struck up a friendship and the rest is history. Our relationship obviously revolves around our Lord Jesus Christ, but music is a big part of it. He brought a project he and a friend of his had written and he wanted me to “go fishin’ with it”. But we just started sharing ideas with each other and before you knew it there was a song and once that starts to happen it’s just a natural thing you do! We wrote for a long time before we ever thought our songs would see the “light of day” beyond his little music room. When we were asked to make a recording for Calvary Music (our first devotional CD – In My Father’s House) it’s been pretty much non-stop although the “live” aspect of what we’ve been doing recently has taken precedent over the writing for the time being. When we go out, we want to be as good as any group playing today (of course we don’t have the money to do the production of many – but we have proven we can play and support anyone and make them proud).

CR: How have the CDs of your sacred works been received?

RF: I have not and will not compromise “my” sound for the current trends and because of that and the fact there isn’t a record company in support of the projects it’s been hard to market the music beyond where we travel besides the internet at www.richiefuray.com. Certainly when we have opportunity to share the music “live” the response of the people (potential buyers) is great. For what we have been able to do the product is selling quite well – word of mouth is a great thing. If people like what they hear they’re gonna tell others about it and orders come in everyday.

CR: Has it been hard for you and the members of your church to come to terms with the apparent contradictions of being both a pop star and the head pastor of a church?

RF: I am a servant of the LORD who happens to have a past in rock and roll. The congregation sees my music as part of the package – a part of my ministry. Although I certainly respect the venues we play in (I am no going to proselytize in a secular setting; I understand that people have paid to hear the music and in that setting I do not believe it’s right. I certainly don’t appreciate it when I go to a concert and hear someone pontificate on their political views. I share my life and what the Lord has done for me (but even at that – most often it’s in the lyric of the song) but I am not at an evangelistic outreach in the secular setting. Still, it is ministry. People know who I am and what I’m all about. I have opportunity at every concert to pray with people and “give some counsel” – so it is ministry every time we “hit the road”. The congregation today is much more sympathetic and understanding of the overall ministry aspect of what I do when I go outside the church than early on. Many of them come to the concerts we do in the Boulder area – so they know. I am very thankful for that!

CR: Do you find playing music just as rewarding today as it was forty years ago?

RF: It’s different – and in many respects it’s more rewarding! Today it is truly "family" and I could have never dreamed or anticipated that, even 10 years ago. To have the music sound so good and have your closest friends and family playing it is so rewarding!

CR: Let’s go way back in time for a bit. To a lot of people Buffalo Springfield and Poco were similar bands but to me the differences in the two were obvious. What do you see as the biggest similarities and contrasts between the two groups?

RF: On the surface the Buffalo Springfield was a “folk-rock” band and Poco was a “country-rock” band. But neither could in all fairness be pigeon holed into a label. Both bands created their own identity by the individual members who made up the band. Both bans were “guitar” bands; both bands were “vocal” bands. We were each five distinct individuals who made up and created a “sound” all our own – to our credit a lot bands copied the sounds we created making it more popular than we did – but nevertheless the groundbreaking began with us.

CR: I’ve been requested to ask about Paul Cotton joining Poco when Jim Messina left. Can you tell us why Jim Messina left Poco and why he choose Paul Cotton to replace him? It’s unusual when somebody leaves a band that they assist in finding their own replacement. The story is that Chicago’s Peter Cetera recommended Cotton to you. They both apparently knew each other from their days in a band called Illinois Speed Press?

RF: When Jimmy decided to leave (you really have to ask him why that was – I can only speculate, even after all these years) the rest of the band decided we wanted to add a little more “edge” to our sound – making it a little more rock and roll. I don’t know who it was that suggested Paul to us (it very well could have been Pete) but Jimmy had no say in the matter – he had left the band. Jimmy did (to his credit) stay on with us until Paul had learned the material we were playing in our set so it would be a seamless transition. But Jimmy did not “choose” his replacement.

CR: A lot of people were surprised when you left Poco. Most people looked upon the group as your band. Can you tell us why you left?

RF: There were a lot of things that played into the decision, things that no one could really understand - not even me. It certainly wasn’t that I thought I was bigger than the band or better than the band or was tired of the band or --- whatever, the underlying thing was because of our relationship with the record company I didn’t believe Poco would ever have a chance to reach the potential we had for ourselves. I knew how good the band was (our live performances were the proof in the pudding – but the politics of the recording industry got in the way of clear thinking and drove me out. I made the decision to leave so I’m not pointing the finger but I believe Poco was held back for some reason – probably a figment of my imagination.

At any rate I was driven to become a rock star on the level of my previous bandmates and was certain Poco was not going to be the vehicle. Now, with all that being said there was so much more going on behind the scene that no one was aware of, not even me and I believe that was the real reason I left the band. I was so consumed with becoming a rock star I had forgotten about life and the things that really matter in life. So what was happening behind the scene was the LORD was designing a scenario that would draw me to Him – that’s the bigger picture of why I left. I didn’t know it at the time but when push came to shove and I had to make real life decisions – the music, being a rock star on the level of so many of my friends, was simply insignificant. My family was on the line and my life – my eternal life was on the line and the LORD created a scenario and situation to get my attention so He could become my Lord and Savior. Oh, He works in mysterious ways, but He knows what he’s doing. Oh I may have eventually had all those dreams fulfilled of rock and roll success, but would I have lost my family at the expense – in the midst of everything that was going on that played into the decision, the only thing that mattered was my family and the blessing of knowing the LORD as my personal Lord and Savior.


CR: What are your favorite Richie Furay songs?

RF: Oh my … that’s like saying which of your kids is the favorite? Kind Woman; Pickin’ Up The Pieces; Good Feelin’ To Know all hold a special place in my heart as do – In My Father’s House, Come And Praise Him; So Far To Go and Overflow; Forever With You; Heartbeat Of Love …

CR: Finally, how has age affected your voice? You still sound find to me. Is it still easy to hit the high notes?

RF: Thanks you for those kind words. We have lowered the keys to some of the songs to make ‘em easier to sing – but I have to have a certain bit of tension in the melody to make it work for me. Doing live concerts and singing up to 20 songs in a set (not all that easy to sing by the way) has been a challenge but the Lord has been gracious to give me what I need to get on to the next night. I have been blessed that I can still get the job done.

4 comments:

  1. What a great interview! Both the answers and questions were interesting and impressive, good job!

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  2. Nice work, Charlie--interesting interview. Some of those Poco tunes deserve to be better remembered than they are. "Rose of Cymarron," for instance, is as beautiful a thing as any rock band ever recorded.

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  3. Thank you both. It helps that Richie is an easy interview.

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  4. Thanks Charlie, great interview. Poco's first album came out the same year I got my drivers license and I remember listening to Pickin' Up the Pieces on 8-track in my car all during high school. Great stuff, makes me want to hear it again now.

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