Monday, June 29, 2009

Teresa Bright - Tropic Rhapsody (2008)

Two months ago I finally fulfilled my wish to visit Hawaii. I could post for weeks on end about the wonders of these beautiful islands but since this is a site devoted to music I'll pass up that temptation.

Music was part of this vacation. We enjoyed some live hula bands and, while driving, I tuned into radio stations on both Oahu and Maui that played only Hawaiian music featuring native Hawaiian disc jockeys. In addition, toward the end of our two week trip, I went to a Barnes and Noble store on Maui to search for some Hawaiian CDs. I found several that turned out to be excellent purchases. The best one is by singer Teresa Bright. Her latest, released this past December, is Tropic Rhapsody.

Tropic Rhapsody is a true jazz set full of a dozen old standards, many from the big band era and earlier, and all are at least marginally related to the islands in some way. Bright covers "Blue Hawaii" popularized by both Bing Crosby and Elvis Presley. It's originally from the 1937 movie "Waikiki Wedding" as is another of the songs she covers here, "Sweet Leilani." You'll hear "Red Sails In The Sunset" made famous by Nat King Cole, and "Pagan Love Song" from an old Esther Williams movie. "I'll Weave A Lei of Stars For You," which opens the CD, was written by R. Alex Anderson whose most famous work is the Christmas song, "Mele Kalikimaka." Bright also sings three songs in Hawaiian, including the famous "Aloha Oe," composed by the independent Hawaiian nation's beloved last monarch, Queen Lili'uokalani, over a century ago.

Bright's very pleasing and effortless vocals are perfect for small jazz groups. Her band includes piano, acoustic guitar, bass, drums, and depending on the track, flute, vibes, percussion, and a violin and cello duo.

Bright is a fine jazz and pop singer whose solo recording career on the islands began in 1990. She is also quite popular in Japan and tours there regularly.

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.

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 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.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Richie Furay - Part One

You know the freeway most rock stars travel. They race full speed up the on-ramp labeled "sex, drugs & rock 'n roll." Fortunately, in most cases maturity and real life eventually kick in and they stop using harmful and illegal substances, settle down with their trophy wives, have a second batch of kids that they won't ignore this time around, get paunchy, and start looking like middle aged accountants. The ones who don't find the exit ramp eventually burnout or become another fatal statistic. A few may even get out of the business and move on to other lives. Two who did are Cat Stevens and Richie Furay.

The controversial path of Stevens, now known as Yusef Islam, has been well documented over the decades. He only recently took up music again many years after converting to the religion whose name he now uses as his own.

Not as well known is the story of Furay, a member of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame and co-founder of two legendary bands, Buffalo Springfield and Poco. His post stardom life is definitely a rarity in the music business. Furay became a Christian in 1974 and since 1983 he has been the pastor of the Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colorado. He has been married to his wife for forty years and has four daughters.

According to Furay's website he believed his days of making music were behind him until he began writing songs with a member of his congregation, Scott Sellen. The duo recorded a couple of CDs of religious songs and he eventually revived his secular music career, occasionally joining Poco reunions while still maintaining his pastoral duties.

Currently, The Richie Furay Band, a quintet that includes Sellen, his son, and Furay's daughter, Jesse, recorded a live double-set CD and are touring America. The release features twenty-nine songs he recorded with Buffalo Springfield, Poco, The Souther, Hillman, Furay Band, his secular solo albums, and his religious albums.

Furay has his own website that covers both his secular and sacred music. He also has a pastor's page on his church's website where he talks about his Christian life and church.

I'm not a religious person but I think it's great that Furay can do what he does musically and still maintain his spiritual life.

The Richie Furay Band will be playing the Sellersville Theater, 20 minutes from my house, on August 30, 2009 and I intend to be there.

Furay has agreed to an interview with Bloggerhythms that will be posted here soon. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Save Paste?

Do you want to make a donation to a non-profit organization? If your answer is yes may I suggest that instead you send your funds to the for-profit music magazine, Paste. That's right folks, Paste Magazine wants its subscribers to donate money to alleviate their recent cash shortfall. All I have to say to that is, "Are you kidding me?"

Granted, the generous and charitable individuals making a donation will get over one hundred rare downloads in return, and anyone sending over $350 or more will get a lifetime subscription, but that doesn't take away from the fact that they're begging subscribers for cash just like your local PBS or NPR stations.

To quote word for word from the letter Paste sent to subscribers a few days ago via US Mail, "As a completely independent company, Paste has struggled for the past nine months as advertisers have decided to wait out the recession. As most of you realize, magazines are heavily subsidized by advertising. Industry experts estimate that an average subscription for a monthly publication would cost $60-$80 per year without advertising support. But last month was brutal. Cash received unexpectedly reached an all-time low, and turned a tough situation into a short-term crisis."

After saying they are in good shape for the long term the magazine writes, "We'll make it through this short-term economic crisis-but only with your help. Our fate is (and has been and always will be) in your hands" and "It doesn't take much. Every little bit helps."

They also list many artists who have donated tracks for the cause. Among them are The Indigo Girls, The Jayhawks, and Yoko Ono. The latter could probably bail them out all on her own. The rest of these artists are not well known so they are the ones who will most benefit from Paste's exposure. Why don't they donate cash instead of songs?

Paste is asking for a $25 minimum. Unfortunately, even though it was given against my will, all of my 2009 charitable funds have already gone to those other non-profiteers, GM and Chrysler. I have nothing left to give. Sorry Paste!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Poco Live at Concerts Under the Stars, King Of Prussia, PA , May 31, 2009

Every Sunday evening during Summer the Philadelphia suburb of Upper Merion Township hosts an outdoor concert series they call Concerts Under the Stars. The promoter brings folkies and many singer-songwriters such as John Gorka, Karla Bonoff, and Michelle Shocked to its stage. Occasionally they slip in somebody more famous such as Roger McQuinn who wowed the crowd a few years ago with a solo, electric, 12-string performance. This year the series opened with a bang. One of my all-time favorite bands, Poco, took the stage as a trio Sunday night for what was billed as an all acoustic show.

Poco's only remaining founding member, Rusty Young, is still in the lineup. So is Paul Cotton, who replaced original member Jim Messina very early in their career after leaving the little known Illinois Speed Press. The band's two veterans were joined by bassist Jack Sundrud who has previously worked with Vince Gill and Dickie Betts.

Despite the advertisement the set wasn't a totally acoustic event. Young played mandolin, banjo, acoustic guitar, lap steel, and pedal steel guitars. Cotton alternated between acoustic and electric lead guitar, and Sundrud played electric bass all evening. No drums were used.

Young is an amazing musician who jumps from one stringed instrument to another with the ease and dexterity of some of the great session players of the genre such as David Lindley and Greg Leisz. It is obvious that the only band member to appear on every single Poco album and CD is the glue that held the whole thing together amid decades of personnel changes. The band originally established by Richie Furay and Messina way back in 1968, after the demise of Buffalo Springfield, truly has become his domain.

They opened the concert with Young's "Call It Love" and continued with my all time favorite Poco song, the wonderful "Rose of Cimarron." "Pickin' Up The Pieces," "Grand Junction," "Bad Weather," "Indian Summer," "Kind Woman," "A Child's Claim to Fame," "Crazy Love," "In the Heart Of the Night," and "Barbados" were among the many songs the trio performed as the evening progressed. Sundrud was featured on two of his own songs, one which appeared on a recent Poco CD.

Young is the spokesman onstage and he has an appealing, self-assured, sense of humor that puts the crowd at ease. He told a story about a recent Poco reunion in California featuring all of the band's most prominent former members, including Furay, Messina, original drummer George Grantham, and Timothy B. Schmidt. Without telling anyone who his new band was, when mentioning Schmidt's departure from Poco, Young said that he left "to take a better paying job."

Poco is not an unknown band who never had a hit, but they never received the money and fame their talents should have bestowed upon them. They have always been one of America's truly great musical institutions.

Poco will continue touring this summer and will be joined by Furay in upstate New York while opening for Loggins and Messina.

Finally, I don't know the date of this performance, although by the lack of wrinkles and age spots, and the fact that Schmidt is present, it must be from the 70s. Anyway, here is a video featuring a partial performance of "Rose Of Cimarron" with Cotton and Schmidt on lead vocals. Enjoy!