Richie Furay: Let’s Dance Tonight
Interview by Daniel Coston
originally published in the Big Takeover Magazine, winter 2006 issue
The story of Richie Furay is one that has never been lacking in changes, or surprises. Leaving Ohio in 1964 for the folk scene of New York, Furay eventually found himself part of the multi-talented California quintet that was Buffalo Springfield, sharing leadership with Steven Stills and Neil Young before the band splintered in 1968. Not missing a beat, Furay and Jim Mussina founded the trailblazing country-rock outfit Poco, a band that Furay still speaks of with immense pride.
But while the careers of many of Furay’s former bandmates took different turns in the 1970s, Furay found another path. After becoming a born again Christian in 1975, Furay began to make devotional albums, while he and his wife moved to Colorado and raised their four children.
Fast-forward to 2006. Heartbeat Of Love, his first mainstream CD in over 25 years, has allowed Furay to reach out to fans both new and old. Furay also found time in the past year to put together an autobiography, “Pickin’ Up The Pieces” (written with Michael Roberts), which covers the entire spectrum of his life experiences. Furay has also toured more in the past year, suggesting that he’s still adding chapters to his own amazing story.
Calling in from the Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colorado, where he has been pastor for the past twenty years, Furay is someone that may not have always gotten the accolades he deserves, but is still happy to look back on his life, and to continue looking forward.
BT: Tell me about the new record, and how it came about.
Furay: How it came about was that I have been going out and playing with Poco a little bit, and a few years ago we did a DVD in Nashville. We were starting to rehearse “Let’s Dance Tonight,” and a friend of mine [producer Peter van Leeuwen] was there, and he came up and said,”Richie, that’s my favorite song of yours.” And I said, “Yeah, if I ever get the chance to make another recording, that’s one song I’d like to re-record.” And he said, “Well, what’s the problem?” One thing led to another, and the next thing I know, I’m getting hold of my guys back in Nashville that have done my last three CDs, and went into the studio.
I did record two old songs. I did record “Let’s Dance Tonight,” and I recorded “Kind Woman.” I wanted to put that sing to bed in time. (laughs) Because as I wrote it, and recorded on both the Buffalo Springfield and Poco recordings, it was more the feel that I recorded from the Buffalo Springfield [session], and there’s out of time measures in it, and I wanted to put it in straight 3/4, 6/8 time. And then recorded ten brand new songs on top of that.
The CD is called Heartbeat Of Love, because that’s what I write. I write love songs. I don’t write political commentary, or social commentary. My forte has always been love songs. Nancy and I have been married for 39 years, so she’s had more songs written about her than one person on the face of the earth (laughs).
One of the cool things about this recording was that as I was listening to it, I always try to have some of my friends help out. So I started thinking, for instance on “Kind Woman,” I couldn’t get Neil [Young] to play on it thirty years ago, so I wonder if I could get him to do something on it this time. So I called him up, and he said, “Steven [Stills] has already called, and he said that you’d asked him to do a song. I’d love to do something.”
So I’ve got Neil Young and Steven Stills, Kenny Loggins, Mark Volman from the Turtles, whom I used to live with years ago, Rusty Young and Timothy B. Schmidt, and Paul Cotton [from Poco], Jeff Hanna from the Dirt Band. They all came through for me, and it’s been a cool project.
Without Pro Tools, I never would’ve been able to get this job done. All I had to to do was make these Wav files and send them off. I’d say, “This is what I hear, and what I’d like. If you hear anything else, by all means do what you hear, but this is what I’d like.”
BT: How was it to work with Neil Young after all these years?
Furay: I didn’t work with him face to face. I sent him the parts [of the song], and I actually got him to play guitar on the song, and also sing vocal. First, it was like, “Man, I don’t know what I can get him to do. I don’t really hear his voice.” But it came out really good on “Kind Woman.”
BT: There was a point during the Springfield [days] that he was collaborating with you as much as anyone in the band.
Furay: We have our names on a song or two, I think. Even when we did that, it wasn’t like Neil and I sat down and spent a lot of time working together. I had a bit, and he heard something, and he said,”Maybe this would fit in with this?” “It’s So Hard To Wait” is the song I’m thinking of right now, and basically there were a couple of different parts we just put together and made that song happen.
BT: How was it to see Neil at South by Southwest [in March of 2006]?
Furay: It was really nice. I hadn’t seen Neil in quite a while, not since we actually went out to his ranch, and listened to and talked about the Buffalo Springfield boxset. Seeing him after he’s going through all of his stuff, Neil looked very weak to me. I only had a short amount of time with him, but the time that I had was undivided. He gave me his undivided time, which was really neat. And we got to speak, and hug. It was nice to see him.
BT: How was it to work with Steven again? Vocally, you and Steven were the heart of that band...
Furay: I agree with you. Steven and I did a lot of unison singing, and you can hear that on the boxset. You can tell that we sat there and rehearsed, and worked on our phrasing and our harmonies. So to have Steven be a participant on the CD, and sing on it. It’s been a long time since Steven and I have done anything together. It’s been thirty-some years, and it was just awesome.
BT: A lot of music writers in the past have subscribed to the magic bullet theory, in that there was one person that started the merging of country and rock music in the late 1960s. However, I’ve always felt that there were several musicians putting forth those ideas around the same time, with you being a key figure in that starting from the Springfield days, then of course leading into Poco.
Furay: I think if you look at the Springfield, we were more folk-rock. We came out of the folk era. “For What It’s Worth,” when I first heard it, it was a folk song. When the Springfield was winding down, though, Jimmy Messina and I actually thought, “We like to put together another group, and we’d like to introduce the steel guitar.” So we called Rusty [Young]. A road manager of ours helped get us in touch with Rusty, who was in a group back here in Colorado. We had him come in play on “Kind Woman,” and we said “Hey, you’re the guy. Would you like to be in the band?”
We had an idea that we wanted to be one of the groups that bridged the gap between country music, and the rock and roll music of the day. Yes, there were others who were doing that. Gram Parsons, who was a friend of mine, was doing that with the Flying Burrito Brothers. The Byrds were doing it, with Chris Hillman. There were more than one group that was doing that, but I do believe that Poco had as big, or as more a part of carrying that on.
Glenn Frey sat in my living room when I was rehearsing Poco. He came over when we were rehearsing on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, and sat there and just listened. So obviously, we had an influence on the Eagles, who took it to the limit, to coin a phrase (laughs). Randy Meisner, my first bass player in Poco [who later co-founded the Eagles], and [former Poco bassist] Timothy B. Schmidt, who plays with the Eagles now.
We had a huge and tremendous influence on that style of music, that became very, very popular. We didn’t reap the financial benefits, but we know, and I know what I did in my heart, to really pioneer that. Somebody had to pioneer that.
BT: Was it a struggle back then to get audiences to feel comfortable with the marriage of country and rock? I know that in the late 1960s, those two fanbases didn’t always mix.
Furay: From our audience standpoint, that was not a problem. Poco could generate a lot of excitement in the audience. The problem we had was with radio. I don’t know if there’s anything to that, beyond what I see on the surface, or what I look back there. There were a lot of big players out there. We became vulnerable to them. The Clive Davises, and David Geffen’s. Although I speak very highly of David in my book, because I think that he did me good. But at the same time, I don’t know what was going on in his mind. I know that he did have a problem with Poco, at the time. But who knows?
Poco was invited to play Woodstock, and the guy that was managing us at the time turned the gig down. Because he said, “We’ve got a better gig for you.” Nobody knew what Woodstock was gonna turn into, but what if Poco had played? I think it would’ve changed the whole atmosphere of what we did.
But we could not get radio [play]. It was in fact the song, and album “A Good Feeling To Know” [in 1972] that we thought was going to launch our career into that other place. And when it didn’t happen, that’s when I said, “That’s it, I’m leaving.” What was it about that song that was not an AM big hit? But it wasn’t, for whatever reason, so you have to live with that, and let it go.
BT: Jumping back to Buffalo Springfield, do you think that it was too much, too soon for that band? Or was that combination of people only going to last so long?
Furay: I don’t think it was too much, too soon. There was so much talent in that band, but we did not have the kind of representation that knew what to do with us. Charlie Green and Brian Stone wanted to be producers, and they should have just been managers. They should have left us alone with our records, and let them worry about how they could best present this group. They didn’t succeed.
We had problems, obviously. There were three Canadians in the group, one of whom [original bassist Bruce Palmer] had trouble with substance abuse, and he ended up getting deported all the time. And consequently, when he was gone that left a void we had to fill. And then one of the other guys [Young], he couldn’t decide if he wanted to be in the band, and not be in the band, and he was looking out for what was best for him at that time. So it was hard to keep that band together for more than two years.
Furay: Do you think that all of the things that have come since then, not just with your band, but also Neil, Steven, CSNY, Loggins & Messina, have almost clouded how people look at Buffalo Springfield? People say, “Oh, they went on and did this and this,” as opposed to the fact that those are three great records.
Furay: Well, I think it’s a group that stands for itself. The Buffalo Springfield is a group that’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame right now. I really also believe in my heart of hearts, and I don’t believe it because I started the band, but I believe that Poco is more than worthy [of Hall induction]. Maybe not because of the hit records, but because of the influence that we had on what became the most popular music in America.
BT: Has it been nice to see people recognize the work that you’ve done with those bands?
Furay: Oh, sure. It’s very humbling, to say the least. When I left Ohio with my suitcase, tape recorder and guitar, I had no idea where it would all go, and the influence that we would have. And that I would be a part of American history, basically. I go to my daughter’s class that she teaches here in Colorado, and I go down there every year, and speak to her class about the ‘60s. We’re a part of history! (laughs)
BT: I recently was on Youtube, and saw the Springfield’s appearance on “Mannix.” What was that like?
Furay: All I remember about that show, and that day it was really early in the morning, an trying to sing that early in the morning was a bear. (laughs)
BT: What was your experience like with the Monterey Pop Festival? I know that Neil wasn’t with you at the time, but Doug Hastings [later of Rhinoceros] and David Crosby both played guitar with you that night.
Furay: I was just coming off of some tonsillitis, so it was not only the fact that Neil wasn’t there, but then the fact that I was physically run down, it was a tough experience. But man, was it also an eye opener. Seeing Jimi Hendrix, seeing the Who and Otis Redding. Such great groups playing. And boy, it was the psychedelic launching pad. It was something else. To walk around that facility. I can still see us walking around. Like they have those renaissance fairs? It was almost like [Monterey] was the start of that. (laughs)
BT: Throughout the Springfield and Poco days, who were your favorite bands to tour with?
Furay: Obviously, touring with the Beach Boys was a huge, absolutely awesome thing. Brian [Wilson] wasn’t there, but there was Dennis and Carl [Wilson], and Mike [Love] and Al [Jardine], and Bruce Johnston. So it was what most people remember the Beach Boys live as. And we did two tours with them, and that was really an experience and a half.
That would’ve been it for the Springfield. We didn’t do a whole lot of outside touring. We did this tour with Sky Saxon and the Seeds. Man, it was the nightmare tour from... well, you can imagine. (laughs) That was awful. We didn’t get outside of our secure little area of Los Angeles. We did make it east a couple of times, but they were very short-lived. Then we went into the midwest, and that was short-lived.
It wasn’t until Poco that we did more national tours. I remember playing with Creedence Clearwater. We headlined a lot of college dates ourselves. Every SUNY up in New York, we were there. (laughs) Oswego, and elsewhere. I swear, I’ve been inside every gymnasium that there is in New York (laughs).
BT: What does the future hold for you? I know that you’ve been setting up tour dates recently.
Furay: I have such a broad opportunity before me. Obviously, it’s gonna be difficult, pastoring a church back here in Colorado. I really believe that this is a very important time in my life, to get out and not only minister in churches, but also to get out and play some of these clubs, and play some of my new songs, as well as the old, and just share my life.
At 62, I just can’t imagine that I’m doing this, but like I said, I don’t plan it. Three or four years ago, I would’ve said that I was done. I had a hip replacement, and I couldn’t even walk. But now I feel rejuvenated, and ready to go.
BT: When I saw you in March, you were very comfortable doing your own songs, and Poco songs, but some that you had done with the Springfield. Not just Neil’s songs, but also songs that Steven had written.
Furay: I enjoy playing “Go And Say Goodbye.” And I had no idea that I would put together a medley of “Flying On The Ground Is Wrong,” “Do I Have To Come Out And Say It?” and “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” but that came out really good. I don’t play it every night, but it’s something that we enjoy doing.
BT: Do you ever do “On The Way Home” occasionally?
Furay: I don’t, but a friend of mine in California just requested it for a church set. (laughs)
That song was recorded in a time where [Springfield] was pretty fragmented. I’m not even sure how it came about that I did sing that song. I think that there were one or two songs were the whole band played on it, and that was one of them.
BT: Do you find that you look at touring differently now, as opposed to previous years?
Furay: Pretty much so, yeah, because I underwrite it all. (laughs) To be able to keep everybody on the road, give them a little bit of money for some taking time off of work, it creates a dilemma. But the Lord knows, and where he guides, He provides.