At first glance, a show billed as “The Farewell Concert” might seem to mark the end for Richie Furay. But things are never what they first seem and for Furay, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco who helped fuse country and rock and roll, one might think of it as the next chapter.
The concert at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey does mark Furay’s decision to retire from all headline touring after six decades. But even that hasn’t been easy. A farewell had been planned two years ago at the South Orange Performing Arts Center but was cancelled three times due to Covid-19. When Hurricane Ida caused extensive water damage, the theater closed its doors and manager David Stone moved the show to Drew.
But perhaps the rock and roll gods have put the brakes on Furay’s timeline. He recorded an album of country covers with his old friend and producer Val Garay that will be released in June by BMG called Richie Furay–In The Country. Already a concert is planned for next June on Record Store Day and Furay remains open to the occasional one-off concerts and opening gig. After all these years, goodbye might be the hardest word to say.
When I spoke to him earlier this year, Furay was laughing that for all the efforts he’s made to step away, projects keep popping up and in some ways he felt busier than ever. This year he released an album and DVD recorded and filmed in 2018 commemorating his first visit to the famed Troubadour club in Los Angeles. On it he re-created Poco’s seminal live album Deliverin’, covering a live album from start to finish in a live setting. Furay is also the subject of a new documentary that goes into post-production early next year and is slated for release late next year or early 2023.
When Furay took the stage at The Troubadour, he pointed out his wife Nancy in the audience. They’d met when Furay finally caught her eye when she kept showing up in front of his place on the bandstand. They’ve been married over fifty years and their daughter Jesse is an integral part of his band over the last decade. At his rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction speech, Furay gave a shout out to Jesse, one of his four daughters, and admits he wouldn’t have had the desire to press on without her singing alongside him.
“Sometimes the numbers just don’t compute,” Furay says of his life. “It was fun to go back and reminisce at the Troubadour. They removed the tables when it was a folk club. It was packed. The six feet distancing thing wouldn’t have worked.”
As Furay reflected, he and his wife are at the point in their lives where they don’t want to be bound to schedules and commitments. It played into his decision to step down from his role as pastor at his church in Colorado. Furay occasionally fills in when needed. For the devout Christian who uses his Facebook posts to quote scripture on an almost daily basis, he says he left the pulpit but not the ministry. “You never retire from the ministry,” he says.
Perhaps there’s a parallel there with Furay’s musical career and decision to stop touring but leaving his options open.
The sense of time came into stark view this year when in the span of a few months, we lost Buffalo Springfield and Poco’s pedal steel guitarist Rusty Young and then Paul Cotton, Furay’s successor when he left Poco and the voice of “In The Heart of The Night.”.
“You haven’t heard about Rusty have you?” Furay remembers hearing the day he took a call from his manager.
“What about Rusty?” Furay asked
Furay thought it was just a routine call to catch up. It took a moment to take in the news. Just days earlier Young was out riding his bike with his wife Mary. The couple was talking about what they were going to plant in their garden. Then the next day he was gone.
Cotton and his wife Caroline were planning to come to Furay’s farewell concert when it was originally scheduled and then cancelled just as everything was shutting down. They’d booked their plane tickets and hotel. But last August, he passed away at the age of 78. Once again Furay was faced with the loss of another friend. “The journey of life we’ve all been on has brought some wonderfully talented and creative people into our lives.” he told journalist Lee Zimmerman.
Furay will weave in a tribute to his former Springfield and Poco mates during the show and it will likely be captured for the documentary. At some point over the next few months journalist and film director Cameron Crowe (whose first Rolling Stone interview was with Poco), will interview the surviving members of Buffalo Springfield including Furay, Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Crowe was unable to attend the Troubadour show but sent some words that were read by Timothy B. Schmit, the affable bassist who replaced Randy Meisner when he left Poco to go to the Eagles and replaced him again in the Eagles.
One of Furay’s recent songs, “We Were The Dreamers,” describes the founding of Poco and the aspirational hopes in the late Sixties. Furay had a riff and melody in his head but was having trouble writing the lyrics. When he got out of the shower one morning, the lyrics came pouring out and summed up a generation. The song shows how much time has passed and recalls the culture clash between hippies and rednecks at the birth of country rock. Nowadays Furay sings, it’s just music.
To understand it, you have to go back to New York in the mid-Sixties. Furay was working for Pratt and Whitney but coming into New York City for auditions. Furay reached out to Stephen Stills who had moved from New York to Los Angeles and invited him to join a new band. When Furay arrived, there was no band. It was just him and Stephen. Neil Young and the late Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer would soon join. The band was short lived but was the pathway for Furay and Jim Messina to conceive Poco and their desire to meld country and rock.
Furay has said on a number of occasions his feelings that Poco has not been properly recognized for its contributions. His deep-rooted angst stems from the deep disappointment he felt when “A Good Feeling to Know” didn’t breakthrough on radio.Furay’s angst is compounded by recent documentaries such as Ken Burns: Country Music and and Echoes In The Canyon about the Southern California music scene
“I feel like we got dissed,” he says matter of factly. “It was almost like Poco didn’t exist. And you know what? We were there in the beginning. We started the whole thing. For some reason it was “we weren’t there.’ My address was 2300 Laurel Canyon Boulevard. I didn’t live on Lookout or Kirkwood but it was Laurel Canyon Boulevard.”
These days the aspirational hopes of the youthful Furay of the late Sixties have morphed into late life pontifications in verse about a troubled country in “America, America.” Furay’s voice is still pure and hasn’t been affected by time but clearly his views have evolved and he recently found himself appearing on The Mike Huckabee Show on Fox News.
One day Furay was in the supermarket and heard his old friend Buffalo Springfield mate Neil Young singing “Mr. Soul” across the store’s aisles. It brought back great memories and those of the band’s reunion when they would sit around the communal dressing room and talk nightly. Furay still is struck by the enormity of it all. “To think about all the people I’ve crossed lives with and the music we made….and the music that has lasted all these years.”
A few years ago Rusty Young wrote a song “Hello Friend” about the people who come in and out of your lives. Furay can surely understand. When he was in Nashville recording Richie Furay–In The Country, he was joined by Nashville resident J.D. Souther with whom he once fronted his post-Poco band Souther, Hillman and Furay. The band was a much-hyped “supergroup” promoted by record executive David Geffen. Each was looking to do something. Furay had called it quits with Poco, Hillman had left Stephen Stills and Manassas. Souther had written for the Eagles but his solo career never took off.
Looking back, Furay is philosophical. “What often looks good on paper doesn’t always translate into reality,” he says of the shortlived band. All around him, Furay was seeing his friends and old bandmates go on to enormous success, including Glenn Frey of the Eagles who used to sit in Furay’s living room watching Poco rehearse. He remembers it as a crazy time with events going on around him he didn’t quite comprehend, including his wife who sought a divorce. That didn’t happen and here they are five decades in as a couple. Furay did quit the music business for a while and went away for ten years.
This time he may be saying farewell but don’t count it as a goodbye.