Poco

TrackAlbum
Pickin' Up The PiecesPickin' Up The Pieces
You Better Think TwicePoco
Anyway Bye ByePoco
C'MonDeliverin'
Just For Me And YouFrom The Inside
Bad WeatherFrom The Inside
A Good Feelin' To KnowA Good Feelin' To Know
Keep On Tryin'Head Over Heels
Rose Of CimarronRose Of Cimarron
Crazy LoveLegend
Heart Of The NightLegend
When It All BeganLegacy
If It Wasn't For YouLegacy
What Do People KnowLegacy

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Poco is one of those groups for whom it’s pretty difficult to write a Toppermost, mostly because they weren’t really just one band. From 1969-1973 they were a Richie Furay led band with future RnR Hall of Famers Jim Messina, Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit taking part at one time or another. A band that started out calling themselves Pogo by the way, until Walt Kelly (creator of the comic strip Pogo) put a stop to that. From 1974-1977 it was arguably a band fronted by Schmit. After Schmit quit the group to join the Eagles, the only original member of the group, guitarist Rusty Young, along with Paul Cotton who had joined the band in 1970, started up the Cotton-Young Band. A band ABC Records agreed to sign only if they recorded as Poco, so two new guys were added and we had more or less a third edition of the Poco. Then from 1989-1991 the five guys from 1969 came back and reclaimed the name. But then all of them but Young had left again by 1991 and Cotton returned in 1992 with two more new guys. And with some minor changes, like original drummer George Grantham and Furay occasionally spending some time in the band, that was the band til the finally hung it up a few years ago. All in all there were 18 studio albums and eight live ones. There are a staggering 27 compilation albums out there, and a few DVDs as well. In that time they only managed two gold albums, none which broke the Top 10, and four Top 40 singles. Along the way 20 men played in the band, and four are in the the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for their participation in acts other than Poco.

I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but it’s been reported in enough places to tell the story here, but according to some sources Furay and Messina came very close to forming a band with Chris Hillman and Gram Parsons. According to some sources, including some of these four guys, the sticking point was Furay had promised steel guitar player Rusty Young a place in his new band and Hillman/Parsons had promised steel guitar player Sneaky Pete Kleinow a place in their new band. So whatever band that might have been became Poco on one side and the Flying Burrito Brothers (see toppermost #86) on the other.

It’s somehow fitting then that Rusty Young was the only member of Poco to play on every album during the band’s roughly 40 year career.

So let’s just get it out there right now. We have arguably four different bands with a 40 year recording career. This is not ending at ten. I could have easily done a list of 25, so consider yourself lucky I stopped at 14.

The band started with problems right out of the gate, and not just because Walt Kelly stopped them from using the Pogo and they had to switch to Poco. Randy Meisner left before the first album was even released as he felt Messina and Furay were treating him as a junior member of the band. Perhaps true as Young and Grantham had done session work for Buffalo Springfield and Meisner was the bassist hired from tryouts. Tryouts where a couple of the guys clearly preferred Schmit. Regardless why, while his background vocals and playing were left on the album, his leads were removed and re-recorded and they replaced him on the album cover with a dog.

Regardless of those early issues their first album Pickin’ Up The Pieces is early country rock at its best. And the title track, while hardly a hit, was very important in the creation of country rock. Furay had written it in 1967 and played it for Messina and Young while Buffalo Springfield was wrapping up. It was about just what the title said, moving on. It’s a sort of rock band talking about how much they love sitting around and pickin’ some good country music, with really good harmonies. As Furay sang, “There’s just a little bit of magic in the country”.

Their second album Poco is an out an out classic of the genre. A copy of the album hangs in Country Music Hall of Fame along with the jacket Young wears on the cover. Schmit replaced Meisner on bass for the album and Poco became much more a band than a Furay/Messina vehicle. On the first album all but one song was written by Furay or Messina. On this, all five members picked up at least a partial songwriting credit.

You Better Think Twice was still awash in a country rock sound, yet there was a bit more pop thrown in. A Messina song, with him singing lead, the harmonies are standout as is Grantham’s drumming and Young’s picking. It’s somewhat ironic the song is about a guy telling her girl she better think twice before leaving him behind when the other standout song is about the opposite. Furay’s Anyway Bye Bye starts out with a sweet little guitar intro before Furay asks his girl if she’s sad he is leaving. It veers back and forth between guitar solos, Furay showing off his tenor and the other setting the harmonizing bar even higher than they have before. When they start rocking it out at the end before just going into a jam session, stretching the song out to over seven minutes, you can’t help but think this band is going to be huge. It is an amazing song. A must listen.

Poco’s third effort was the live album Deliverin’ in 1971. It is their second highest charting album in the US, and the last album Messina appeared on for years. C’Mon was another Furay effort that featured a good jam, enough Steel Guitar to countrify it, and some wonderful harmonies. In later years the band turned the song into an elongated jam much the way the previous song was played.

Paul Cotton joined the band to replace Messina before the release of the band’s fifth album From The Inside, which was not an effort the band was happy with as they supposedly felt producer Steve Cropper didn’t “get them”. Still, it delivered yet another Furay gem in Just For Me And You, a tune that starts out with a wonderful little guitar lick before Furay’s vocals take over. Most importantly for the group’s future, Cotton stepped forward as a songwriter from the start with three songs on his first album, one being the wonderful Bad Weather which followed the plan of a little steel guitar solo before rolling in to a countrified rock ‘n’ roll ballad with amazing harmonies. What made it unique it was done by yet another songwriter and singer.

Furay stepped up to the forefront again with perennial favorite, for both Poco and the current Richie Furay Band, A Good Feelin’ To Know. Yet another song to celebrate being happily in love and Colorado. It seemed Furay had found a songwriting niche.

It was around this time Furay left the band hoping for superstardom with the ill fated SHF Band. Which opened up the opportunity for Schmit to take some leadership, and also for Rusty Young to write more. On Head Over Heels Schmit scored with Keep On Tryin’ (1975) as the band moved into a softer sound that suited Schmit and Cotton’s vocals. The harmonies were still there, and this song might be the best example of Poco harmonies, something I’ll say a couple times in this piece.

A year later Young penned and handled some vocals on Rose Of Cimarron but Cotton really handled the lead. While it might not really be in my top ten it often polls among fans as their favorite song. Not long after Schmit left to replace Meisner in the Eagles and the band tried to break up. But their label wouldn’t let them, telling the Cotton-Young Band they would only be signed if they continued as Poco, which they somewhat reluctantly agreed to. So of course their next album was by far their biggest seller and produced their first and second top 40 singles in the US.

Legend was more a light rock album than a country album, and oddly enough was one of a couple Poco album covers designed by comic Phil Hartman. Crazy Love and Heart Of The Night, written and sung respectively by Young and Cotton, were the band’s biggest hits. Young has stated in interviews over the years that Crazy Love is why he is still getting booked and the song that pays the mortgage. It was a clear departure from the earlier work and struck a chord with people who hadn’t been fans of the band up to that point.

Poco went along recording another five years trying to duplicate the success of Legend with little success. And although there are some fine songs by the Cotton-Young version of the band on these four albums, none really deserve to be in this conversation. The band sort of drifted apart in 1987 and was in a bit of a holding pattern when the original five, including Meisner, decided to record a new album.

Legacy became only the second Gold album in the band’s history and featured their third and fourth top 40 single. Although one of the songs barely snuck in at 39. Still, I find the two hits from the album a bit dated preferring the Furay penned and sung When It All Began and If It Wasn’t For You and Young’s What Do People Know. Certainly not as country as the band had been originally, but still true to their roots, the harmonies were still incredible and the playing first rate. As popular as the album and singles were, Furay walked away by 1990, angered at the band videos and some of their songs being in conflict with his Christian beliefs and according to him being a bit confused about the animosity towards letting Schmit and Cotton join in on the fun. The other followed and by 1992 Young was back together with Cotton and a couple of new guys. They didnt record again til 2002 when Grantham returned and then again in 2004 when Furay returned again for a short spell.

So you have fourteen songs you might want to check out, with five different songwriters and lead singers. And that was just the songs I chose. Other members of the band sang and wrote over the years as well. Perhaps that was part of their problem, no signature voice or sound to hang onto.

In my mind they deserve to be considered in the upper echelon of country rock. A couple of these songs equal or surpass anything the Eagles ever did, why they aren’t thought of in the same way is a mystery really.

Poco – the official website

Websites of Poco members past & present

Poco biography (iTunes)

This is Calvin’s 20th Toppermost, so clearly he enjoys writing them and telling people what he thinks. Even more so it allows him to dive into procrastinating and avoiding the writing he is supposed to be doing. As such he has no shot in hell in completing his next book when he told his publisher he’d have it done. If you’re so inclined to read any of his real books, and have an interest in the History of Northeast Ohio, you can find them here. P.S. The three books not written by him which show up when you search his name on Amazon.com are by another writer from his hometown. This writer tells a story in which Calvin was supposedly involved in 1980-81 that he has absolutely no memory of.

See Calvin’s post on Richie Furay at Toppermost #374

TopperPost #387

4 Comments

  1. David Lewis
    Nov 27, 2014

    Thoroughly enjoyable and marvellous selection of a band I’m not as deeply into as I should be. There’s a nasty strain running through these Californian country-rock acts – as Calvin points out, Randy Meisner’s image on that first album was replaced by a dog after he left Poco; David Crosby was famously replaced by a horse’s bottom on one of the Byrd’s albums…

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Nov 29, 2014

      And his leaving is an odd story as well. Meisner claimed he walked after Furay refused to let him come down into the studio while him and Messina where working on the final mixes for the first album. Furay claims he has no memory of doing anything like that and conjectured that Meisner probably asked to come down to the studio and was told by him, with no malice and in a tired let me just finish this sort of way, Jim and I are almost done, just let us finish. The funny thing is in telling the story Furay seems completely clueless in how Meisner could have taken that as the final straw of Furay/Messina treating him as a junior member of the band because they actually were.

  2. Michael Duffy
    Jan 2, 2015

    I heard a couple of years ago that George Grantham was having serious health problems. Any later news?

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Jan 5, 2015

      George had a stroke several years back, Poco and Poco offshoots have done a number of benefit concerts for his health bills. The stroke was 2002 and til this point he hasn’t recorded as a drummer since then. Although he did do some backing vocals on a Poco project in 2009. Sometime fans get confused as George Lawrence, who manned the kit for a while in 1999, has been Poco’s drummer since Grantham’s stroke.

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