Richie Furay

TrackAlbum
Look At The SunI've Got A Reason
Over And Over AgainI've Got A Reason
Ooh DreamerDance A Little Light
Bittersweet LoveDance A Little Light
This Magic MomentDance A Little Light
I Was A FoolI Still Have Dreams
I'm SatisfiedI Still Have Dreams
In My Father's HouseIn My Father's House
Let's Dance TonightThe Heartbeat Of Love
Kind WomanThe Heartbeat Of Love

 

Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Richie Furay, even if he won’t admit to it now, was always a bit frustrated as to why so many of his friends became stars and he always stayed second, or maybe even third tier. As a member of Buffalo Springfield, Poco and The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band he made a few runs at stardom but things never seemed to work out quite right for him. So he did what any reasonable future Rock and Roll Hall of Famer does when they haven’t obtained superstardom by their late 30s, he quit the mainstream music business to become a minister. It’s an old story that we’ve all heard before.

Furay has performed in groups with Stephen Stills, Neil Young, Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, Timothy B. Schmit and Chris Hillman, and that is just the short list. Yet somehow the magic ring they all grasped, for however short of time, always seemed to elude him and he is now fairly a somewhat forgotten man, at least compared to some of his bandmates.

In the early 1960s he recorded with the nine piece Au Go-Go Singers alongside Stephen Stills. A couple years later he, Stills and Neil Young formed the somewhat legendary Buffalo Springfield. After a three album run (the last which he and late to the party Springfield member Jim Messina pretty much put together themselves as Young and Stills were AWOL From the band), he and Messina recruited a few young guns and fromed Poco. He recorded six albums as the leader of Poco from 1969 to 1973, returning briefly for a reunion album with the original lineup in 1989 and a live album with the current band in 2004. In 1973 David Geffen talked him into leaving Poco to form a “Super-Group” along with J.D. Souther and former Byrd Chris Hillman. After two albums it was pretty clear these three talented guys just didn’t mesh though.

Now most music fans know about Buffalo Springfield and Poco. Some even know about the SHF Band. But not many are aware of Furay’s solo work. Which means of course I’m going to write about the seven solo albums he’s released over the past 35-40 years.

Furay said he knew at their first practice the SHF Band somehow didn’t work. There was no question in his mind Hillman, Souther, Joe Lala, Jim Gordon and Al Perkins were all top tier musicians, but somehow they didn’t gel. And after recording with four groups over the previous twelve years he was ready to call his own shots.

In 1976 Furay formed the Richie Furay Band with Jay Truax, John Mehler and Tom Stipe. Shortly before forming the band Furay had converted to Christianity, under the guidance of Al Perkins, and put together a band that was composed of like minded musicians. A couple who have made their mark more in Christian Rock than Mainstream Music. Geffen was actually a bit worried Furay was going to hand in a heavy handed religious album that Asylum would have found unmarketable. Furay promised Geffen, who he had a very good relationship with, that while it would reflect his new beliefs it would not be overtly preachy. And that is a fairly good description of what the listeners of I’ve Got a Reason heard when they cued the album up. The songs were certainly more reflective than preachy, mostly I’d guess as Furay was just as concerned with trying to salvage his marriage as he was talking about his religious conversion. It’s also pretty clear he was moving away from his countryesque stylings into a more pop oriented sound. Perhaps a little too poppy than Furay was suited for really.

Still, its a pretty solid effort for Furay, as it’s hard for that emotive, clear tenor of his not to deliver a couple damn good songs an album. I’ve always felt some of the production was a bit heavy handed and over the top, even though they seemed to realize it was all about Furay’s tenor now and again. The beginning of Look At The Sun, which kicked off the album, was mostly Furay’s voice without much accompaniment before rolling into the sort of song that could have been a minor hit for many other acts in 1976. I’ve Got A Reason was very similar, Furay singing, for the most part, alone at the start before the band came in. You can feel that these aren’t just lyrics for him, he is feeling this song: “Music was my life and it finally took everything/Ain’t in funny how you got it all and not a thing (it’s a gift I can sing).” You can kind of tell he wouldn’t be doing this Rock Star thing as a full time job for much longer.

He still had enough time left to release an overall much stronger album the next time out with 1978’s Dance A Little Light. Probably as he chose a producer in Jim Mason who had worked with Firefall and Poco and was more in tune with Furay’s strengths. Hillman, Schmit and Poco’s pedal steel man Rusty Young guested on the album as well. And while it was still more or less a christian rock group where sensibilities were concerned, they made an album that capitalized on a reliance of harmonies and tight playing, with a easy country rock feel, that made his earlier work in group settings successful. Much like the last album there are several somewhat vague references to a big change happening in his life without actually mentioning what the change was. Ooh Dreamer is just a pretty, pleasant song you find yourself bopping your head to, and those harmonies are just so good. Just right, just perfect for this sort of song.

While I haven’t really dwelled on it, I always considered Richie Furay to be a good songwriter, He certainly had a nice way with a lyric. He’s got a pretty good catalog of songs when you really take a look at it. Which is why as good as his version of This Magic Moment is I wasn’t going to include it in his Toppermost. But then I figured what they heck, it’s a good song.

Bittersweet Love is a great little song as well, and like the rest on this list at least co-written by Furay: “Of a bittersweet love, one that called us to play/But we had crying’ and sighin’ every day/Bittersweet Love, how we fell to its prey/I know that cryin’ and sighin’ aint the way”. (Cue pretty decent late 70s pop sax solo).

It’s a strong album, and one that should have helped establish him as at least a solid solo artist able to deliver respectable sales, but it didn’t.

His last mainstream album, at least for 20+ years, was 1979’s I Still Have Dreams. Yet again a who’s who of the genre dropped in … Souther, Craig Fuller, Meisner, Schmit, Waddy Wachtel, Russ Kunkel and Leland Sklar all play or add their vocals to the album. The title track of the album actually snuck its way into the top 40 for a short time. My favorite track from the album though is I Was A Fool. Perhaps the best song from his solo catalog, Furay sings not about wanting forgiveness but just that he has acted the idiot, but in a soothing pleasant sort of way. Now if thematically there seems to be a number of songs about screwing up in these three solo albums it probably would help to know Furay had a brief affair that led to a separation and almost a divorce during this period of his life. So if he wasn’t writing about becoming a Christian he was writing about how badly he screwed up and how he wanted his family back.

That said, the other song I really enjoy on the album is Satisfied, which is all about being in love and well, being satisfied.

At this point Furay took a hard right into Christian Music, and during the next 23 years he recorded, as a solo artist that is, only three christian albums. Or as his website refers to them, devotional albums. And while I want to like them, well, I don’t so much. Not because of the Christianity per se, it’s just hard I think to write a catchy tune and a devotional at the same time. That said, the title track from 1997’s In My Father’s House was a heck of a rocking encore when I saw him live a few years back. And it’s a song I do listen to now and again, even if its message and my personal beliefs aren’t always in sync.

During these years Richie did participate in a reunion with the five original members of Poco, which seems to have been an unpleasant experience for him, as well as the others, as he told Meisner, Messina, Young and Grantham he would only do it if none of the songs, videos or concerts violated his personal beliefs. Fair enough they said, but it sounds like they didn’t quite realize what that meant, so very often he was at odds with four men he was actually quite fond of as respected musicians. That certainly made him step away from mainstream music for more than another decade. Poco’s Legacy is an album worth checking out though, and Richie’s song When it All Began is a bit of a highpoint

In 2004, after a short flirtation with the modern day Poco lineup, Furay put out his first mainstream album in roughly 25 years with The Heartbeat Of Love. Once again some A-Listers showed up as Young, Jeff Hanna, Schmit, Kenny Loggins, Paul Cotton, Perkins, Young and Stills all added their talents to the album. It’s not a great album, but fair enough as near the end of a career kind of statements go. Let’s Dance Tonight is a pretty good tune. The highlight though is a song I have no idea how many times Furay has recorded. But Kind Woman, a song about Nancy his wife of close to 50 years is a good song, and one that has to be on any list of Furay’s best regardless of the version.

Richie Furay isn’t one of rock’s upper echelon, and realistically he doesn’t deserve to be. But for a lot of years, in several different groups as well as a solo artist, he entertained with a majestic rock n roll tenor, and a real passion for his music. There is more than enough good work in his catalog, if you like pleasing, easy going country rock that is, that he deserves more of a reputation than he’s got now. Thing is now he doesn’t seem to care like he did as a younger man. His 2007 live album Alive certainly portrays a man who after decades of performing is very content with his place in the world. He has played around doing shows with Stills and Young in somewhat of a Buffalo Springfield reunion. But he has certainly stopped chasing the golden ring of stardom from band to band.

And he still can put on a pretty damn good show.

Richie Furay official website

Richie Furay biography (iTunes)

See Calvin’s post on Poco at Toppermost #387

TopperPost #374

1 Comment

  1. Rob Millis
    Oct 29, 2014

    A great read and a surefire whetter of appetite for one of the most important “Pete Frame’s Byrds Family Tree” figures. My dad was a Byrds and offshoots junkie and as a kid I seem to recall that while we found some good moments among the likes of Dillard & Clark, Shiloh Nashville West and sundry other offshoots, Furay was consistently good in his bands: Buffalo S, Poco, SH&F – must do as you advise and check out his own stuff. Ta, RM.

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