Richie Furay is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who, in the mid-1960s, formed Buffalo Springfield with several other up-and-coming musicians including Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Buffalo Springfield’s biggest hit, “For What It’s Worth,” became an anthem for the 1960s, but the band’s three albums — all recorded in the span of just two years — consisted of additional outstanding material, notably Furay’s original composition, “Kind Woman.” Furay’s crisp, clean vocals earned him the nod as the group’s lead singer and, as such, it is his voice which carries many of Neil Young’s early songs.
When Buffalo Springfield disbanded in the late ’60s, Furay teamed up with Jim Messina and Rusty Young in an effort to fuse the sounds of rock and country. In the process, they worked with several others including Randy Meisner in their group, Poco, creating a groundbreaking genre of music called country-rock — Messina continuing his experimentation with Loggins and Messina and Randy Meisner with the Eagles. It is said that at an Eagles concert in Denver, band leader Glenn Frey once pointed out Richie Furay in the audience and announced, “If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here.”
In the mid-1970s, Furay left Poco to form The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with songwriter J.D. Souther and The Byrds’ Chris Hillman. Their self-titled debut album was certified gold, and they also produced a top forty hit with Furay’s “Fallin’ in Love.” Going on to enjoy a lengthy solo career, Furay’s most recent recording is his 2015 effort, Hand in Hand, but in April, 2021, he will release a new double live concert album and DVD entitled Richie Furay: 50th Anniversary Return to the Troubadour.
Spotlight Central recently caught up with Furay and asked him about his musical childhood, his rise to fame with Buffalo Springfield and Poco, his work as a solo artist, in addition to his latest recording, Richie Furay: 50th Anniversary Return to the Troubadour.
Spotlight Central: You were born in Dayton and grew up in Yellow Springs, Ohio, but you’ve said you didn’t really come from a musical family. Is that correct?
Richie Furay: That’s right, yeah; in other words, they didn’t really play music. My dad loved music — he played the radio a lot — but he was not a musician at all. And my mom did sing a little bit, but I wouldn’t consider either one of them musicians.
Is it true that your dad bought your mom a tape recorder but you confiscated it?
[Laughs] Yeah, it was an old Revere and I actually lugged it to New York with me when I went there with Bob Harmelink and Nels Gustafson back in 1964 — I lugged that big thing all around! I can’t believe what we can do with our little phones now when I was lugging that huge monstrous recorder with me to New York. I don’t know what I was thinking!
As a kid, weren’t you recording music off the radio with it?
That’s exactly right!
Do you remember what kind of music you were listening to at the time?
I was listening to a station, WING; they were the local Top 40 station in Dayton. I can’t really remember exactly what they were playing, but it was whatever commercial songs were on the radio at the time. I can tell you, however, that their playlist was very diversified — it wasn’t just one type of music — but it did include whatever rock and roll stations were playing at that time.
In your book, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, you have this great story about getting your first guitar as a gift when you were eight years old. How happy were you with that first instrument?
[Laughs] Let’s put it this way: I would be happier now if I had that guitar! You know, it was quite a gesture for my mom and dad to buy me that instrument. I guess I had begged them for a guitar for Christmas, and to go downstairs in the morning and see the shadow of that thing underneath the Christmas tree, you know, was quite a heart-stopper. But when I got up close to it, it wasn’t exactly what I thought I was going to get and so I complained.
To begin with, the guitar was a gut-stringed guitar, which is fine, but I like to describe it as best as I can remember — because I’m kind of color weak — as being puke green with cowboy scenes all over it. And after going down and seeing it under the tree, I marched it upstairs and told my parents that I wanted a real guitar. When I think about it today, I can’t even believe I did that, but that’s what happened.
In junior high, you managed to get yourself into the high school dances because you were singing doo-wop with some high school upperclassmen, describing yourself as sort of like “Little Anthony” and them like “The Imperials.”
[Laughs] That’s exactly how I would describe it! I was looking just recently for a picture — because I remember one of the guys was Phil Lawson and I can’t remember who the other guys were — but they were all upperclassmen and that’s how I got into the high school dances. At the time that was the thing to do, man — to get into the high school dances — and so we would sing the doo-wop music with them and they were the “oohs” and “ahs” and I was “Little Anthony,” the lead singer.
In college, you got to sing with the Otterbein A Capella Choir, which earned you a trip to Greenwich Village. Along with your friends, Bob Harmelink and Nels Gustafson, you ended up performing at a little club called the Four Winds, didn’t you?
Yes, the Four Winds, which was located just a little past the Basket House on West 3rd Street. Whew — just thinking about this brings back memories of what we went through and what we did back then. It seemed like a fun challenge and just the kind of thing you did at the time, but to think of it today: we were playing from eight in the evening until two or three in the morning and then passing the basket in hopes the people — the tourists — would be gracious enough to give us a few bucks, because they had someone else coming on right after us, you know?
And wasn’t it at the Four Winds where you met Stephen Stills, and then you and Stephen became part of The Au Go Go Singers, the house band at the Cafe Au Go Go?
That’s correct. Stephen wasn’t there when Bob and Nels and I first went to New York for the A Cappella Choir tour in March. But I had said to the guys, “Hey, let’s go back there and give it a shot this summer and see what happens,” and I convinced them to go. And in the summertime when we got back to New York, Stephen was playing at the Four Winds.
Goodness, when I think of all the places that he could have been playing; I mean there were so many little clubs at that time — I’m just thinking about that right now as we’re talking. What a coincidence — and I don’t believe in coincidences — but what a coincidence that was that he was in that same little club and we would strike up a friendship and what it would lead to! But, yeah, we became the house band at the Cafe Au Go Go, right across the street from the Bitter End.
We know that The Au Go Go singers recorded an album and did a little tour, but after the group split up, you contacted Stephen in California and he said something like “I’ve got this whole band all set and I want you to join it.”
That’s what he told me.
But that wasn’t exactly true, was it?
That was not true at all! When I got out there, Stephen and I were the band. That was it.
[Laughs] You guys ended up calling yourselves Buffalo Springfield. Neil Young joined the group, but it was your voice that the world heard singing lead on several songs he had written including “Flying on the Ground is Wrong,” “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It,” and “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing.” Were you happy to be the featured vocalist on those songs, or were you more interested in singing your own originals?
Well, when we first got together, Stephen and Neil were very prolific; they were writing a lot of songs. In fact, when I first got to California, Stephen and I sat in this little apartment he had, which turned out to be a very valuable time for us. As I looked at it back then, however, I was thinking, “Oh man, what have I done? What am I doing here?” because I thought we had a band and there was no band except me and him.
But we sat in this little room right across from each other and we learned all the songs that Stephen had already written that would eventually appear on the first Springfield record. We learned how to phrase together, we learned how to harmonize together, and we learned how to sing unison together.
So it was really valuable time, but both of those guys were really a lot more prolific in terms of their writing. I had written a couple of songs at the time, but nothing like they had. When Stephen and I first talked about me being in the band, he said, “All I need is another singer. Come on out and we’ll do this.” So when I had the opportunity to sing some of Neil’s songs on that first record, I felt, “Okay, that’s my place.” I wasn’t really writing anything at the time, so to be able to sing some of those songs was quite fine with me.
Buffalo Springfield recorded three albums and had at least one hit single, “For What It’s Worth.” What were your thoughts about that particular song the first time you heard it?
When I first heard it, it went right over my head. I thought it was a nice little folk song, but I was so into “Bluebird,” and “Mr. Soul,” and “Rock and Roll Woman,” and whatever other songs we were playing at the time that were rock and roll that when I heard it, it just kind of went over my head.
And, also, I heard it in kind of an interesting circumstance. Ahmet Ertegun, who was the president of Atlantic Records, had just come out to Los Angeles because our first record really had not been accepted, I think, the way the record company was hoping it would be — and I have my own opinion as to why that was. They had released “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” as a single and I think it was far too esoteric, if you will, to really be an AM hit. I think if they would have released “Do I Have to Come Right Out and Say It,” it would have been a whole different story.
So Ahmet was there and he was just kind of listening — I think he was wondering,“OK, do these guys have any hits? Have they written anything that could be a hit song?” — so he was out there to see what we would be doing on our follow-up record. I had just played my songs — because I had a few songs at the time — and Neil had just played his songs. And just as we were putting our guitars away, I remember Stephen telling Ahmet, “Hey, I’ve got another song…for what it’s worth.” And Ahmet heard it and said, “That’s a hit, man! We’ve gotta record that song right now.” That’s how I remember it.
You said that, at first, you didn’t have that many songs that you’d written, but you ended up writing some classic songs for Buffalo Springfield including one of our favorites, “Kind Woman,” in addition to “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” which is often acknowledged as one of the earliest examples of country-rock music. Do you agree with that characterization?
I absolutely agree with it. “Kind Woman” and, certainly, “A Child’s Claim to Fame” were precursors to the country-rock sound that we would actually develop.
And speaking of that development, when Buffalo Springfield disbanded, you formed Poco with Jim Messina and Rusty Young, a group that helped to pioneer that new genre of country-rock. One of your best-loved Poco songs is “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” and another one of our favorite Poco songs of yours is “C’mon.” Can you tell us about the inspiration for either of these tunes?
Well, “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” was certainly a reflection on, “Well, OK, Buffalo Springfield has broken up and we’re moving on. We have a whole new project involved and we’re gonna pick up the pieces and move on.”
And, by the way, that is the only song that I wrote that is on a new project that’s going to be released in June that I recorded in Nashville, where I recorded some of the Nashville songs that have really touched my heart over the years. We recorded “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” and kind of did it with more of a Bakersfield-type sound than a Nashville-type sound. But, anyway, that song was a reflection on where we were at the time, and we were moving on.
And then we also had the idea in our mind that was we wanted to cross over country music with rock and roll. Now this was nothing new. Back in the day, Gene Vincent and Buddy Holly and Carl Perkins and guys like that — even Ricky Nelson and Elvis Presley — were doing it. So it was really nothing new — I mean, we were creating a new genre of music in 1969 — but, again, there’s nothing new under the sun. So we were following in the footsteps of some guys who were playing rock and roll with country way back when.
And as far as “C’mon” goes, I think it was kind of a follow-up in my mind to the song [recites lyrics from The Youngblood’s “Get Together”] “Come on, people now/Smile on your brother/Everybody get together.” You know, there was still trouble going on in the world and it was kind of like that song — where you could look at things that way — and then there was probably a personal aspect I was reaching out to as well. But it was more or less one of those songs which said,“Hey look, we’re going through tough times here in this country. Let’s all come together and we can work it out.”
After Poco, you created the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, where you had a Top 40 hit with one of your compositions, “Fallin’ in Love.” You went on to become a pioneer of Christian Rock with songs like “I’ve Got a Reason,” and also had a solo career with some of our favorites including “Overflow,” “Winds of Change,” and “Hand in Hand.” One song we’re interested in finding out more about, however, is “We Were The Dreamers,” which is kind of a “looking back” song. How did that one come about for you?
You know it’s really interesting. I had the lick — the original little guitar lick to that song — I’d had that for ten years and couldn’t find a song for it. I just couldn’t find anything to go with it! I talked to my manager at the time and I said, “You know, I’ve got this lick and I’ve got this guitar pattern, but I just can’t think of anything to write the song about.” And he said, “Let me call one of my other artists. We’ll see if we can get you together and just write.”
And I went and took a shower and I came back after that shower and, all of a sudden, there were all of the lyrics to that song! And it turned out to be a reflection about Poco. It was looking back on the days when we were the dreamers and we pioneered what would become the Southern California country-rock sound. And so that’s exactly what it was — it was a reflection looking back on those days when we were playing at the Troubador.
Just curious, but was it Dickie Betts from the Allman Brothers Band that your manager wanted to call?
[Laughs]. That’s exactly right! My manager suggested giving Dickie Betts a call to see if we could write together, and I don’t know what it was, but I just went in to take a shower and when I came back, I picked up my guitar, and the lyrics just started to flow. So that was kind of cool.
In 2015, you recorded your most recent album, Hand in Hand, but we know that you recently released some video singles including a new version of “C’mon” — which sounds amazing — along with a Poco medley, and a powerful new live version of “Kind Woman.” All of these are from a new live album and DVD which is coming out very soon. Can you tell us more about this project?
Yes. This is something that we recorded back in 2018 at the Troubadour, and it’s called Richie Furay: 50th Anniversary Return to the Troubadour, because that’s where Poco actually got its start. Buffalo Springfield was like a house band at the Whiskey A Go Go, and Poco was the house band at the Troubadour.
We had been thinking about what, maybe, we could do differently, and some groups were doing recreations of some of their albums, and so the thought came to mind, “Why don’t we do a recreation of Poco’s live album, DeLIVEerin’?”
I thought for minute, “Gosh,” you know, “that’s gonna be so hard to do! It was an album that was so ingrained in people’s minds, and it was so popular with so many people, could we even come close to doing it?”
And then I got to thinking about it, and I realized that my band would be the only band that could even attempt something like that because I sang almost three quarters of the songs on the original DeLIVErin’ album. We had already been doing all but four songs in our sets somewhere along the line, so it was only four songs that I had to learn. We started putting it together, and finally it did come together, and I’m telling you: I’m so happy with how it came out.
You know, COVID kind of put a hold on it — we had hoped that it would have been out before April; it’s officially, I think, going to be released on April 2 — but the project, to me, just turned out so well; I’m just really, really happy with it.
We can’t wait to hear it! In the meantime, are you planning to do any live concerts in the future?
I’ve always said, all along, that I’m up for doing “one-offs,” but if I have to be on the road for two or three weeks at a time, number one, physically, I don’t think my voice would be able to handle that. But I will go out and I will do “one-offs.” I actually have a couple of things on the agenda right now that I’m working on with a new form of my band. So do we ever retire? [Laughs] I don’t know if we ever retire! As long as we can keep it going, I think there will be some opportunities for me to get out there and play.
Is there anything you’d like to add, or anything you’d like to say to your many fans, some of whom have been following you for years now starting with Buffalo Springfield, through Poco, and going all the way through to today?
Well I’ll tell you, it’s really an honor, when we go out and play, to see so many people who are willing to buy a ticket to come out and hear the music. I feel that, over the years, I’ve had a couple of different things going on in my life where, you know, I wasn’t a full-time musician. In my band that I was playing with right up to the end of 2017 when we did this DeLIVErin’ project, everyone had regular jobs. We weren’t a full-time working band, so to speak, but I really felt that due to the accomplishments and musicianship of the guys, we were able to give our audiences a quality show and a re-creation of some of the songs they were familiar with, as well as some new songs.
And it’s just been very special for me to be able to go out and know that people were still there to support us and come out. One of the things that I liked to do over the past several years — when I was playing somewhat more regularly, but certainly not as much as a full-time band — was to go out and mingle among the audience members before the show just to say “Hi” to them and just let them know, “Hey, man, I’m so happy you came out to hear us play and I hope you enjoy the show.” It’s very touching, you know, when along the way you’ve got people who are still supportive and come out, and I’m just very thankful for all the opportunities I’ve had over the years!
To learn more about Richie Furay, please go to richiefuray.com. For more information on Richie Furay’s new album and DVD, Richie Furay: 50th Anniversary Return to the Troubadour, please click on richiefuray.com/troubadour-cddvd.
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