Richie Furay — credited as one of the founders of country-rock — is coming to the Garden State on May 20, 2023 to perform a concert at SOPAC in South Orange, NJ. Furay is a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer known by many as the voice of country rock. In fact, it is said that at an Eagles concert in Denver, band leader Glenn Frey once pointed out Furay in the audience and announced, “If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be here.”
An Ohio-born musician, Furay, 78, started his professional music career in the NY/NJ metropolitan area as a member of the Au Go Go Singers, the house band at the famous Café Au Go Go, a famed ‘60s-era Greenwich Village nightspot.
In the mid-‘60s, Furay was a member of Buffalo Springfield with Stephen Stills and Neil Young, both of whom went on to achieve continued success as independent artists and with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Buffalo Springfield’s biggest hit, “For What It’s Worth,” became an anthem for the 1960s, but the band’s catalog consisted of such additional material as Furay’s original composition, “Kind Woman.”
When Buffalo Springfield disbanded in the late ’60s, Furay teamed up with Jim Messina in an effort to fuse the sounds of rock and country in a new musical style. Working with others including Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit in their group, Poco, the musicians pioneered a groundbreaking genre of music called country-rock, Messina continuing his experimentation with Loggins and Messina and Meisner and Schmit with the Eagles.
In the mid-1970s, Furay left Poco to form The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band with songwriter J.D. Souther and The Byrds’ Chris Hillman. The trio’s self-titled debut album was certified gold, and the group also produced a Top 40 hit with Furay’s “Fallin’ in Love.”
In addition to working as a solo artist, during the 1980s, Furay made the shift from musical innovator to pastor of a Christian church in the Denver, Colorado area. He continues his musical career today, his latest release being his 2022 collection of classic country cover tunes entitled In the Country.
Spotlight Central recently caught up with Furay and asked him about his early musical experiences, his work as a songwriter, his In the Country album, and his upcoming May 20, 2023 performance in NJ.
As a youngster growing up in Ohio, you once said that rockabilly music “just seemed to put a spark in me.” What was it about that type of music that appealed to you, and which artists inspired you the most?
Music inspires people in different ways, and, for me, I’ve always seemed to listen to the music before listening to the words, to whatever a song has to say. And there was just something about that music — I don’t know if you want to call it a “toe-tapping” quality — but it really hit me as something different, and just had a different “catch” to it.
It was guys like Buddy Holly, Gene Vincent, Carl Perkins, and Eddie Cochran who were doing this kind of music that you’d probably call rockabilly. And, later on, I went on to be influenced by Ricky Nelson. I don’t know that I’d call him a rockabilly guy, but he certainly had some of the same musicians playing with him and was doing that same type of music from the late ’50s and early ‘60s.
But, again, music catches people in different ways and I’d just have to say that the rockabilly music caught me in a different way than some of the other music that was being played on the radio at that time.
In your book, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, you mention that when you were a junior high student, you got yourself into high school dances as a member of a doo wop group which you described as being somewhat like Little Anthony and the Imperials. Was it more the vocal aspect of doo-wop, the songs themselves, or something else which triggered your interest in doo wop?
It was the harmonies. I’d probably have to include musicians like Dion and the Belmonts and people like that, as well, but yeah, it was the harmonies, and it was fun! In that group there were these three guys who were high school guys who loved that kind of music. For some reason we’d catch each other singing in the hall and start singing together. They were upperclassmen in our school where the junior high and the high school were all in the same building — I mean, I graduated in a class of 45 people or something like that.
While you were in college, you and some of your buddies from the Otterbein a cappella choir traveled to Greenwich Village. That trip got you interested in performing in NYC, where you eventually met Stephen Stills and the two of you became members of the Au Go Go Singers at the Cafe Au Go Go. At the time, were you writing any songs?
As I recall, I’d written one song called “The Ballad of Johnny Collins.” It was about a little drummer boy in the Civil War, but don’t ask me any questions about the Civil War! How it came about, I have no idea, but it was a folk song and seemed to be the type of thing that was popular at the time. And neither of the other guys in my band — Bob Harmelink and Nels Gustafson — were writing songs then, but that was one we actually performed in our little folk trio, which was around the same time I met Stephen back in New York.
Ultimately, Stephen invited you and Neil Young to come to California to be part of Buffalo Springfield. In the beginning, Stephen and Neil seemed to be writing the bulk of the songs — such as Stephen’s “For What It’s Worth” and Neil’s “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” — but you ended up writing some of the band’s most enduring compositions, notably “Kind Woman” and “A Child’s Claim to Fame.” You’ve said that when you write a song, sometimes you’ll get a “melody with a lyric” or a “guitar lick” that will inspire a song. Do you remember the process you went through when writing “Kind Woman?”
You know, I don’t — I really don’t. That was one of the songs that probably just came to me. I can’t even tell you the logistics of how I wrote it, other than seeing my future wife Nancy at the Whiskey A Go Go and just standing there and having a thought in my mind. But, no, I really have no idea how it came about.
How about “A Child’s Claim to Fame?”
I probably wrote that one around the melody, first off, and then just, kind of, contemplating Neil Young being in and out of the band all the time.
Speaking of Neil, this week, we heard him on a podcast talking about a time back in 1967 when Buffalo Springfield appeared on the TV detective show, Mannix. How did that happen, and how was that experience from your perspective?
Back in the day, we did a couple of different TV shows, but that was the one I remember the most. I think I remember it best because I was not really feeling well; I was starting to deal with tonsillitis and stuff like that and I remember I just wasn’t feeling very well for that particular show. Fortunately, for most — or probably all — of the shows back then, we did lip-sync, so it was wasn’t a matter of having to sing live, but it was definitely one of those situations like you might see today on TV shows or movies where there’s a scene with a band playing in the background.
After Buffalo Springfield, you created Poco and helped pioneer the genre of country rock penning some of our favorite tunes like “Good Feelin’ to Know.” Do you recall what inspired you to write that particular song?
I can’t remember if it was around the time that Nancy and I were having some issues in our marriage, but what I can remember is coming home and feeling, “OK, we’ve been on the road, and it’s been really tiring” — where I was just drained mentally and physically and emotionally — “and it’s a just good feeling to know you’re home and there’s somebody who loves you.” So that was the gist of it, and I can still see myself walking down this little road outside the house where we lived at the time and just really reflecting upon, “Hey, man, I’m home, and it’s just a good feelin’ to know you can come home to someone who’s always there for you.”
Following Poco, you joined The Souther-Hillman-Furay Band and then went on to have a solo career. Last year, you released In the Country, an album of cover versions of such country songs as “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” and “Walking in Memphis.” On our personal list of songs we wish we’d written is “I Hope You Dance,” but we’re wondering if there are any songs on the album that you didn’t compose yourself but wish you had?
There are quite a few of them and “I Hope You Dance” is certainly one of them. I think “I’m Already There” is another one I really love. And I love “Chalk” — I think it’s one of my favorite songs on the whole project. It’s a Buddy and Julie Miller song that Julie wrote which I heard on YouTube and played it over and over again thinking, “If I ever get the opportunity to do another record, I want to do this song!” And when our producer, Val Garay, came to me and asked, “Do you want to do this album?” that was one of the songs I suggested, even though it wasn’t a hit.
Over the years, with your songwriting and musical talents, you’ve influenced a number of prominent artists. We understand there’s a documentary in production about your career called Through it All: The Life and Influence of Richie Furay. What can you tell us about the film?
David Stone, my manager, and his co-producer, Denny Klein, had the idea that my story was important enough to make a documentary about, and they wanted to go about it in a different way than just presenting a chronological situation from beginning to end. They wanted to delve into the middle workings of relationships, and so they got a lot of people to do interviews — some of the people I’ve had difficulties with and with others it’s just been an easier time, but it’s an honest portrayal of my life.
And for what it’s worth — [laughs at Buffalo Springfield song pun] ha ha! — I’m excited at the way they envisioned the project and the way it’s coming out. They put a lot of effort into it and got so many different interviews — people from Clive Davis all the way to many people I’ve played music with. One thing about documentaries, though, is that when they’re made, the people they’re about aren’t always around to enjoy them, so I’m hoping to be around to see how this one turns out!
Um — is there any chance you’d like to identify any of the interviewees you’ve “had difficulties with” or, perhaps, those you’ve had “an easier time” with?
[Laughs] I think we’ll keep that a surprise for the people who watch the documentary! But, I mean, this wasn’t just a “Hey, let’s just pat Richie on the back” kind of thing, because life creates situations where you have different people and different perspectives, and like in a marriage — and bands are like marriages — you talk to people in bands and there are going to be difficulties at times. It’s just an honest portrayal of my life and the world of rock and roll and it even goes beyond that in talking about my church work and all of that, too. So, again, it’s just an honest portrayal of my life and I think it was a great way to really approach the situation. It was thoughtful — very thoughtful.
We look forward to seeing it once it comes out, but in the meantime, we’re happy to report that on Saturday, May 20, 2023, you’ll be performing in South Orange, NJ at SOPAC with a special guest star, John Ford Coley?
Yes, John Ford Coley is going to open up for me! John and I started communicating with each other on social media and then, all of a sudden, we got to see each other at different events, and he also opened for me last year for the In the Country presentation we did in Nashville. John’s a great entertainer and storyteller and just a really good guy who’s very talented so I’m happy to have him there with us in New Jersey.
In addition to John’s set, what else can audience members expect to see and hear at this performance?
It’s going to document my history from Buffalo Springfield through Poco, Souther-Hillman-Furay, and my solo career, where I’ll play music I’m associated with. I’ll play some of the older songs I really enjoyed from those groups, and I’ll play some new songs, too — I’ve got a couple I’m looking at that I haven’t played in a long time — to make the show fresh for everybody.
You have fans who have been following you for — it must be — six decades now. Is there anything you’d like to say to all the folks who’ve enjoyed your music for so many years?
I’ll tell you, without them, it wouldn’t even be possible to go out and do a concert like this one at SOPAC. I appreciate all of people who have supported me all these years; it’s just very touching, and I’m blessed. When you write songs — which I do from my own personal perspective — and find people who relate to them and enjoy them when you perform them, it’s just a very humbling experience, so I’m very thankful and I look forward to seeing them and playing for them one more time!
For tickets to see Richie Furay in concert at SOPAC in South Orange, NJ on Saturday, May 20, 2023 at 8pm, please click on sopacnow.org. To order Richie’s latest album, In the Country, or to learn more about his upcoming documentary film, Through it All: The Life and Influence of Richie Furay, please go to richiefuray.com/music.
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