June 4, 2009

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When country met rock & roll
Poco and Richie Furay still going strong
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

Beginning in the late ’80s and continuing to the still-young 21st century, the lines between rock ’n’ roll and country music have become increasingly blurred. These days, most longtime country adherents have either embraced the rock influences in the genre or simply moved on.

Back in the late ’60s, though, blending rock and country was a foreign concept, one that groups like Poco spearheaded with caution. More than four decades on, the group headed by Dusty Young, along with groups like Pure Prairie League and Loggins Messina, is still heralded as an originator of rock-country fusion. They recently headlined April’s Stagecoach Festival, a country music festival in Indio, Calif.

“They booked us because they wanted to show that’s where…the roots of country music today came from,” Young said recently from his home in Missouri. “All the press that came out, the L.A. Times, didn’t even mention Kenny Chesney. They had a big picture of us and talked about how that was where country music today came from. So I think there’s some acknowledgement going down about that now, which has been a little overdue, I think. But people are acknowledging [us], and that’s really terrific.” 

After 40 years on the road, both Poco and longtime band member Richie Furay are providing audiences with a blend of their familiar material along with their newer compositions at their shows. They’ll each grace Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry with separate appearances this summer, Poco appearing on Sunday, June 14, and Furay on Wednesday, Aug. 26. Fresh off a string of spring dates with his old Poco bandmates, Furay said breaking in longtime listeners to his new songs has gone better than he expected.

“They begin to realize that, hey, it’s basically the style of music that we’re familiar [with], that we’re expecting to hear from Richie Furay,” he said. “When they hear it, I think then that they obviously see that, hey, here’s where the genesis of this music basically started.”

Furay’s musical connections range from Poco to Steven Stills and Neil Young from his days as a member of Buffalo Springfield to the Souther-Hillman-Furay band, which paired him with fellow country-rockers Chris Hillman and JD Souther. His career as a headlining musician took a back seat to family and religious life during the ’80s, when Furay became a born-again Christian and the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colo. After many years away from touring, Furay picked up his guitar again in the mid-’90s and began penning mostly devotional songs, although he released a new secular CD, The Heartbeat of Love, in 2006.

“Musically, I think I play the same kind of music. Spiritually, the lyrics might have changed,” he said. “If I’m writing a devotional song, then it takes more of a worshipful attitude, but I can still write love songs about my wife and in those, form the same perspective that I did years ago.”

Now in their sixties, both Furay and the members of Poco are looking to slow down in the next few years. Young is penning a memoir about Poco’s backstage experiences with Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, among others, and has provided music to accompany children’s videos for Scholastic. He’ll also enjoy a steady stream of touring and encountering the band’s fans, affectionately termed “Poconettes,” and hopefully share the stage with Furay, his longtime collaborator and friend.

“It’s always really, really fun to get a chance to work with Richie. When we sit down and play ‘Picking Up the Pieces,’ you know, that was 1968,” he says. “How many people have friends that last 40-something years and then on top of it all, be able to play music together? It’s just really special.”

The years have also strengthened the legacy of the country-rock sound they created together. Furay said that while he’s not strictly a country musician, he’s happy that today’s country musicians have continued to see rock as a friend and not a foe.

“I think country music is so much more accessible than a lot of music today, but then again, maybe I’m getting old.”


Poco
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
When: Sunday, June 14, at 5:30 p.m. & 8 p.m.
Tickets: $45, available at www.tupelohall.com or at 437-5100
Listen to audio samples of Poco’s latest CD, The Wildwood Sessions, at www.poconut.com.

Richie Furay Band
Where: Tupelo Music Hall, 2 Young Road, Londonderry
When: Wednesday, Aug. 26, at 8 p.m.
Tickets: $35, available at www.tupelohall.com or at 437-5100
Songs from both Alive, Furay’s new live album, and The Heartbeat of Love can be heard at www.myspace.com/richiefuraymusic