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Richie Furay
Returns With Crazy Eyes 
And His Good Time Country-Rock
By Terry Roland

Richie_Furay.jpg Country-rock music is not a fad. It was a created sound during the late 60s and early 70s that put the best of two worlds together, two elements of solid music. We were pioneers in doing that. -Richie Furay

In popular music the story of the self-destructive star who burns bright and dies, leaving a legacy of records sales and a trail of tears from family, friends and fans, has become cliché. The less common spotlight has been given to those who quietly, consistently and faithfully create, pioneer and forge their way towards rich music and an abundant life while their innovations find their way into the fabric of mainstream music. In Gram Parsons and Richie Furay both stories are illustrated. During the late 60s and early 70s, both were among a handful of creators of country-rock. Today, Furay must feel somewhat gratified to hear his influence in the Americana, alt-country and on mainstream country radio where country-rock has become the norm. Furay, who co-founded Buffalo Springfield in 1966 with Neil Young and Stephen Stills and Poco with Jim Messina in 1969, is now a pastor of a church in Broomfield, Colorado. But, over the last decade he has, in his own low-key way, continued his artistically successful solo career. With the release of three albums since 2004, the gospel tinged, I Am Sure, the mainstream, Heartbeat of Love, and the concert CD, Alive; Furay has returned to remind the music industry, country music fans and followers of classic folk and country rock of his elder statesman status.

Gram Parsons, whose untimely death from the excesses of drug use in 1973, left him with enough mystery to grow legendary, has emerged as a strong innovator in the country rock roots movement of today. During their brief relationship, Furay was a witness to Parsons' rising talent and his rapid decline. Shortly after Parson's death, Furay wrote the enigmatic, impressionistic and epic song, Crazy Eyes, based on his experience with Parsons. While he wrote and recorded it as a personal, contemplative riddle to the personal frustrations of being a witness to Parsons' self-destruction, keyboardist, Bob Ezrin and producer, Jack Richardson, took the song and added an array of instrumentation uncommon to country-rock, including brass and strings with classical like movements resulting in a Sgt. Pepper Day-In-A-Life like record. In one of the more mysterious moments in rock history, the album, also titled, Crazy Eyes, was released on September 15, 1973, just four days before Parsons' death in Joshua Tree, California. The song and album were Furay's last with Poco.

Over the years, Furay has received many requests to play Crazy Eyes in concert, but it seemed impossible due to the additional studio embellishments. That is, until Furay's lead guitar and multi-instrumentalist, Scott Sellen, suggested the band give it a try.

During the following phone interview, there was clear delight in Furay's voice as he spoke of how Scott and the band have pulled this off. On his brief upcoming tour through the Southland including dates at The Belly-Up in Solana Beach on October 14, The Canyon Club in Agoura Hills on October 15, The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on October 16, his audience and fans will have the rare opportunity to hear this song recreated live for the first time with all of the studio complexities. In addition, the band offers a diverse set including new songs from his successful, Heartbeat of Love and Alive CDs and songs from his days in Buffalo Springfield, Poco, Souther, Hillman, Furay and his solo career. During his set, Richie will also include his classic country-rock song, Kind Woman, which gives fans a look at his 40 year plus relationship with his wife, Nancy. He also tours with his daughter, Jesse Furay-Lynch. This sense of the richness of his life with his family and his music is the strongest contrast and possibly even the answer to his own questions raised about the tragic legend, Gram Parsons and the pitfalls of fame.

TERRY: Let's start with your daughter Jesse. I've been hearing news about her recently.

RICHIE: Well, yeah, she's gonna have a baby in February. That's news. But, yeah, we went to Nashville and recorded six tracks in June. We're not sure what's gonna happen. She likes to sing. We'll see if there's a career there. But, I tell you, having her on the road with me has been a real pleasure. Touring wouldn't be nearly as fun without her. I have a great band with interesting dynamics. And we're family, which makes it all the more fun.

TERRY: It seems there was a long period of silence from you and then you came out with In My Father's House, then a few years later, I Am Sure, came out followed by the mainstream Heartbeat of Love. What was behind your decision to release a mainstream record after so many years?

RICHIE: I was in Nashville for a Poco reunion at the Belcourt Theater. There was a guy at the studio there who had said one of his favorite songs was Poco's "Let's Dance Tonight." I mentioned that I would love to record the song again if I ever had the chance. The guy looked at me and said, "Well, what's the problem?" One thing led to another and Heartbeat of Love just fell into place. I already had some of the songs written from as far back as the Poco reunion album, Legacy. I had submitted "Forever With You," "Heartbeat of Love," but they were turned down for the album. That was in 1989. To be fair, the songs weren't complete at the time. The lyrics weren't finished and I tend go back and tweak them to the song I want at the last minute. The song, "Heartbeat of Love," I was still working on lyrically when we were in the studio in Nashville to record in 2006. But, you know, there was really no problem. The songs were turned down for the Legacy project, but it all went according to God's perfect timing because they ended up on Heartbeat of Love.

TERRY: Let's take a look at your early folk days in Greenwich Village.

RICHIE: Things were winding down when I got there. I went there after my second year of college. '63 or 64. There were a lot of different things happening at the time. But, I met Stephen Stills there. After that he went to Canada, where he met Neil and then they both ended up on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood and the rest is history.

TERRY: It was around this time you met Gram (Parsons). Which reminds me, you've added "Crazy Eyes" to your set on this tour.

RICHIE: Now, I don't want this to come out wrong. A lot of people think "Crazy Eyes" is a tribute to Gram Parsons. It wasn't intended to be that at all. It's hard to explain what happened with that song, but a lot of people listen and think I'm making some kind of statement about Gram and his life. You know, he was this complex guy. He was a strange guy. He had this mystique about him. He was self-consumed, man. So the song was more about trying understand the person he was. He had this great potential. Here's how it was with Gram; I remember seeing him, those dark, brown eyebrows over his eyes and thinking to myself, 'you're never gonna know who this guy really is.' That's what Crazy Eyes is about. Originally, I had the music but it needed lyrics. It needed something to say. So I started thinking about Gram, but it was more of an impression of him.

TERRY: Like an abstract painting?

RICHIE: Yes. That's a good comparison.

TERRY: It became the most ambitious song Poco ever recorded.

RICHIE: That wasn't planned. I didn't know it was going to happen. I just wrote this little song for guitar and vocal. Bob Ezrin took it, added strings, brass, banjo and it turned into this near ten minute production.

TERRY: Didn't you and Gram talk about forming a band before Poco?

RICHIE: We did. He was working on putting the Burritos together and I was forming Poco. We just couldn't agree on which band members to drop and which to save, so we gave up.

TERRY: Let's move on to The Buffalo Springfield. There's this impression out there that you guys were a live band who were never actually captured in the studio.

RICHIE: There's a lot of speculation about that. The truth is, I don't know. Some have said it was poor production. They blame Charlie (Greene) and Brian (Stone). I don't know if that's really true. Some bands are just better live and then when they get into the studio every thing gets tweaked too much. I think one of the best live albums was Deliverin'. It really captured Poco's live shows.

TERRY: If my recall is right, there was a version of the Springfield's first album which didn't have "For What It's Worth" on it. Why did that happen?

RICHIE: Ahmet Ertegun had come to LA to hear songs for a follow up to our first recording. After we had each played our new songs and we were getting ready to leave - Stephen commented to Ahmet - "oh here's one more for what it's worth. As far as I knew the album was finished. We were working on songs for a new album. Stephen came up with this new song about the Hollywood riots. He told us, here's a new song for what it's worth. The original Buffalo Springfield albums had to be recalled and all new prints were made to include "For What It's Worth." It replaced the original opening song, "Baby Don't Scold Me."

TERRY: I was surprised to read in the book, "For What It's Worth," the disappointment about the first album. For me, it is still a classic.

RICHIE: Yeah, it was one of those things. There's a lot of finger pointing about it. It just didn't capture the spontaneity of the live shows.

TERRY: Toward the end of the run with the Springfield, you and Jimmy took the reins and finished with Last Time Around. During those sessions you wrote, what to me are not only your best songs, but one of the finest country songs bar none, Kind Woman. Can you tell me about writing it. It's been said those sessions could be considered the beginning of Poco because Rusty was brought in on pedal steel.

RICHIE: You know - when that right person comes into your life - how do you put it in words? I think the end of "In The Still Of The Night"(from Heartbeat of Love) has some reflections on what was going on in my heart. I would see Nancy at the Whiskey (A-Go-Go) and couldn't take my eyes off her - all I could hope for was to meet her someday and low and behold a friend of mine knew her and introduced us. It was love at first sight and dreaming of a lifetime together. Yes, "Kind Woman" was the first Poco song.

TERRY: Today it's not unusual for artists to include their religion and spiritual life in their songs. In 1975, you converted to Christianity. There weren't too many high profile artists in the mainstream music business who identified themselves as Christian. Since that time Dylan came out, Al Green became a pastor, U2 has been very prolific. But, at that time there was little precedence for this. How did this change your music and career?

RICHIE: It was a big deal. There were not a lot of people proclaiming faith in Christ back then. I was signed to a contract with Asylum records and had the support of David Geffen. He just asked me not to include a lot of Jesus stuff on my first solo album, I've Got A Reason. It had a Christian theme without mentioning Jesus by name. It was a good record. It looked like it was going to be successful. Then, Geffen left and Asylum dropped the ball on it. After that my albums had less and less of the Christian theme. They became mostly love songs. We just couldn't get the record company support. At one point, Asylum wouldn't pay for transportation and I had to cover the costs of vans for the band and equipment. Finally, I gave up. I started a bible study in Colorado which became the church I pastor now.

TERRY: Recently most of the original Poco reunited at the Stagecoach Festival including, drummer, George Grantham who had a stroke. Can you tell us your impressions of that?

RICHIE: We were supposed to do the Stagecoach the previous year but I was unable to commit to it because of hip surgeries. As it turned out it was probably divine intervention, at least from my perspective. As much fun as it was to get together with everyone and to have Timothy involved I think the most indelible moment of the whole reunion was the fact that George (Grantham) was able to join us. If we had done the festival a year earlier he may not have been able to be there. As it was, not only was he there but he was able to sing and be on stage with us for most of the 2nd half of the show. When Jack told me George wanted to sing the 1st verse of "Pickin' Up The Pieces" my answer was, "Great. Can he?" Jack assured me he could do it and the rest was an historical moment for all of us - band members and audience. This was the first time this configuration of Poco had been together in years - to say it was a special moment would be an understatement. Reunions have a way of leaving people with the thought it would have been best to leave well enough alone, that is they don't always work and the expectations of the moment don't stand up to how the original group and performances were remembered, many times the show comes off - usually sloppy and unprepared. Not only did the music meet all of the expectations but the fun we had making it was genuine and that's what everyone got to see and hear. It was a very special time, truly friendships run deep among us.

TERRY: What are your impressions of the legacy of these two bands you helped found. Why do you think they've lasted, true to country rock, for so long?

RICHIE: Country-rock music is not a fad. It was a created sound during the late 60s and early 70s that put the best of two worlds together, two elements of solid music. We were pioneers in doing that. It's interesting that out of all the different ways music was finding a way of expression during those days, country-rock still remains viable. Probably in part because of what the Eagles have done - but it truly is the music that stands on its own. You don't find country-rock bands doing the oldies tours. Poco, Pure Prairie League, Dirt Band,etc. continue to go it on their own - because they can! The music still stands up today as quality music.

TERRY: So, now you're back out on the road?

RICHIE: Yeah. I was out of it from 82 until '97, when I did In My Father's House. For years I thought my rock and roll days were behind me. I had no idea I'd be doing this again. Now I'm being reintroduced. It's hard because I didn't have a hit record. I had a good following, just no hit.

TERRY: No hits, but two great bands and your induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. So, what's the future look like?

RICHIE: As a band, we decided to play as much as we can. As long as I'm able to do it physically and the fans want us, we'll be out there. It's sometimes slow because of tour expenses. But, for now, we're looking at keeping the band going for the next four or five years. I love my band. I'm really proud of them, so I love to get out on the road and show them off! Also, I have such devoted fans. So as long as I keep hearing from them, I'll keep the music going.


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