For Poco Bassist Jack Sundrud, It Started with the Beatles
A lot of music has influenced long-time Poco bass player Jack Sundrud, but he says seeing the Beatles at age 15 “was the experience that set the hook of music in my soul.”
Sundrud’s memorable day — Aug. 21, 1965 — began in his small northwestern Minnesota hometown, Oklee, which today has a population of 350. His parents drove him six hours to Minneapolis and checked into a hotel before Sundrud took a bus to Metropolitan Stadium.
“I don’t think I had ever been so excited,” recalls Sundrud, who joined Poco in 1985 and has released two solo albums. “As the pedestrian traffic thickened near the stadium, I saw kids with long hair and mod clothing. It was really happening! Brenda Holloway and the King Curtis Band, Cannibal & the Headhunters, and Sounds Incorporated opened the show. They were all fine, but I was squirming with anticipation for you-know-who. The stage was on the pitcher’s mound, facing home plate. The PA system was several large multi-cell horns laying in the dirt on the base paths. The amps weren’t miked. There were no vocal monitors. Paul came out of the third base dugout swinging his Hofner bass like a Louisville Slugger. The crowd, including me, went wild. Screaming, moaning, and general swooning ensued. I couldn’t hear much, but there they were — The Beatles. The spark was there in me, but this experience set off a lifelong fire.”
The fire began to rage after Sundrud moved to Nashville in 1981, where he became a bassist and vocalist for Vince Gill, Dickie Betts, Bobby Whitlock, Gail Davies, the O’Kanes, Nicolette Larson, and Kathy Mattea. His songs were recorded by Kenny Rogers, the Judds, the Persuasions, Michael Johnson, and others.
Poco moved to Nashville in 1985, and Sundrud joined Rusty Young, Paul Cotton, and George Grantham in that band. Young and Sundrud remain in the group, which retired from regular touring last year. Recently, Poco — with Michael Webb on keyboards, mandolin, guitar, and vocals, and Rick Lonow on drums and vocals — began playing more live dates.
“We’re enjoying the music,” Sundrud says. He says he’s also doing “the freelance dance, saying yes to everything I come across,” ever since Young, Poco’s leader, decided to stop regular touring with the band.
“I’ve been fortunate,” he adds. “I’m quite busy, and my bills are paid — for today. I’m producing a couple of indie acts, building some websites, working on solo recordings, playing writers’ shows at the Bluebird and other songwriter venues around Nashville, and doing some touring with my songwriting partner and Idlewheel bandmate Craig Bickhardt. I’ve joined four bands that will play maybe once a month or less. I’m completely enjoying all of it. It’s slightly nerve-wracking financially, but I cannot complain.”
Sundrud has been an underrated member of Poco for decades. Besides solid bass playing, he has written and been the lead vocalist on several of the band’s songs and added sweet harmony vocals to support the voices of Young and Paul Cotton.
Cotton, an exceptional guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist, left the band several years ago, and his presence has been sorely missed alongside the brilliance of pedal steel guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Young. Poco’s original lead singer, Richie Furay, also of Buffalo Springfield fame, left the band in the mid-1970s but has joined Poco or its band members at numerous gigs since.
“Richie has performed with Poco many times over the years but as an honored guest and founding father,” Sundrud says. “Richie’s voice is the sound of country-rock to me. He’s still in great voice, and it’s a big treat to do those early Poco songs with his voice in the mix.”
Furay became a Christian minister after leaving Poco, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with his Buffalo Springfield mates in 1997, and reunited with Neil Young and Stephen Stills in a short-lived Buffalo Springfield reunion in 2011. He now leads the Richie Furay Band and released Hand in Hand — his first studio album since 2006 — in March.
That album “was written for the demographic to which I belong,” Furay, 71, tells me. “The [songs] were written so folks my age could relate to the theme of each song. The songs are accessible, though, for any age group and musical preference.”
The albums’s first track, “We Were the Dreamers,” is autobiographical, telling the story of Poco in the 1960s — when the band, along with the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and a few others, were influential in the birth of country-rock.
Some songs are known by every Poco fan: a new, live version of the band’s landmark tune, “A Good Feeling To Know,” and a new version of Furay’s Buffalo Springfield and Poco vocal masterpiece, “Kind Woman,” performed with Neil Young and Kenny Loggins. Furay also covers songs by Dan Fogelberg and the Cate Brothers, and rocks out with Keb’ Mo’ on “Someday.”
Furay was born in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and lived much of his life in Colorado, where he is now a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Broomfield. He says concerts by George Strait during the past five years have influenced him as a musician more than any other performer he has seen in concert.
Furay was taken by Strait’s “professionalism as an artist and the way he was able to handle an audience in a large arena.”
The July 26, 2009, show of Lyle Lovett & His Large Band at, arguably, America’s most scenic and best concert venue — Red Rocks in Morrison, Colorado — was the one of the best live shows Furay has attended.
“I really don’t attend many concerts,” Furay says. “It has to be someone I really like and want to hear. That night Lyle and his band were on. It was a great performance, the sound was perfect, the night was warm, and the song selection was outstanding.”
The best rock concert Sundrud attended was long before the one Furay saw at Red Rocks.
“When I was maybe 15 — 1965 – I got my older brother to take me 30 miles away from home to an old lakeside pavilion in Mentor, Minnesota,” Sundrud recalls. “The band was the Yardbirds. I didn’t know much about them other than a couple of radio singles.
“I got there early and was able to get right up front — my toes touching the base of the one-foot-high stage. I was right in front of the guitar and bass amps. When the band took the stage, Jimmy Page was on bass and Jeff Beck on guitar. They blew my little mind. Not only were they playing hellishly loud blues and rock — which was shockingly new to me — they were raucous and dangerous. They had long hair, funny clothes, and British accents. I was transported.
“I heard sounds coming out of the guitar I’d never imagined,” he adds. “I got lost in the sonics. My youth found a voice and a purpose. I don’t think another concert experience could top this, in large part, because it was all so new to me. But also, as we now know, these guys were, and remain, giants. It was a night that would help to define my entire life.”
A more recent show by Lake Street Dive — two years ago at 3rd and Lindsley in Nashville — was also one of the best Sundrud has heard.
“I understand that calling them a rock band is arguable, but they are to me,” he says. “They made sounds and brought up emotions that only great music can. Rachel Page’s voice just kills me. She sings with total abandon. The crowd was in their hands, and the night was a classic concert experience. I was moved to tears many times just by the music. Ain’t that what it’s all about?”