Richie Furay Travels Hand in Hand with Kind Woman
by Terry Roland
There is no one more infectious in their passion and energy for music than Richie Furay. The former co-founder of Buffalo Springfield and Poco, now going into his 70th year, shows no signs of letting up. In fact, in a recent phone conversation from his Colorado home, he stated with his own brand of energy and enthusiasm, “I’ve just recorded nine new songs! It’s the best music I’ve ever done!!”
The album tentatively planned to be released in April is called, Hand in Hand. It is currently being mixed by Jim Mason and Jim Brady.
Along with his Buffalo Springfield, Poco bandmate, Jim Messina, Furay will be making a rare Southern California appearance in Santa Barbara at the elegant and intimate Lobero Theater on Saturday, February 15th. As of this writing the show is sold out.
Furay’s classic recordings include the lead vocal on the original Buffalo Springfield-Neil Young classics, “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing,” and “On the Way Home,” and his own Springfield songs, “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” and “Sad Memory,” not to mention Poco classics, “Picking up the Pieces” and “Good Feeling to Know.” Today, after a decade of productive work in the studio and on the road, Furay sounds as if he’s sitting on top of the world. It all began in 2006 when he released his first mainstream solo album in 25 years, Heartbeat of Love. It sounded as though it was his debut solo album soaring across the decades from the peak of Poco’s most artistically successful years between 1969 and 1973. With contemporary innovations, Furay’s Heartbeat of Love is now regarded his best solo album.
There are few singer-songwriters who can lay claim to a song that has provided a guiding arch over their career the way one song has for Furay. “Kind Woman,” from 1968, remains a classic innovative country song that brings a soulful sensibility to the theme of the endurance of love. If any song has defined his career, “Kind Woman is it.” The strength of it lies in its theme that went against the grain of the times and the pure authenticity of its country roots. While other country-rock bands of the era seemed to play at the genre, Furay’s unforced, authentic and sincere vocal betrayed the posturing and patronizing approach of many of his contemporaries. The song gave birth to Furay’s own true legacy. At a time when country music was mostly about cheating and rock &roll leaned heavy on sex and drugs themes, “Kind Woman”, was about the enduring faithfulness of romantic love. The song’s theme and feeling still draws listeners in and stands with the best of country songs of the last 50 years.
After four years of seasonal touring, in 2010 Furay received a phone call from old bandmate, Neil Young. With Stephen Stills, the core of Buffalo Springfield returned to the concert stage after 40 years for Young’s annual Bridge School Benefit Concert in Mountain View, California. The show went so well, the three musicians decided to tour during the summer of 2011. With a short list of tour stops in California and the historic headline performance at Bonnaroo in Tennesse, the newly reformed band prepared for a projected 30-city tour. However, Neil Young took another direction and the much anticipated nationwide tour never happened. It was a bittersweet replay of history for Stills and Furay with the iconoclastic and moody singer-songwriter.
“We love Neil. Stephen and I were disappointed in that change of plans.” Furay explained. “We were happy to do it. But, in the end, as I’ve gotten older I’ve become less judgmental. So, I looked at it with some understanding.” Furay said, ”Instead our attitude was, Neil just decided to play it like that. We didn’t judge. He told me he just couldn’t back to doing those ‘old songs’ anymore.” Furay laughed, “Then he went off and recorded an album with his old band, Crazy Horse!”
When asked what impact the Buffalo Springfield reunion had on him, Furay replied, “It really inspired me to write more music. It just started happening. I remember during the tour, I’d start playing guitar riffs during sound check. Neil looked up at me and said, “Something new, eh?” Since then, the songs have just kept on coming.”
In the beginning, in 1965, when Furay first came to L.A. at the request of Stephen Stills he had no idea songwriting would play a role in his life. While Stills and Young were a flurry of writing creativity during the Springfield’s short life span, Furay came to the band expecting to be the lead singer interpreting songs for Stills and Young.
However, the sophomore album, Buffalo Springfield Again, found Furay, not only writing original songs, but innovating new acoustic/electric combinations in the studio on what is considered among the first official country-rock songs ever recorded, “A Child’s Claim to Fame.” The irony of the song is that it was written about Neil Young’s indecisiveness toward the band. As the song was revived in 2011 in Santa Barbara, Young stopped and asked Furay, “Did you write that about me?” Furay sighed, “Of course he knew, but to ask that in front of 5,000 people, what was I supposed to say?” Back in 1968, Young understood and answered Furay’s song with “I Am A Child,” giving a kind of humorous and sardonic twist to the Lennon-McCartney like song-exchange.
But, for Furay, the Springfield reunion is all positive. In past conversations, he could only talk about the fun the three musicians had on the short tour. However, it also served as a reminder for audiences and for Furay himself. “One thing I can tell you about the reunion. Before that, I felt kind of forgotten.” He said. ” So it was satisfying to be out on the stage with Stephen and Neil because I felt that public could see I was their equal.” He explained. “I had that feeling a lot of times from people. I was the obscure one. It reminded them of who I am. I never got anything like that from them (Neil Young and Stephen Stills). We always felt like friends and peers. Butt was satisfying to have people tell me how much I contributed. Some said I was like the George Harrison of the band.”
As his creative flow has continued, some of his new songs have changed direction from his past familiar themes. One he considers to be the most important on the album is “Don’t Tread On Me.” It speaks to the frustration of everyday Americans with the political polarization in the country today and the negative effects it’s had. When asked if this is topical or protest song, he said, “No. It’s not political. It’s patriotic.” In a reading of the lyrics, it reflects a universal feeling about America that can be embraced by both sides of the political aisle. It is a song about freedom and unity. “It’s about where we are in this country and that I feel proud, but disappointed. But, in the end it says I’m not ashamed to be who I am as an American.” He said. “It’s a big stadium level song with a huge chorus.”
Richie Furay has always been known for his uplifting, energetic love songs. “These songs on Hand in Hand may not be all of what people expect when they think of my songs. The love songs are still there, but there’s more this time out.” He explained. “One song, “Winds of Change,” has a strong underlying theme. You’ll catch it. I had George Grantham sing background vocals on it.” The original Poco drummer had a severe stroke in 2002. “He’s made great strides in his recovery,” Richie explained.” I really wanted to have him on the album. He can’t really play drums now, but he can sing. He did really well.”
The title track is, according to Furay, “Kind Woman,” 46 years later. “Hand in Hand,” describes the faith and hope that comes with a love that matures. It is a fine bookend to a journey that began with, “Kind Woman.”
Furay’s most successful post-Springfield band was Poco. The group was formed with Jim Messina and Rusty Young when they joined in the studio to record “Kind Woman,” for the third and final Buffalo Springfield album, The Last Time Around. Although the band would continue for decades after Messina and Furay left, it was the energetic style of country-rock they created with the band that pushed the genre out of its laid back tendencies into a high wire of a stage act that became Poco in their heyday. “My music has always been performed with energy. I was always dancing across the stage as I played.”
As we continued to talk about the new album, Furay said there are songs with titles like “Winds of Change,” a Poco tribute called, “We Were the Dreamers,” and a song that’s been ten years in the making, “Love at First Sight,” which began for his daughter, Jesse. Today she sings in his band. He wrote the song originally when she about to be married, but didn’t finish it until the new inspiration came during the 2011 Buffalo Springfield tour.
A special guest will appear on Hand in Hand. While previous albums have included old friends like Rusty Young, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young, this album includes blues artist, Keb Mo joining Furay on a track. The artist was recording near the studio and loved one of the songs he heard day after day. Finally, Furay invited him to play on it. “He did a beautiful job.”Furay said. “He found just the right sound on his guitar. Just the right solo.”
The new album will also include an unoriginal song dedicated to a Colorado friend. In 1973, at the beginning of Dan Fogelberg’s career, he met Richie Furay at a recording session for Michael Stanley and Joe Walsh at Caribou Studios in the Rocky Mountains. Later, Furay would provide a harmony vocal on Fogelberg’s classic song, “Innocent Age.” There is a soon-to-be released tribute album to Fogelberg in the works. Furay has recorded the classic, “Run for the Roses” with Jeff Hanna and The Dirt Band for the project.
However, early on, in considering which Fogelberg song he wanted to record, one stood out. When he was told the song had already been recorded for the project by the late Dobie Grey (“Drift Away’), Furay decided to record it for his new album.
During the course of our conversation, he said he wasn’t going to reveal track because he wanted it to be a mystery. However, by the end the interview, with the enthusiasm of a sneaky kid, he told me I could release the name of the Dan Fogelberg song he favored he chose to include on Hand in Hand “Don’t Lose Heart,” comes as close to a gospel soul song as Dan Fogelberg would ever venture, with a sweetness and compassion that is reminiscent of the best that inspirational music can offer without becoming over-sentimental. It’s clear to see why both the singer-songwriter and the pastor in Furay would be drawn to this song of faith and hope.
The opportunities just keep coming for the veteran musician. In 2013, The Richie Furay Band, found time for a brief tour in Japan thanks to the invitation of the Billboard Club in Tokyo. “I was thrilled to be invited. We had a fan base that included fans of my solo albums.” He said. “It was sometimes overwhelming to see how appreciative they were! They knew the words to many of the songs, even the Christian ones.” Furay said. “When I would try to talk with them, they didn’t know any English. But still they knew the words to the songs.”
As he looks to the days ahead,Richie Furay isn’t one who spends much time looking back. He looks forward to going back out on the road when Hand in Hand is released. He has plans to tour Israel, not as a pastor, but as The Richie Furay Band. Today, his music stands on its own without the nostalgia that often stifles the creativity of rock and roll veterans. One thing is clear, if another call comes in from Neil Young, Mr. Soul may have to wait as Richie Furay continues to build his legacy of song and soul that inspires, energizes and heals as much as it entertains.