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Richie Furay: A Man’s Claim to Fame (Interview)
Watching Richie Furay and his talented band plow through an accomplished set at the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills, California in late February of 2015, one walks away not only extraordinarily impressed by the enduring nature of his songwriting catalog but with his robust and expressive voice, an ageless wonder which still resonates with the same joy and passion heard on classic records by his bands, Buffalo Springfield, Poco and the Souther-Furay-Hillman Band.
His new solo record, Hand in Hand, his first in eight years, finds the artist, now approaching 71 years of age, at the top of his game, a consummate union of country and rock that in a better world would be blasting out on radios across America.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Growing up, what were the records you wore out more than any others?
Richie Furay: I actually wore out a tape recorder that my Dad have to my Mom one Christmas more than records. I’ve still got this whole stack of ‘45s.
It’s just amazing, all the different genres of music that are represented in that. The people that I like would be Eddie Cochran. Gene Vincent, Buddy Holly, the rockabilly type guys but then you get to the doo-wop singers or Marv Johnson and the harmony singers like Dion & the Belmonts. Ricky Nelson was a big idol of mine.
Rock Cellar Magazine: When did you first realize you had a good voice?
Richie Furay: Is that really fair? (Laughs) I asked my parents for a guitar when I was eight-years-old so I knew as a kid that music was gonna be a part of my life. I didn’t know to what degree or what extent.
I remember going down and looking under the tree on Christmas morning and I saw the shadow of that guitar and oh man, my heart started pumpin’.
Then I got up close and I saw that it was this cardboard guitar with gut strings and it was puke green. (laughs) I went upstairs and told my parents at eight-years-old that I want a real guitar. (laughs)
What a brazen kid, man! So we went down to Morelli’s Music Store in Springfield and actually ended up getting one. I played a little music and took some lessons. I think around about thirteen or fourteen or fifteen-years-old, I was in junior high and I got to singing with these three upper classmen and that’s how me and my girlfriend got into the senior high school dances.
I was like the Little Anthony and they were the Imperials. (laughs) So it was cool. I knew things were going like that. Went to college and folk music was the big scene at the time. I remember singing They Call the Wind Maria. I won the talent contest and got into the a capella choir and I couldn’t read a note of music. I was really lucky to get into that. That’s when I met my two buddies and they’re the ones I went to New York with back in the early ‘60s.
So that’s a Reader’s Digest trail of progression for you.
Rock Cellar Magazine: At 71 years of age, your voice is still robust and powerful.
Is music the magic elixir that keeps you young?
Richie Furay: Gosh, I’m just really blessed. I carry a little humidifier that I breathe with sometimes. I sing most all of the songs in our set and they’re not the easiest songs to sing. If you get nervous and all of a sudden you tense up it’ll mess you up for a couple of nights.
I’ve been blessed that my voice has held up as well as it has. I don’t sing right; I tried to take lessons one time when I moved back to Boulder and they tried to make me sing a certain way (laughs) and I can’t do that. So I just keep moving along as best I can.
Rock Cellar Magazine: This batch of songs that appear on your new CD Hand in Hand was initially written for a possible Buffalo Springfield reunion record?
Richie Furay: Yes, at least that’s what got them started for me. I had a bunch of guitar riffs and then I also had a lot of lyrics. For some reason I didn’t put the two together or I didn’t find lyrics for this guitar riff or I didn’t find music for these lyrics. After Stephen (Stills), Neil (Young) and I got together a few years ago, all of sudden it was just like a snowball and it just started rollin’ down the hill.
All of a sudden I’d written five songs and my buddy Scott, my lead guitar player; we wrote two and I started looking for a couple of other songs. I did a Dan Fogelberg song on the CD and I also did a song by the Cate Brothers.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Which Fogelberg song?
Richie Furay: I did Don’t Lose Heart. It’s a very obscure song. It’s a very interesting story because a friend of mine, TJ Clay, asked me to sing on his record. He was a harmonica player from Nashville. I came in and heard this song and went, “Man, this is a great song, is that a Jackson Browne song TJ?” And he said, “Nope, that’s a Dan Fogelberg song.”
I remember when John Denver was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame about two or three years ago. Jean Fogelberg was out there and it was at that time that I’d been asked to be part of a tribute record for Dan. I went up to Jean and said, “I’ve got the perfect song,” thinking this is such an obscure song and that nobody was gonna pick this song to do. And the minute I said that her face just went, and then I thought, maybe I’m not gonna be on the album? (laughs)
She said, “I think somebody’s already done it.” So I went back and forth two or three times and I actually gave up on the project because every time I picked a song somebody had already done it. Dobie Gray actually recorded Don’t Lose Heart for Dan’s tribute record. So when I started to record my own project I said, “Nobody else is gonna record Don’t Lose Heart but me” (laughs) so I got on it and did my own version of the song.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Tell us how the title track was constructed as the follow-up to Buffalo Springfield’s Kind Woman.
Richie Furay: Kind Woman was written about seeing my future wife Nancy at the Whisky-A-Go-Go. We will be married 48 years on March 4th; when I think of those numbers they don’t register or compute in my mind.
Gibson was kind enough to give me a Hummingbird guitar and I thought, “I want to write a song.” I had the intro lick (imitates riff) and it was one of those licks that I never had a song for. I wanted the song to have a big acoustic sound and I wanted it to have some electric guts and all of a sudden this song started coming out. Then the whole picture developed into a song thinking about Nancy and me 48 years later. Hey, we’re still in love and we’re still walking hand in hand and everything is good.
The line in there, (recites lyrics) “Baby don’t ever let go, hold me tight ‘til the last dance we know,” that’s got big projections out there if one of us goes before the other one. So that’s basically what the song is about.
Rock Cellar Magazine: The lead off track We Are the Dreamers is a mini musical snapshot of your life.
Richie Furay: It was definitely about my career with Poco, Poco working at the Troubadour. We were dreamers and we were kids, man. We were creating a sound and it was all our own. Doug Weston, who owned the Troubadour, let us go ahead and use the club as a place to rehearse in and then we played there at night.
We were creating that sound. We wanted to cross that bridge between country music and rock music. There were a couple of other bands doing that too. Obviously around 1969 you had the Byrds doing it with Sweetheart of the Rodeo; Gram Parsons was doing it with the (Flying) Burrito Brothers.
There were several of us taking that approach and trying to bridge that gap. Today out of Nashville they echo that sound that we did back in 1969. It finally made it. There were only a few people back then like Waylon Jennings who could identify with what we were doing.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In that song you sing “today it’s just music, nothing else, nothing more”–has music lost its power to make difference ala the ’60s and ’70s?
Richie Furay: I listen to a lot of the music today and I don’t get it and I don’t understand it but that generation does understand it and they do get it.
To me, I look at it and think music’s never gonna have an impact like the mid ‘60s and early ‘70s had on me. It just seemed to be an era when music was really, wow! Everything from the Rascals in New York to the Beach Boys and the Turtles in L.A. to the Springfield. I don’t know that it’ll ever have an impact like that again.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Are there any new artists you’ve heard that have impressed you?
Richie Furay: Yes, there are some things. There was song I liked called Home by Phillip Phillips.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Have you heard Sam Smith?
Richie Furay: I kind of like the song that he did. The thing about the Academy Awards that impressed me the most was Lady Gaga. That just really blew me away.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Do the things that drove you starting out in music with Buffalo Springfield still serve as the fuel that drives you today?
Richie Furay: I still have a passion and I think the passion is still the music. I did write a song once called I’ve Got a Reason and there’s a line in it that almost destroyed me. (recites lyric) “Music was my life and finally took everything, ain’t it funny how you got it all and not a thing?”
And that’s when my wife and I who had been married for seven years separated for seven months and it was like chaos and feeling like we were never gonna get back together. I thought I was done with music then and had started in on a whole different path and all of a sudden the doors open up again with music and it’s still passion. I think part of the passion is the band that I have now.
My band is a multi-generational band. My lead guitar player’s son is in the band; my daughter, Jesse, sings in the band. Then we have our drummer and we just added a new keyboard player to the band but they’re all kind of family; some are part of my church family and others have played with each other before so it’s all interconnected. I think having the kids in the band makes a big difference.
Rock Cellar Magazine: In the new issue of Vanity Fair Magazine there’s a nice piece on the Laurel Canyon music scene of the late ’60s and early ’70’s. What was it about that enclave that inspires creativity?
Rock Cellar Magazine: It seemed to be just the place where people could afford to live at the time up in L.A. in Laurel Canyon. I know I spent about three or four months living with Mark Volman of the Turtles who lived right on Kirkwood. Neil (Young) lived further up on Lookout Mountain, Micky Dolenz lived on the corner there. I actually loved on 2300 Laurel Canyon Boulevard so I didn’t quite make it up to Lookout Mountain but I was still in the Canyon. It was just a place where we could afford to live and a lot of good music came out of that.
Rock Cellar Magazine: Do you think the Laurel Canyon music scene is romanticized a bit more today?
Richie Furay: Yeah, probably, but it’s okay. People look back on that and go, “Wow!”
Rock Cellar Magazine: 47 years ago Buffalo Springfield opened for the Rolling Stones at the Hollywood Bowl.
Richie Furay: We had been playing a little bit at the Whisky-A-Go-Go at that time and we didn’t have a record contract. How we got the gig opening for the Stones at the Hollywood Bowl, I have no idea. But we in our own feeble mind thought, this is it, we’re at the Hollywood Bowl opening up for the Rolling Stones and we’re on our way to stardom.
When the Springfield played for the first six months or so, we were one of the rotating house bands at the Whisky-A-Go-Go we got to be so tight and so good that in our minds we thought, we didn’t have any competition but the Beatles. Can you believe that?
There was just that sense that we were good ‘cause nobody knew who we were when we got started. But at the end of six weeks when we were done there at the Whiskey they were lined up around the block. It was amazing and I think it was bigger than what we ever imagined. Of course, Neil and Stephen have gone on to huge success and I just tag along. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: The 2010 Buffalo Springfield reunion lasted less than 10 gigs. What were the high points of that reunion for you?
Richie Furay: Neil called me and said, “Would you like to play the Bridge School show?” So that was the very first one that Buffalo Springfield did. Walking out on that stage with 30,000 people out there at Shoreline Amphitheatre—it was cold, it was rainy, it was a nasty two nights up there—but you know what, when we walked out there and the people acknowledged us and seeing how easy everything was. Everything just flowed; there was no effort and there was no real work. There was no tension. There was only a sense of, man, we have made some good music and we’re making it again right now.
I think that was the whole trip. Those seven shows that we did after that were great. If that was the exclamation point and the end of it right there it was satisfying for that particular reason; that 40 years later we could come back and play the songs and enjoy ourselves. Of course, we missed Bruce (Palmer) and Dewey (Martin). This was not like some of the reunions where people get together. It was raw. For us, even thought it was raw it still worked. It was electric.
Rock Cellar Magazine: A Child’s Claim to Fame is one of your most beautiful songs, what inspired it?
Richie Furay: Frustration. There were nine people in and out of the Springfield in two years and I think it was part of the frustration of Neil wanting to be in the band or not in the band. The song was written out of the frustration of him coming and going. I don’t have anything else to say; I guess I Am a Child would answer that one. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Poco has a long storied history. What did you learn from the pitfalls that torpedoed the Springfield and applied to Poco?
Richie Furay: It was all a learning experience and it was a different learning experience. All of a sudden I was thrown into being the leader of the band. In the Springfield I’d surrounded myself with two guys that were exceptional.
The Springfield was Stephen’s band. Don’t let anybody tell you that it was anybody’s band but his band. He was the heart and soul of the Buffalo Springfield.
But in Poco, I was thrown into the leadership role and for the first album I was writing the bulk of the songs. I was learning how to be a leader in that genre. I had to go and pick people. Fortunately I had Jimmy (Messina) beside me who was one of the most talented kids in the world, not only as a musician but behind the board. He did a lot of Springfield stuff. As a young kid he was just really talented.
Together we knew the sound that we wanted to go get. We got Rusty Young in the band who’s just one of the most innovative steel guitar players ever. He brought George Grantham in who was a tremendous rock and roll drummer and so underestimated and he could sing those high parts. Then of course I supplied the Eagles with all of their bass players (laughs), Randy Meisner and Timothy B Schmit.
Those guys are playing with the big boys now, When Paul Cotton joined the band, it was troubling because Randy had already gone and we’d brought Timothy in and then Jimmy decided he was out. It was like, is this the same routine we’re gonna do ala the Springfield? But we were able to hold it together for a while once Paul and Tim joined the band then it was me that was next. (laughs)
Rock Cellar Magazine: Away from music, what are then things that put a smile on your face?
Richie Furay: My wife. My four kids. My soon to be 12 grand children. Those are the things that really put a smile on my face. I’ve been blessed probably more than any one guy should be blessed at all.
I’ve lived my dreams. I’ve done everything that I wanted to do. I‘ve got my family with me; I’ve got a great church that supports me. I was gonna retire at 40 and here I am still doing it at 70 and I hope we’re still having fun and hope we can bring it to the people and they can enjoy what we’re doing.
I play my music; I don’t play current stuff, I play music that I relate to. That’s what I write and I hope there’s still an audience out there to grab onto it.
Author note: For the inside scoop on Furay’s tenure with Buffalo Springfield, fans should seek out the excellent and informative tome, “For What It’s Worth: The Story of Buffalo Springfield” penned by noted music scribe John Einarson available on www.richiefuray.com.
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