Furay finds his way back into secular music world
December 8, 2006
In the spring of 1966, Neil Young arrived in Los Angeles from Canada, looking for fellow musician Stephen Stills. In one of the great rock ‘n’ roll stories, Young found him – when Stills and another singer, Richie Furay, spotted Young driving a black hearse west on Sunset Boulevard.From that moment, and for nearly a decade, Furay didn’t need to be connected to the music world. He was at the center of it. For a brief but intensely memorable stretch lasting into 1968, Furay was a member of the landmark Los Angeles band, Buffalo Springfield, which came of that Hollywood meeting. When that group exploded, one of the pieces that resulted was Poco, a group led by Furay and fellow Buffalo Springfielder Jim Messina, that helped put country-rock on the map. (Another branch, CSN&Y, with Young and Stills, was instrumental in bringing rock ‘n’ roll into stadiums.) After he left Poco in 1973, Furay formed the short-lived Souther, Hillman, Furay, with J.D. Souther and former Byrd Chris Hillman. When Souther, Hillman, Furay disbanded, however, in the mid-’70s, Furay quickly became detached from the music world. His commercial prospects had faded; despite the members’ individual histories, the two Souther, Hillman, Furay albums didn’t sell well. In Poco, Furay didn’t put his own name out front, as Young and Stills had done. And by the beginning of the ’80s, Furay had become more dedicated to Christianity than to the making music; for the past 15 years, Furay, who has lived near Boulder since 1971, has been the pastor of the Calvary Chapel.”I thought, since I’d become a pastor, that recording wouldn’t be a door opening for me again,” said Furay. “I just thought those days were over. I’m 62 and thought who’s going to care about what someone like me has to offer the music business?”In July, the recording door swung back open. Furay released “The Heartbeat of Love,” his first secular album in some 30 years. Furay sounds a bit amazed at how easy it has been to get reconnected to the music world.In 2004, Furay was in Nashville, participating in filming a DVD with Poco, which has stayed sporadically active. A rehearsal of Furay’s “Let’s Dance Tonight” elicited positive comments from Peter van Leeuwen, a producer listening in on the session. Furay told him that if he ever made another secular record, he’d be sure to include the tune.Van Leeuwen, recalled Furay, said, “‘Well, what can I do to help?’ He came through, and was the impetus to put up the money. Because I never would have stepped out to do it.”Once the ball got rolling, however, Furay saw an album in his future. Though he had limited his recording activity to what he calls “worship” albums, he had continued writing secular songs, mostly of the romantic variety. “I thought I had music to make,” he said by phone. “Once music’s in your blood, there’s no way it’s gonna get out. It’s in for your life.”As Furay pounded away at the batch of songs that would become “The Heartbeat of Love,” he began to hear voices in his head. They were voices from his past. “I worked on the songs and kept thinking, ‘Well, Tim [B. Schmit, a founding member of Poco who would move onto the Eagles] would sound good here; Stephen would sound nice here,” said Furay. “But I didn’t go into this thinking I’d get all my old friends into it.””The Heartbeat of Love,” however, did become a reunion of sorts. Furay says lining up the likes of Young, Stills and Schmit – as well as Poco’s Rusty Young, Paul Cotton and Al Perkins – was about as easy as picking up the phone and asking. (Young, notes Furay, quickly agreed, but needed eight months to actually record his guitar and vocal parts.) Also making appearances alongside a band of top Nashville sessions players are Jeff Hanna of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Mark Volman of the Turtles, and Sam Bush. Furay was disappointed that Jim Messina, a buddy from both Buffalo Springfield and Poco, couldn’t participate because of a busy schedule, but Kenny Loggins, Messina’s notable duo partner, did add a vocal.”The Heartbeat of Love” stands on its own, regardless of the impressive guest list. Furay believes he sings better than ever; the songs are much in the vein of Poco’s easygoing, well-rooted country rock. The production – both of the music and the substantial packaging – reflects an effort toward jumping back into the music business with both feet.Furay considers the triumph of the album to be the version of his “Kind Woman,” a hit from the Buffalo Springfield days. But in its first recording, Young did not contribute; he had already parted ways with the band. The new version is a beauty, with pronounced fiddle and steel guitar, and a gorgeous backing chorus that includes Young, Loggins and Furay’s daughter, Jesse Furay Lynch.”I couldn’t get him on ‘Kind Woman’ 40 years ago,” said Furay of Young. “So it’s nice to have him on this time. I consider this the definitive version.”The question remains, is there a secular audience for Furay? Furay sees it as a matter of education, of re-introducing himself to his old fans.”It is a re-educating process every time I go out,” said Furay, who has taken up touring, and who plays Belly Up on Wednesday, Dec. 13. (He also has a date Friday, Dec. 15, at Denver’s Bluebird Theater.) “I wasn’t like John Fogerty or Steve Winwood, who occasionally made music. I had been away from the scene. I have to educate the audience as to who I was again. People say, ‘That name is familiar. But who is he again?'”Even those who know the name, the voice and the history were bound to be confused. Furay toured last summer with Linda Ronstadt. “Even Linda asked, ‘Well, what’s he gonna do? Is it just his religious songs?'” said Furay.The religious songs remain a big part of what Furay does. He has made three albums of worship songs, all with Colorado producer John Macy, who co-produced “The Heartbeat of Love” with Furay. He is planning another Christian album, as well as another secular album, this one with broader themes than just love songs.The old rock ‘n’ roll crowd may not the only ones unclear on the identity of the current Richie Furay. To the members of his congregation, Furay is more pastor than player. Furay sings in the church, but lets Scott Sellin – who played banjo on “The Heartbeat of Love,” and co-wrote several of the songs – lead the church’s small band.”I just kind of stand in back and do a lot of singing in the background,” said Furay.
Belly Up’s calendar for the winter has a good number of glittery names, a bunch of surefire sellouts and a handful of promising new acts. What was missing was the grand slam: a show that was foremost about the music, that would pack the house, a date to mark on the calendar in fat red ink. A wintertime equivalent, say, of last summer’s stupendous Gov’t Mule show.It’s missing no longer. This past week, Belly Up announced that Béla Fleck & the Flecktones, the preternaturally talented quartet that fuses jazz, funk, bluegrass and more, will make its Belly Up debut Feb. 8. Better than that, there are two shows at 7:30 and 10 p.m.It is likely that the Flecktones’ appearance is a product of Belly Up owner Michael Goldberg’s master plan, of letting the excellence of the club draw the acts. The Flecktones have moved beyond clubs into bigger venues; their last two local appearances have been at the old Bayer-Benedict Music Tent and at Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day Festival. But Fleck spent part of this last summer in Aspen – hanging out with bassist Edgar Meyer, his frequent collaborator, and playing live on KAJX with fellow banjoist Abigail Washburn. And also taking in a pair of Belly Up shows. Seems he was impressed with the operation.Those big names who have already played Belly Up also seem to have warmed to the club. Freddy and the Fishsticks – who played last year, and struck more than a passing resemblance to Jimmy Buffett – return Dec. 22. British soul singer Seal, who played one night last winter, expands his run to two nights, Dec. 27-28. Chris Isaak, who was the first big name to play the club, gets New Year’s honors, with a two-night run, Dec. 30-31.Rounding out the Christmas/New Year’s week is Colorado trio Rose Hill Drive, who will cover Jimi Hendrix’s 1970 classic “Band of Gypsys,” followed by a set of their own music, Dec. 26, and soul group the O’Jays, Dec. 29.Other dates of note: young soul singer Amos Lee, in his Aspen debut (Saturday, Dec. 16); rockabilly band Rev. Horton Heat (Jan. 5-6); guitar hero Junior Brown (Jan. 8); Colorado rockers Big Head Todd & the Monsters (Jan. 19); and the Wailers (Jan. 31-Feb. 1).Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is email@example.com