BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
“And I’ll never take for granted what I’ve learned over time/Cuss we’ve got something more than special not many ever find,” Richie Furay sings on “Still Fine,” the rockin’ upbeat closing track to Hand In Hand, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member’s forthcoming album (due March 31), and first set of new songs in eight years. Furay, a founding member of not one, but two, legendary and influential bands, Buffalo Springfield and Poco, notes that “never say never” is his biggest professional and personal lesson learned over time. His dogged determination to continue doing what he loves (making music) and loving his wife, Nancy, is due in part to the long stretch in between album releases and the troubling times he and Nancy faced when their marriage was on the brink of collapse just seven years after saying “I do.”
Last week, Furay and Nancy celebrated their 48th anniversary, and in just a couple of weeks, he will revel in the release of Hand In Hand, which proudly displays the couple’s wedding photo on its cover. Of his return to the recording studio, Furay says, “I kind of wrote all this off back in the 80s when I took like a 10-year hiatus, if you will, and then all of a sudden here music is back. I wrote a song called ‘I’ve Got a Reason’ (title track to Furay’s 1976 debut solo album) that said ‘Music was my life, finally took everything/Ain’t it funny how you got it all and not a thing?’ and that was when Nancy and I broke up and when our marriage was struggling and so I looked at that and, you know, music’s done and this and that and the other, but, you know what, never say never. And for me, that’s what it is because here we are. I’m still at it, man, and I still think there are some people that still love what we’re doing.”
Your new album, Hand In Hand, is due March 21, and it begins with a song called “We Were the Dreamers” and in a way it comes full circle with the closing track “Still Fine.” I wanted to begin our conversation by asking about when you were the dreamer. By that I mean, looking back now, was there a song that came on the radio, an album you heard or maybe a show that you attended where you can point to and say that was the moment where you knew you wanted to make music for a living?
Oh, I think the touchy moment, absolutely, was watching – don’t laugh – (The Adventures of) Ozzie and Harriet and Ricky Nelson. I would always wait for the end of the show when he would sing his song, but there was one particular show that he was singing ‘Bebop Baby’ and he was standing over a crib – I think David (Ricky’s brother) probably had a child at the time – and he was standing over the crib singing ‘Bebop Baby’ and then about halfway through the song he was in the high school gym with the band behind him and it was just like a transition that was like, Oh my gosh I gotta do this. This is too cool! So if there had to be a real defining moment when I really knew that, yeah music was it, I was saying that if Ricky Nelson can do this, so can I.
Oh man, that’s a great, great story to start off with! So back to the aforementioned “We Were the Dreamers” which documents the formation of Poco, following your stint as a founding member of Buffalo Springfield; in that song you sing: “Making rock and roll music/Playing country guitars/We blazed a trail for generations to come.” Did you ever dream you’d be recognized as one of the founding fathers of country rock or Americana as it’s known today?
Certainly not when it was going on. When it was going down all we were doing was making music that really felt true to our heart and what we wanted to do. When Buffalo Springfield broke up, Jimmy Messina and I were gonna start a new band and we decided we wanted to do a band that had country flavor. We were really fortunate enough to find Rusty Young come along, too. So we had an idea what we wanted to do and there’s your making rock and roll music with country guitars because that steel guitar wasn’t really being played in a lot of rock and roll bands at that time, back in 1969.
And it’s really not a stretch, musically, in the sense that rock and roll, as we all know, well, country and blues had a baby and they named it rock and roll.
There you go, man, that’s exactly right, Jim.
You are a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for your work with Buffalo Springfield, and more recently, a member of the Colorado Music Hall of Fame for your work with Poco.
Yeah. We were just inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame just in January. Yeah.
Congratulations. Now moving on with this record, Hand In Hand, the great Buffalo Springfield track “Kind Woman,” which of course you wrote and was written about your wife Nancy, shows up as a bonus track. And the title track, I think, serves as another sonic love letter to the “kind woman” you’ve been married to for so long. Tell me about the writing of the title track.
Well “Hand In Hand” is exactly what you said; it is kind of looking back. “Kind Woman” was looking from the stage at the Whisky-A-Go-Go back in ’65, ’66 when Nancy would come down to the Whisky and hear the band play. But then as years go on you get older. The fact is we just celebrated our 48th wedding anniversary yesterday (March 4) and when I say those numbers they are really hard for me to compute; they seem surreal to me. But “Hand In Hand” is a song that just really talks about the love that we’ve been able to nurture and maintain and sustain over 48 years and we’re still in love with each other and we’re going hand in hand and going strong. Time’s gone on but we’re still going hand in hand.
Very nice. Can you give me a glimpse of maybe the spark that led you to put pen to paper, or pull out the iPad, nowadays?
(Laughs) It’s still a lot of pen to paper with me, man. I’m just trying to learn how to use an iPad and that kind of stuff; I’m not real adept at that. I tell you, Jim, Gibson was really nice enough to give me a really nice Hummingbird guitar and when I got it, I was just sitting around playing one day and it was sounding really good and I basically said I wanna write a song that has really a nice acoustic feel and yet at the same time there’s gonna be some electric grit to the song as well. I had had the opening intro in my memory bank for years; not just five years or 10 years, I mean it was for a really long time. And I never wrote any music around that opening lick. I sat down with the guitar that day and I said, I wanna write something, and all of a sudden the melody started coming, and I didn’t sit down and write, okay, I’m gonna write this song about Nancy and me looking back; I just let words kind of flow out. The next thing I knew I had a verse started and from there it just kind of developed into what you hear on the record.
As you were giving me your answer, I had a thought; I guess you could say God and guitars work in mysterious ways.
(Laughs) Well I know God works in mysterious ways because I never thought I was gonna be making another record after I made The Heartbeat of Love back in 2006, but sure enough, there it is again and I guess guitars work in mysterious ways, too.
In preparation for our conversation, I found an interview online in which you were certainly very candid about your marriage almost ending after seven years with Nancy, and how instead of maybe where other people might have gone to get high to get through tough times, you called on a higher power to help save your marriage. Tell me about what role faith played in your life then and the role it plays today.
Well, you know it happened during [the formation of The] Souther Hillman Furay [Band]. [Pedal steel guitarist] Al Perkins was in the band at Chris Hillman’s suggestion. When Chris came and told me that he wanted Al Perkins in the band I told him, no, there’s no way he’s gonna be in the band. I mean at that particular time I was looking at becoming a rock and roll star, Jim, just like Stephen Stills and Neil Young and Jimmy Messina, and I was thinking to myself, what about me? I’m just as talented. Now this was just my ego, 40 years ago, thinking I’m just as talented as these guys. So I told Chris I didn’t want Al in the band because Al had this emblem on the side of his guitar; it was a fish symbol and it said “Jesus is Lord.” And I did not want him in the band because I figured, man that was the kiss of death as far as being a rock and roll musician. You know what, man he could have had any symbol on his guitar, or Al could have been anything; he could have been a drug addict or a drunk, or he could have been a womanizer but he was a Christian and for some reason that threw a roadblock up for me that I didn’t want him in the band. But Chris won out, and I think again there’s the Lord working in mysterious ways. When Al got in the band I wasn’t a very friendly guy to him; I kept him at arm’s length but it was just over time that we really became friends and he’s the one that actually led me to the Lord. And when things kind of headed south in my marriage at that time, it was definitely the Lord and a great group of guys that were around me to support me and encourage me at the time. All I wanted was to be this rock and roll star and all of a sudden the Lord said to me, ‘You think that that’s what’s important? Let me show you what’s important.’ And so at that point there became nothing more important in my life than my relationship with the Lord and getting my family back together. Of course you know I’ve been pastoring a church back here in Colorado since 1982 and it’s something that is central in my life.
Hand In Hand also holds the 7:25 opus “Don’t Tread on Me.” What was the spark that led to that song, and what statement are you trying to make with the title and lyrics?
If anybody is familiar with my music, when they hear this song they’re probably thinking, where did that song come from? Because it’s not your typical love song that Richie Furay is known for, and yet in many respects it is a love song. It really developed, Jim, over a course of time of me just taking these long walks – I live in the foothills west of Boulder – and again, it wasn’t anything that I went out and just planned I was gonna write this song. It just happened one day, and the lyrics are coming and I’m writing them down and I’m trying to think how they all fit together. But it is a love song; it’s a love song about this country that I really love a lot and I feel the turmoil is tearing people apart. I see this country unraveling at the seams and I just want us to take a look at this country – this great country. I mean, are we perfect? Absolutely not, we’re not perfect; are there things that we need to make changes in? Yeah, but for some reason the way that the changes are coming about right now, they seem to be more divisive than they are to bring people together. “Don’t Tread on Me” is just really a song that’s saying I love this country and I’m not ashamed to say that I’m born in the U.S.A. because it feels like over a course of time here recently that it’s like we shouldn’t be looking at our country like that. I don’t know what the thought or the sentiment is but I’m proud of this country and I’m proud of who we are and what we stand for and that’s what the song is about.
As you mentioned, a lot of your longtime fans might go whoa, you know?
(Laughs) Yeah! He’s been hanging out with Neil Young too long! (laughs)
It’s the fourth track in, so it sits right about the middle of the record and it certainly stands out, subject wise.
Absolutely. It does. There is a statement that’s being made. People can read into it what they want to read into it; oh, well he’s this Tea Party guy because they have the “Don’t Tread on Me” symbol and all, but I don’t even know where “Don’t Tread on Me” came from, but you know what, it’s mainly just really about the love that I have for this country. Yeah, there are things that can be changed and things that should be changed in this country, but, you know what, I’m still proud of this country.
Certainly many would say politics and religion are the two traditional taboo subjects that you don’t talk about at the dinner table on Thanksgiving, etc., but you don’t shy away from either. Now you mentioned Neil; what is your relationship like nowadays with [former Buffalo Springfield bandmates] Stephen Stills and Neil Young?
Well far much better with Stephen. I met Stephen back in New York and we were in a little band [The Au Go Go Singers] back there. We started, both of us, passing a basket around in a New York tourist place, where they called them “pass the basket houses,” so Stephen and my relationship goes back a long ways and so I feel certainly closer to Stephen than I do Neil, although I’m on good terms with both of them; at least from my perspective I am. I don’t talk to Neil a lot; I do converse – if it’s not on the phone by texting; it’s mainly texting and on the phone with Stephen. So, we’re in communication every once in a while, so we have a good relationship. Neil’s busy and he lives in a different world and that’s okay, and I’m okay with him if he’s okay with me.
Back to the music here; Hand In Hand is your first new set of songs in eight years. Why did you feel now was the right time to release new music?
Well, again, it wasn’t planned. I actually thought that when Stephen, Neil and myself, along with [drummer] Joe Vitale and [late bassist] Rick Rosas – bless his heart – got together and did the reunion, I kind of thought there might be something that would develop later on into a record that maybe we would make and call it Buffalo Springfield. I was playing some of these licks that open up some of these songs while we were rehearsing and Neil would come up and say, “Ah, new song, huh?’ I was not gonna be not prepared if something like that came down the pike and as it turned out, after we got through with Bonnaroo that was the end of it. These songs had started to materialize, I had ‘em, so what was I gonna do with them. I mean the only thing I know to do with a song is record it. So went off to Nashville and got with my friends that I’ve done all my studio recordings with since 1996, I think, and so we just started and laid the tracks down.
The album ends with the real rockin’, upbeat “Still Fine.” What a great track; it rocks!
Yeah! You know, there’s nobody in our age bracket that’s writing a rock and roll song about our generation. They’re writing the melancholy love songs but this one here is a rock and roll song. It just tells the story of us, like, hey, we’re getting’ on but things are still fine; you’re still fine.
You’re ready to kick off another round of tour dates, starting March 13 in Norfolk, CT. To paraphrase another one of your huge hits, do you still get a good feeling about touring?
(Laughs) You know, I do. I still get that little tingle before you go out onstage. I love it. I also love it because I get the sense that I can interact with the audience a whole lot easier being in some of these clubs like we’re playing in right now.
Finally, Richie; I saw you and Poco at the Stagecoach country music festival in 2009, so I guess the obvious question is this; any chance we’ll get another peek at Poco onstage?
I don’t know. I kind of doubt it, but I’m never gonna say never. I’ve got my own band that I am so proud of; it’s a family band, it’s a multi-generational band. I lost momentum when Springfield did their reunion and I don’t wanna lose that momentum right now; I’m getting too old to lose that momentum and so I wanna keep things focused on my band as much as I can.
And we’ll focus on March 31 when Hand In Hand arrives. Richie, it’s been an honor and a great pleasure talking to you.
Thank you so much, Jim, I appreciate it. It’s been very nice talking to you. Take care.
**To hear some audio of my conversation with Richie and the song “Still Fine” off Hand In Hand, check out Episode 20 of my weekly Current Classics podcast. Listen HERE.