Nominee at the 10th annual LA Music Awards
Poco is a Southern California country rock band originally formed by Richie Furay, Jim Messina and Rusty Young. Formed following the demise of Buffalo Springfield in 1968, Poco was part of the first wave of the West Coast country rock genre. The title of their first album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces, is a reference to the break-up of Buffalo Springfield. Throughout the years Poco has performed in various groupings, and is still active as of 2015.
During recording of Buffalo Springfield’s third and final album, Last Time Around, lead singers Stephen Stills, Neil Young and Richie Furay each recorded songs without the other members present. One of Furay’s solo efforts was the country-influenced ballad “Kind Woman”, which he recorded with the help of producer/engineer/bassist Jim Messina and pedal steel guitarist Rusty Young.
When Buffalo Springfield split up, Furay, Messina and Young decided to start their own group oriented toward such songs. Its original lineup was Furay (vocals and rhythm guitar), Messina (lead guitar, vocals, producer), Rusty Young (pedal steel guitar, banjo, dobro, guitar, mandolin and vocals), George Grantham (drums and vocals) and Randy Meisner (bass and vocals). The group was signed to a recording contract with Epic Records, which acquired the rights to Furay from the Springfield’s Atlantic Records label in return for those to Graham Nash of The Hollies (who was moving to Atlantic as part of forming Crosby, Stills & Nash). Originally, the new group was named “Pogo”, after the Pogo comic strip character, but was changed when its creator, Walt Kelly, objected and threatened to sue.
Furay era (1969 to 1973)
Their first album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces (1969), is considered a seminal album of the country rock genre. Reviewer Charley Walters awarded the release with 5 stars in the 1979 Rolling Stone Record Guide edited by Dave Marsh and John Swenson, although it was subsequently reduced to 4 stars in the 1983 revised and updated edition of the book. However, the album performed weakly, peaking at No. 63 on Billboard album chart.
The band’s lineup proved to be a problem throughout its career. During the recording of the debut album, Meisner left the group as a result of a conflict with Furay (reportedly, Meisner had objected after Furay barred all but himself and Messina from the first album’s final mix playback sessions). After a stint playing with Ricky Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, Meisner later became a founding member of the Eagles. Messina took over on bass until Timothy B. Schmit joined Poco in September 1969.
Their second studio album Poco (1970) again resulted in low sales, peaking at No. 58. The band’s next album, Deliverin’ (or DeLIVErin’ as it sometimes represented), picked up moderate airplay, Furay’s “C’mon” hitting No. 69. Deliverin’ became Poco’s first album to reach the Top 40 on the Billboard 200, peaking at No. 26. Messina chose to leave the band in October 1970, feeling Furay exhibited too much control over the group’s sound and left the band to return to studio production. At the recommendation of Peter Cetera of Chicago, Messina selected guitarist/singer Paul Cotton, a one-time member of the Illinois Speed Press to replace him.
The realigned Poco, now on its third lineup on just its fourth album, hired Steve Cropper as producer and released From the Inside (Poco album) (1971). Again, poor sales were the result as the release landed at No. 52. The band and its management were dissatisfied with Cropper’s production and hired Jack Richardson, who oversaw the next three albums, beginning with A Good Feelin’ to Know (1972). The band built the LP around the title track, a popular concert tune, but the single failed to chart. The album itself peaked at No. 69. As a result, Furay became increasingly discouraged with Poco’s prospects, especially since ex-bandmates Stills, Young, Meisner and Messina were so successful with their respective groups. In an April 26, 1973 Rolling Stone magazine interview with Cameron Crowe he vented that Poco was still a second-billed act and had not increased its audience. The next album, Crazy Eyes (1973), reached No. 38 but Furay departed at its release and joined with J. D. Souther and Chris Hillman to create the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band on Asylum. Poco decided not to replace Furay and continued as a quartet.
Post-Furay era (1973 to 1977)
After Furay’s departure, the band released their last two albums with Epic; Seven (1974) and Cantamos (1974). The albums charted at No. 68 and No. 76 respectively. Poco left Epic after Cantamos and signed with ABC-Dunhill Records. Head Over Heels was their first ABC release, featuring Schmit’s acoustic “Keep On Tryin'”, which became the group’s most successful single to date, charting at No. 50 on the Billboard Hot 100. Around the time of the release of Head Over Heels, The Very Best of Poco was released as a compilation album that documented the group’s years with Epic. Epic’s release fought with Head Over Heals for attention though neither charted very well, hitting No. 43 and No. 90, respectively.
The group’s next ABC-Dunhill album was Rose Of Cimarron which also failed to generate much enthusiasm and peaked at No. 89. Another Epic release also came out in 1976, the live album Live. Indian Summer was released the following spring, peaking at No. 57, while the title track reached No. 50.
Success (1977 to 1980)
In August 1977, with the support of the rest of Poco, Schmit quit to join The Eagles, coincidentally replacing former Poco member Meisner yet again. As a result, a fully produced live album recorded at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium in Los Angeles in July 1977 was shelved by ABC. After languishing in storage for many years, the album was eventually released by John Thaler and Futuredge Music in partnership with Universal Special Projects as The Last Roundup in 2004.
After Schmit’s departure, Poco decided to take a break. Grantham took some time off, while Young and Cotton decided to continue as the “Cotton-Young Band” and redoubled their efforts to succeed. They selected the Britons Steve Chapman (drums) and Charlie Harrison (bass) (former Judas Jump), both of whom had played together with Leo Sayer and Al Stewart, to round out their new quartet. However, ABC decided to pick up the Cotton-Young album — as long as they continued under the ‘Poco’ name. Thus, although Grantham had never quit Poco, he found himself bought out of the group. He subsequently landed a job as drummer for Ricky Skaggs.
Legend (1978), the Cotton-Young album with cover art by graphic artist (and later comedy actor) Phil Hartman, subsequently became the group’s most commercially successful album, containing two Top Twenty hits, “Crazy Love” written and sung by Rusty Young (which also had a seven-week run at Number 1 on the Adult Contemporary chart in early 1979, the biggest hit on the AC chart that year) and Cotton’s “Heart of the Night”. The album was certified gold, Poco’s first album to achieve this distinction in original distribution. Kim Bullard (keyboards) joined the band in December 1978 just as Legend was being released. While “Crazy Love” was riding up the charts, ABC Records was sold to MCA Records. Poco was retained by MCA and the Legend album was reissued on the MCA label. With the momentum built up from Legend’s success, Poco played their new hit “Heart of the Night” on the live album No Nukes in support of nuclear-free energy, which featured several other big artists such as Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne.
1980 to 1999
Jim Messina, founding member of Poco, performing in 2009
During the first half of the 1980s, the group released five more albums: Under the Gun (1980), Blue And Gray (1981), Cowboys & Englishmen (1982) on MCA and, moving over to Atlantic Records, Ghost Town (1982) and Inamorata (1984). Poco failed to duplicate the success achieved by Legend, with each album performing more poorly than its predecessor. Furay, Schmit and Grantham had, since their departures, each guested with Poco at various times. Inamorata in 1984 included contributions by all three former members. Poco contributed the song “I’ll Leave it Up to You” to the Fast Times at Ridgemont High soundtrack.
The group lost its recording contract with Atlantic due to the slow sales of Inamorata but continued to tour, mostly in small clubs. Bullard left to rejoin Crosby, Stills & Nash in 1983 and Harrison (who had not played on Inamorata) departed in mid-1984. New members Jeff Steele (bass) and Rick Seratte (keyboards, backing vocals) came in for Poco’s 1984 tour dates, but they departed, along with drummer Chapman, to be replaced in 1985 by Jack Sundrud (vocals, bass, guitar) and the returning Grantham. Grantham’s reunion was brief though; In 1986 Ricky Skaggs asked him to rejoin his band. Chapman came back to take over drums again. After a few scattered dates for Poco in 1987, Paul Cotton did not perform with Poco again until 1992.
After a lengthy recording hiatus, at the urging of Richard Marx, Poco re-emerged on the RCA label with the successful Legacy (1989), reuniting original members Young, Furay, Messina, Grantham, and Meisner 20 years after Poco’s debut. The album produced a Top 20 hit, “Call It Love” and another Top 40 hit, “Nothing to Hide,” earning Poco its second gold album (in its 19th album). The group (having added a keyboardist, Dave Vanacore) toured in early 1990 opening for Marx. Furay bowed out early on and Poco toured as a headliner in the summer of 1990 with Sundrud returning to take over rhythm guitar from Furay. In 1991 Poco toured as an acoustic trio with Young, Messina and Meisner (drummer Gary Mallaber joined them for dates in Japan that July). But by the end of 1991, Messina and Meisner had returned to their individual careers.
By early 1992, Poco was once again without a record deal, Rusty Young was the sole owner of the Poco name and, though they had not officially disbanded, the band seemed to be quietly fading away. But despite this, Young once again teamed with Cotton, brought in new members Richard Neville (vocals, bass) and Tim Smith (drums), and toured through the end of the decade, although at a very limited schedule. Young and Cotton occasionally also appeared as Poco as an acoustic duo.
2000 through 2013
Poco again became more active as a touring unit after Grantham and Sundrud rejoined in 2000, reuniting the group’s 1985 lineup. Running Horse (2002) found the band in the studio for the first time in thirteen years. The CD was released through the band’s website. Furay, who had continued to make guest appearances at their shows over the years when they played in his adopted home-state of Colorado, reunited with the band again for a sold out show in Nashville in May 2004, resulting in the CD–DVD release Keeping the Legend Alive (2004). In July of the same year, Grantham suffered a stroke during a live performance. Muscle Shoals Sound studio drummer George Lawrence subbed on drums for Grantham for the rest of 2004 and became a permanent member in 2005. Grantham’s recovery was slow and expensive, and the group created a donor fund on its official website, Poconut.org, to offset some of his considerable medical expenses.
Poco continued to write and record while performing at festivals, performing arts centers, theaters and clubs. In 2005, they played a short tour in Europe, but Cotton was hospitalized in Norway with health issues and missed the last two shows of the tour. Guitarist and singer Bill Lloyd, of duo Foster and LLoyd, substituted for Cotton for several subsequent shows in the US. Cotton returned in 2006, stabilizing the lineup of Young, Cotton, Sundrud, and drummer George Lawrence. Cotton and Sundrud released solo albums. Young started writing an autobiographical history of the band. Poco alumni continued to periodically reunite in concert with this lineup. Beginning in 2009 Grantham occasionally appeared with the band again but limited his contributions to vocals only. Richie Furay and Jim Messina returned for several 2008 Poco performances at the Wildwood Lodge in Steelville, Missouri, a tour of California in 2009 ending at the Stagecoach Festival in Indio where they were joined by Grantham and Timothy B. Schmit, and several dates opening for Loggins and Messina featuring Furay, Messina, and Grantham. Bareback at Big Sky (2005) and The Wildwood Sessions (2006) captured live acoustic versions of songs both new and familiar from their 40-plus year career. Live at Columbia Studios, Hollywood 9/30/71 (2010) unearthed an unreleased 1971 live performance by Furay, Young, Schmit, Grantham, and the then recently recruited Cotton in front of a private audience of family and friends. In early 2010 Paul Cotton left Poco abruptly, publicly citing a financial dispute with Young. On his official website he announced he would not be appearing with Poco at the Wildwood concerts, stating “It was not all that shocking when Rusty told me on Feb. 27 that he would not honor the contract that I had been requesting for over 15 years, and that this was goodbye…” On March 12, 2010, Young responded on Poco’s official website: “It was a sad day when I read on Paul’s website that he wasn’t coming to Wildwood and I guess that means he’s leaving the band.” Poco immediately reformed with Young, Sundrud, Lawrence and new keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist/singer Michael Webb of Nashville TN.
The band’s new incarnation continued to tour and record. In early 2012, a live video of a new song, “Neil Young”, was released on YouTube as a teaser for a new studio album, All Fired Up, that was recorded in Nashville and released in February 2013. Selling on iTunes and the band’s website, and through a distributor in Europe, Young, Sundrud and Webb penned all the songs on the self produced album. In its 45th year, Rusty Young was the only original member in the band, and remained the leader and front man on stage. He has been the only member of Poco to have performed at every gig and played on every recording since the band’s inception in 1968.
Selected studio reissues
In 1997 From the Inside and A Good Feelin’ to Know were reissued on CD by BGO, a British label. The reissue had some problems though as it appears the tape used to remaster From the Inside had significant damage to it. Pickin’ Up the Pieces and Poco, the band’s first and second albums, were also reissued during this time, with no noticeable damage to the master tapes. The notes give a brief history of the band and the recording of each album.
In 2006 BGO reissued four more albums, with two albums on each CD: Seven with Cantamos, the band’s seventh and eighth albums, and Deliverin’, the band’s first live album, with Crazy Eyes. Neither set had any bonus tracks as part of the reissue although there are extensive sleeve notes about Poco’s history and the making of the album. The reissues were remastered by Jack Thompson, although it doesn’t note whether or not these were remastered from the original master tapes or the safety masters as previous CDs were.
In 2011 BGO licensed and reissued remastered editions of four of Poco’s ABC/MCA titles, again remastered by Thompson, putting two albums on each CD, with extensive liner notes written by John Tobler. The pairings were Head over Heels with Rose of Cimarron, and Under the Gun with Blue and Gray. No bonus tracks or outtakes were included.
At the end of 2013 Rusty Young announced his retirement. At the age of 68 he said he had spent 45 years on the road in the same band and needed a break. A few shows were booked into 2014 including three farewell shows in Florida. One of those shows was a performance in a recording studio in front of a live audience for a DVD document of the band’s live show. Young said there could be some one-offs in the future after that, but the band would not be actively touring as before. Young was finishing his memoirs for a book to be published. He and Sundrud write and record music for children’s story videos as the “Session Cats”. Lawrence, Sundrud and Webb continued to write, record and play in their own projects, and to do freelance work with other artists in Nashville, where they live. Young continues to do guest performances with former members of Poco and other country rock artists.
Poco was inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame (CMHOF) with the CMHOF induction ceremony which took place at the Paramount Theatre (Denver, Colorado) on January 9, 2015 and included a performance by the following line-up of band members: Paul Cotton, Richie Furay, Timothy B. Schmit, and Rusty Young. Also inducted into the CMHOF along with Poco was Firefall, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Stephen Stills and Manassas.
2015 Though not touring full time, Poco continues to play isolated dates around the U.S. Young was offered a solo album recording deal.