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Tribune News Service
Tribune News Service
George Varga

Richie Furay talks Poco, Buffalo Springfield, leaving the pulpit and his bumpy Hall of Fame induction

SAN DIEGO — Richie Furay has never lived in San Diego, but the 1997 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and co-founder of the pioneering bands Buffalo Springfield and Poco can credit the city for twice playing a key role in revitalizing his career.

“It sure seems that way!” said the veteran singer-songwriter, who co-headlines the 2022 “Carols by Candlelight” children's hospital fundraising concerts Friday and Saturday at California Center for the Arts, Escondido.

That Furay’s solo career received two reboots, not just one, in San Diego is all the more intriguing because the two are entirely unconnected and occurred more than a quarter-century apart.

The first, at Humphreys Concerts by the Bay in 1995, brought him out of a 12-year retirement from performing music in public. Starting in 1982, Furay had devoted himself to being the full-time pastor at Calvary Chapel in Boulder, Colo., a position he maintained until just five years ago.

Between 1982 and 1985, he preached and performed songs of faith for his congregation almost exclusively. Then came a series of phone calls from former Boulder pal Kenny Weissberg, who had moved to San Diego and was then producing the annual Humphreys series. Those calls proved pivotal to Furay’s return to public stages — and his re-embracing the secular music that fueled his Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction.

The second reboot, which happened just last year, was at a house concert in Scripps Ranch, where Furay teamed with the San Diego band Back to the Garden. It came two years after he had concluded the West Coast leg of what was supposed to be his farewell tour.

Together, these two San Diego reboots serve as memorable bookends for the country-rock pioneer. His list of classic songwriting credits includes Buffalo Springfield’s “Kind Woman” and “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” Poco’s “A Good Feelin’ to Know” and “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” and The Souther-Hillman- Furay Band’s “Fallin’ in Love.”

‘More personal focus’

Now 78, Furay made a thankfully swift recovery after being being diagnosed with Bell’s palsy — which weakens facial muscles — in 2017, when he also underwent knee and shoulder surgery. The same year saw him step down, after 35 years, from his position as pastor at his 200-member church, which had relocated from Boulder to nearby Broomfield.

“Everything I’ve done in life has been for other people, whether making music or ministering,” Furay said, speaking from the rural Colorado home where he lives with his wife of more than 50 years.

“When I came down with Bell’s palsy at 75, I saw how quickly something can happen to you at my age. So, it wasn’t hard to step down from being the minister. I can still serve, but I don’t have to prepare a sermon every week. Not to be selfish, but since we are still alive, now it’s more about us and family and having little more personal focus.”

An Ohio native, Furay was 8 when he got his first guitar. He was barely 20 when he joined the Cafe Au Go Go Singers folk-music group in New York City in 1964. Its lineup also included Stephen Stills, with whom Furay would re-team two years later in the acclaimed Los Angeles band Buffalo Springfield alongside Neil Young, Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer.

In 1968, Furay co-founded Poco. The pioneering band helped pave the way for the Eagles and countless country-rock acts.

“It was another lifetime ago, but it was very exciting,” Furay said. “I was a kid from Ohio, making music, who became a part of some very influential bands. It was like: ‘Wow, man!’ I couldn’t have anticipated or planned any of that.”

The bespectacled troubadour is the subject of the upcoming documentary, “Through It All: The Life and Influence of Richie Furay.” Narrated by Oscar-winning screenwriter (and former San Diegan) Cameron Crowe, the film chronicles the life of a musician who continues to earn acclaim as he nears his 80th birthday.

“Richie still sings amazingly well,” said Back to the Garden guitarist Marc Intravaia. The band of leading San Diego musicians will accompany him at Friday and Saturday’s Carols by Candlelight concerts in Escondido, then re-team with Furay for his Feb. 11 performance at the Poway Center for the Performing Arts.

“With so many older musicians who came up in the 1960s, their singing skills may have diminished,” Intravaia noted. “And here’s Richie, at 78, sounding like he did in 1968!”

Intravaia was in the audience at Humphreys when Furay opened for Emmylou Harris in 1996. It was a year after Furay had come out of retirement to open a concert at the same venue for fellow Buffalo Springfield co-founder Stephen Stills.

“When I became a pastor, I stepped away from doing any more concerts,” Furay said. “Kenny Weissberg, who had been a friend in Colorado, called me and said: ‘Hey, can we get you out here to do a show?’ ”

Former Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay promoter Kenny Weissberg has written a new book, "Off My Rocker: One Man's Tasty, Twisted, Star-Studded Quest for Everlasting Music," about his career in the music industry. Weissberg, also an award-winning radio DJ and former rock critic and singer, will give a free reading Thursday night at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Weissberg had been a music critic and radio host in Boulder before moving to San Diego, where he curated the Humphreys concert series from 1984 until 2007. He first saw Furay perform with the seminal country-rock band Poco in 1969 in Boston. The concert made him an instant fan.

Reunion with Stephen Stills

Furay was so hesitant to accept Weissberg’s offer to open for Stills at Humphreys that the promoter booked Byrds’ co-founder Chris Hillman, a former San Diegan, instead. When Furay belatedly agreed to play, Stills and Hillman happily reduced their performance times to accommodate Furay.

Weissberg’s 2013 memoir, “Off My Rocker,” devotes an entire chapter to Furay. The now-retired concert promoter still vividly recalls the singer-songwriter’s 1995 debut at Humphreys.

“Richie hadn’t played secular music in 10 or 15 years,” Weissberg said, speaking from his Point Loma home.

“He only played 28 minutes that night at Humphreys, in a duo with Scott Sellen, and he got a tremendous response. As Richie came off stage, he beamed and said to me: ‘Boy, you’re really going to get me into trouble!’ He’s a great artist, and I’m still a big fan.”

Weissberg booked Furay to perform as part of each of the next five seasons at Humphreys, including a memorable double-bill with latter-day Buffalo Springfield member Jim Messina.

“Kenny was very instrumental in getting me to even consider going back out and doing mainstream music again,” Furay said. “It was not on my radar until Kenny made it happen.”

Garden harmony

The circumstances that led to Furay teaming up with Back to the Garden were decidedly unlikely.

The band’s members include former Johnny Cash guitarist Jim Soldi, bassist Rick Nash, drummer Larry Grano and keyboardist Sharon Whyte. She does not take part in the band’s performances with Furay because that role is filled by Jack Jeckot, whose musical tenure with Furay predates Back to the Garden’s.

Furay and Back to the Garden’s first joint performance was in Scripps Ranch on Oct. 6, 2021. It took place in the backyard of one of Intravaia’s guitar students, Mark Branning, who had made a generous contribution to help underwrite the production costs of the upcoming Furay film documentary.

“One of the perks for Mark of making that contribution is Richie came here and did a house concert for him,” Intravaia said. “Mark has been my student for 15 years and told Richie and his manager: ‘There’s this great San Diego band that I’d love to have back Richie up.’ They were very reluctant.”

That reluctance continued until T.J. Klay — a San Diego musician who had worked with Furay — put in a good word for Back to the Garden and forwarded YouTube video clips of the band’s performances.

“I was really hesitant because my songs can be very intricate,” Furay said. “But when I heard Back to the Garden open up for us at Mark’s house concert, I thought: ‘This could be very interesting!’

“I ended my set by doing eight of my songs with Back to the Garden that they had learned. We all looked at each other on stage and we couldn’t take the smiles off our faces. These are not only top-notch musicians but some of the nicest people I have met. I did have some drama with my previous band that I won’t go into. The guys in Back to the Garden don’t bring any baggage — or drama.”

Furay was so pleased by the band’s first-rate musicianship and cohesion as an ensemble that he promptly invited Back to the Garden to perform concerts with him last fall in New York and New Jersey. Both dates had originally been part of the East Coast leg of Furay’s 2020 farewell tour, which was rescheduled three times because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When we finished that concert in New Jersey, Richie pulled Jim (Soldi) and me aside and told us: ‘You have inspired me and I want to keep this going’,” Intravaia recalled. “That was such a great thing to hear from a musician who we grew up listening to and is one of our big heroes. In the 1970s, my band, Listen, played songs Richie wrote when he was in Poco and Buffalo Springfield.

“I think the best thing for him about us is that there are no hidden agendas. We’re not trying to get anything from him, or to meet people in the (music) industry or get more gigs through him.

“It’s just this joyful experience of playing music with him. If Richie wants to play with other people, that’s fine with us. He can just call when he wants to work with us, and I think he sensed that.”

The collaboration has marked the start of a new chapter for the band and Furay, whose 2022 album, “In the Country,” features Vince Gill, former San Diegan Jason Scheff and Timothy B. Schmit, who joined the Eagles after leaving Poco.

Furay anticipates doing three dozen concert dates in 2023 — up to three a month on average — some with Back to the Garden and some in a trio with his daughter and keyboardist Dan Scarta.

“Back to the Garden is so good that I can play songs of mine with them that I couldn’t with my previous band,” Furay said.

“I was in a stage of retirement when I met them, just doing (periodic) acoustic shows in a trio setting. I absolutely want to do more with Back to the Garden.”

Furay chuckled.

“I keep thinking I’m going to retire from music,” he said. “But, you know, I think retiring is not in the cards!”

Did you know?

Along with Al Green and Run-D.M.C.'s Joseph Simmons, Richie Furay is one of the very few musicians who is both an ordained minister and a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee. That distinction was also held by Little Richard and Solomon Burke, both now deceased.

Rock Hall induction a bumpy honor

Richie Furay was understandably delighted in 1997 when he learned he would be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame that year as a member of Buffalo Springfield, the legendary band he had co-founded in 1966 with Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Bruce Palmer and Dewey Martin.

They were part of that year’s diverse class of inductees, which also included Joni Mitchell, The Jackson 5, Parliament-Funkadelic, Crosby, Stills & Nash, the Bee Gees, The (Young) Rascals and — posthumously — gospel-music legend Mahalia Jackson, bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and King Records’ founder-producer Syd Nathan.

But the induction ceremony itself left a bitter taste in Furay’s mouth that, 25 years later, has still not disappeared.

“I got a phone call from Neil (Young) after it was announced,” Furay recalled. “He said: ‘Ah, man, it’s so great we’ll be inducted in the hall together,’ because he’d already been inducted in 1995 as a solo artist.

Alas. Young bowed out at the last minute — and it wasn’t by phone.

“When push came to shove,” Furay recalled, “Neil sent a fax saying: ‘I’m not going to be there’.”

Young cited a number of reasons for his decision.

He lambasted the hall’s decision to sign a two-year contract with VH1 to televise the prestigious awards show — which apart from a 10th anniversary compilation special on MTV in 1995 — had not previously been televised beyond a few soundbites. Young also complained that inductees were only allowed to bring one guest for free and that additional tickets were priced at $1,500 and up.

As a result of Young’s no-show, the long-defunct Buffalo Springfield’s four other members were forced to pull out of their hoped-for reunion performance. Young’s absence cast a pall over what should have been a triumphant moment, although he, Furay and Stills got back together for seven Buffalo Springfield reunion shows in 2011 before Young abruptly pulled the plug on 30 more concerts that were planned for 2012.

Speaking backstage at the 1997 induction ceremony to the Union-Tribune and other media outlets, a clearly peeved Furay said: “This isn’t about Neil Young, it’s about the Buffalo Springfield and what’s being bestowed upon us as a group.”

Reflecting on that marred evening now, Furay said: “It was quite an honor to be inducted. But it would have been nice to have the whole band there because we were all alive at the time.

“The fact Neil chose not to come, well, he marches to his own drum.”


“Carols by Candlelight,” with Mark Wills, Richie Furay, Back to the Garden, Anna Vaus and Steve Vaus

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Where: California Center for the Arts, Escondido, 340 North Escondido Blvd., Escondido

Tickets: $19-$99

Phone: (800) 988-4253



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