It's not often that you can spend 40 minutes on the phone with a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and come away thinking, "Wow, what a decent, regular guy."
But such was the case for me with Richie Furay, a founding member of Buffalo Springfield and Poco, two groups whose collective influence far outweighs the sum of their respective accomplishments.
A member of rock's royalty, Furay doesn't see himself as a rock star. In fact, it was his inability to come to terms with how former bandmates Neil Young, Stephen Stills, Jim Messina, Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit were enjoying the spoils of superstardom in the 1970s that pushed him toward a more meaningful life.
"When (A) Good Feelin' to Know was out and was not a big success, I was devastated," he says about Poco's 1972 album. It was the same time as (the Eagles') 'Take It Easy.' I was caught up and consumed by the whole thing in wanting to be the same kind of rock 'n' roll star."
Furay made one more album with Poco, the group he and Messina co-founded after Buffalo Springfield imploded. Furay contributed but two songs to Crazy Eyes, his final Poco LP, and was already plotting his escape.
His next ill-fated attempt at superstardom was via the Souther Hillman Furay Band. While the group did produce some good tunes, the frustration over not making it big continued to haunt his emotional well-being.
Fortunately, Furay best remembers this time for his friendship with pedal-steel guitarist Al Perkins, who introduced him to his faith. "This was a crisis time in my life. I was separated from my wife, and finally saw: Here's what's really important."
In 1982, Furay not only dropped out of the scene, but began what he saw as his real life's work, founding a ministry and church in Boulder, Colo. He says becoming a Christian put a stop to his whole career. "I was between a rock and a hard place. My music was too Christian for secular music, and too secular for Christian. I was out in no-man's land."
Following Seasons of Change, a poorly promoted solo album that "still has some of my favorite music," all of it stopped as he took on the ministry full-time. This is when he met Scott Sellen.
After years of collaborating and playing informally, "Scott and I started doing some small duo things in the mid-1990s." They were eventually coaxed out of Colorado, ironically opening for Stills at a club in Southern California. "There we were, two little guys, doing our little folkie thing."
In 1997, Furay began recording again. Eventually, he and Sellen put together what he calls his "multigenerational family band." This includes his daughter, Jesse Furay Lynch, on vocals; Sellen on guitar; and Sellen's son Aaron on bass. Drummer Alan Lemke rounds out the group.
Finally playing on his own terms, he released two albums of devotional music before recording 2006's exceptional The Heartbeat of Love, a mainstream album steeped in echoes of Poco and featuring many old friends, including Stills, two Youngs (Neil and Rusty), members of his own band, and several current and former members of Poco.
Conspicuous by his absence was Messina, who was in the midst of reuniting with his former partner, Kenny Loggins, for the first Loggins and Messina reunion tour. Furay says their friendship, however, is still strong, and there is a deep appreciation for their shared past.
"He saw that he could help and encourage me during the early days when moving on (from Springfield) gave me a chance to step out and see who I was," Furay says.
Furay is now enjoying a bit of a renaissance. He released Alive, a two-CD concert retrospective capturing highlights of his 40-year career. Since then, he has sat in with the modern-day Poco and participated in last spring's weeklong Poco reunion, which, along with current Poco vets Rusty Young and Paul Cotton, also included Messina, Schmit and drummer/vocalist George Grantham, who is recovering from a stroke.
At a concert next week at the Fox Tucson Theatre, Furay will share the bill with Messina, who will be fronting an electric band and playing a set culled from his own storied career. Will they possibly appear onstage together?
"We haven't talked about it, and we're both perfectionists—but we do know several songs from the past," Furay says.