Richie Furay has had one of the most interesting careers in Rock and Folk/Rock music. He's been a part of Buffalo Springfield, which he helped form, Poco, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, the Au Go Go Singers and The Richie Furay Band. He's a member of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame and is probably best known for a song he wrote called "Kind Woman". We covered a lot of musical history in this interview with Richie Furay.
Q - Richie, let's start off with what you're doing today. I see you're touring. Would that be with The Richie Furay Band?
A - Yes, it is. It's the same group of people that I've been playing with for probably the last ten to fifteen years. It is The Richie Furay Band. We go out in different configurations. We go out from a trio to a quartet to a five piece to a six piece, depending on what the economics of the whole situation, what configuration we can actually afford to do. I have a drummer that lives on the West coast now and a keyboard player that lives on the East coast. So, I have anywhere from a six piece band to a little quartet. However it works out that we can get out and play for people, we'll try and figure out how we can do it. We're playing with Timothy B. Schmit on Thursday (December 14, 2017).
Q - What type of venues would you be performing in?
A - When we're opening up for Timothy it's a smaller club, but then we just have my five piece band out at the Coach House in Southern California. That had bass and drums with that one. We're playing places that are anywhere from probably three hundred to five hundred seat venues. That's where we feel comfortable playing in right now.
Q - Have you put out any new recorded product?
A - Yes. I'm sure glad you asked that because it's so important to me to be able to do new material. I mean, I love playing the old songs and I know people want to hear "Pickin' Up The Pieces", "Good Feelin' To Know" and "Kind Woman", but I'm still writing and I think my newest project, which was released about two years ago (2015) on E1 called "Hand To Hand", and I'm sure that everybody that does new product thinks they've done some of their best music, but I played some of it over the weekend and the people just loved the fact that I sold so much of it out of that CD. I didn't even have enough CDs. (laughs) So, I have released "Hand To Hand" and in 2017 I released a CD called "The Heartbeat Of Love", which is a pretty unique CD in and of itself, not only the packaging but I've got Stephen Stills and Neil Young and Timothy B. Schmit, Kenny Loggins, Mark Volman, Jeff Hanna, Rusty Young, Paul Cotton. I've just got a whole bunch of people on it as far as guests go. It was quite a fun project to do as well.
Q - You've got an all-star line-up there, that's for sure!
A - Yeah.
Q - The beginning for you would've been Dayton, Ohio?
A - That's where I was born. I grew up in a little town just a short distance from there called Yellow Springs, Ohio.
Q - You stayed in Yellow Springs for how long?
A - Well, I grew up there, went to high school there and then I took off for college 'cause that was the thing to do back in the day. I went up to Otterbein College in Westerville, Ohio and I actually stayed there for just a year and a half. I left there at Christmas time, my sophomore year. It was there I met a couple of buddies and we went off to New York to be Folk singers that summer. That's where I met Stephan Stills and that's what got me to New York, playing some music. That was the next step along the way, going from Yellow Springs up to Otterbein, meeting my two friends and taking off to New York in the summertime.
Q - What kind of music scene did Yellow Springs, Ohio have?
A - You know, it really didn't have much of a music scene per se at that time. This would've been when I left town, 1965. I graduated '62. There really wasn't much of a music scene. Fact is, I went back and forth between playing music and wanting to play sports. That was the more hip thing to do when I was growing up, but when I went off to college, my two buddies that I met up there at college, we put together a Folk group and we were in a fraternity together. I don't even know how I even think of all that stuff now (laughs). But that's where I met my friends. In Yellow Springs there wasn't much of a music scene. I can remember my girlfriend and I, when I was in the eighth grade, we got our way into the high school dances 'cause I had these three guys that were upper classmen that would sing the Doo Wop music with me back then. So, that was a lot of fun and got me and my girlfriend into the high school dances before we were high school age.
Q - When you left college for New York, did you encounter a booming Folk music scene?
A - It was not the height of Folk music. It was kind of dwindling down. When we went back there in March, I actually went back with the school, even though I dropped out of school, which the Otterbein A Capplla Choir. That was the ticket, my two friends, Bob Harmelink and Nels Gustafson. They went back and finished school. We went back in the summertime and Stephen Stills was back there in one of the little Folk clubs where you passed the basket and we had actually played in the Spring when we had gone back. So, we met Stephan back there and that's where I struck up my friendship with him. But, we were right on the verge of electric guitars getting into Folk music. The (Lovin') Spoonful was just getting started at that time. The scene wasn't so much a Folk scene as much as let's put on some electric guitars and play those. Our group broke up after about six months. We did a record for Roulette Records of all things called "They Call Us Au Go Go Singers". We were named after the club down in Greenwich Village, The Cafe Au Go Go. We did an off-Broadway play. An Americana Revue they called it, where we played a lot of the old Folk songs, but it was a revue and that was off, off-Broadway in two weeks. So it was a quick run. (laughs) We did a Rudy Vallee On Broadway Tonight television show and a little tour of three cities in Texas of a couple of supper clubs down there in Houston, Beaumont and Austin and then everything broke up. Stephen (Stills) took off for California and I didn't know what to do at the time, so I went to work at Pratt And Whitney Aircraft up in East Hartford, Connecticut so I could eat and also make auditions down in New York City when I heard there was something going on. So, it was an interesting time, but that probably lasted two or three months. There was a guy who lived across the street from me in New York and we continued to maintain an apartment down there, for whatever reason I don't know. I guess maybe we paid in advance. This guy who lived across the street from me, his name was Gram Parsons.
Q - Oh, yeah.
A - He came up to visit me one day up in Connecticut with the family I was living with up there. He said, "You gotta hear this record. This is really unique. This is new. This is something I think you're going to want to hear." And he had The Byrds' first record. When I heard that I put in my resignation at Pratt and Whitney Aircraft, got a hold of Stephen and finally, I don't know how long it was, it seemed like forever, we finally got in touch with each other and went out to California and that's where we started Buffalo Springfield.
Q - Before I get to your time with Buffalo Springfield, this club you performed in, Four Winds...
A - Yeah, that was where I met Stephen. That was a little pass-the-basket club.
Q - The Folk club?
A - Yes.
Q - How many sets a night did you do and how many nights a week did you work there?
A - We worked, as far as I can remember, every night. There were probably three or four acts. I know there was my group and there was Stephen and there may have been probably one other group and we just rotated. The tourists would come and go with each set that came up. We would work from, I don't know, anywhere from 8 o'clock in the evening until 2 or 3 in the morning, until the last guys were left, but we would keep rotating. That's how we would do it.
Q - That's like The Beatles in Hamburg.
A - It was exhausting. As I look back on it now it was exhausting. (laughs).
Q - Only a young guy could do that!
A - You're not kidding.
Q - What kind of a club was this Cafe Au Go Go?
A - It was more of an uptown club. It was across the street from The Bitter End, which was pretty popular at the time. They would have stand-up comedians in there as well as some Folk groups, but it was a nicer club. It was a place where the tourists would come and they would see who was playing there. It would be like down at The Village Gate or over at The Bitter End. It was a much nicer club than, "Oh, here's a little place on West 3rd called The Four Winds. Let's see what's going on in here." It was a nicer club.
Q - Richie, by the time I'm through with this interview I will have your life story and no one will be able to follow this interview.
A - And you know it better than me too! If you get me telling it, they'll get lost somewhere along the way. (laughs)
Q - Before Buffalo Springfield was called Buffalo Springfield, you were known as The Herd?
A - I think that was a nickname. I don't think that was anything we called ourselves.
Q - What part did you play in putting Buffalo Springfield together?
A - It was me and Stephen (Stills) and actually when I finally got a hold of Stephen I was working up at Pratt And Whitney. It took awhile to get a hold of him and when I did get a hold of him he said, "Come on out to California. I've got a group together. All I need is another singer. We'll just go from there." Well, that excited me, but when I got out to California the group was me and him. That was it. We had both met Neil (Young) along the way and when The Au Go Go Singers broke up, Stephen headed out to California. He became the lead singer of a part of The Au Go Go Singers. They had lead singers, but they didn't really have a lead singer. So, Stephen became their lead singer and they worked their way across Canada to California and that's how Stephen got to California. It was along the way that they met Neil in a little Folk club up there and then he came down to New York once to peddle some songs and he stayed at our little apartment on Thompson Street and that's where I met him. We had met Neil along the way. When I got to California, thinking, "Oh, boy. Got a band together. Let's go!" I say, "Oh, boy" because at one point in time, during the time I was working at Pratt And Whitney Aircraft, I came down to hear a band that Stephan had started that was kind of modeled a little bit after The Lovin' Spoonful and it was so bad I went back up to Hartford to continue my day job up there. (laughs) So, it was a chance that I took when I went out to California when Stephen said, "I got a band together. All I need is another singer." It was definitely a leap of faith to say the least, but it all worked out. In the whole plane it was perfect because Stephen and I sat in this little apartment on Fountain Avenue. It was just me and him and he had written all the songs he had on the first Buffalo Springfield recording. We sat in this little apartment and we sat right across from each other it was so small, but it was there that Stephen and I learned to sing together, to just work out all of these songs, at least the vocal arrangements of them. I taught Stephen Clancy at that same time 'cause Neil had had taught them to me back in New York. So when we finally did hook up with Neil we could play him a song of his. It was kind of an interesting little thing. At first it was going to be a challenge no doubt because I was reluctant at first to go out, but then I said, "I gotta get out of here. I gotta go play some music."
Q - What year did you arrive in Los Angeles?
A - That would've probably been '64, '65.
Q - There were quite a few clubs operating in Los Angeles at that time, weren't there?
A - Yeah, there were, but we were so poor we didn't make it out to many of those clubs until we actually got hired to play at The Whiskey.
Q - When you played The Whiskey would you have run into Jim Morrison?
A - We played on the same bill. The Doors played on the same bill with Buffalo Springfield. Some of the other bands that played with us were Love, The Grass Roots. There were double bills there all the time. We played with The Doors on more than one occasion at The Whiskey.
Q - What'd you think of Jim Morrison?
A - I thought he was about as weird as they come.
Q - Are you talking onstage or offstage?
A - That was certainly onstage. I really didn't know him too well offstage, but I had to figure that he was a little aloof. No doubt about it. He was aloof at the time, so I didn't get to know him.
Q - Did you cross paths with Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin?
A - Other than playing with them on various occasions, we played with Jimi Hendrix twice. I played with him once up at Monterey. We didn't say anything to each other. Then Poco played with him at the Atlantic Pop Festival as well. We probably played with Janis on more than one occasion. I know that. You think of the Monterey Pop Festival and she was just spectacular. She was awesome.
Q - I always ask people like yourself who were around in the era of the late 1960s, early 1970s about Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.
A - You could have the same conversation with Stephen or Neil about Janis Joplin or Jimi Hendrix and they would have a whole other take on it because they many have spent more time with them, but I just didn't.
Q - I believe that Hendrix did come over to Stephen Stills' home.
A - Yeah, might have. I think you're right. Stephen was definitely a little more social. I've always been the guy to keep a low profile.
Q - Was there a leader in Buffalo Springfield and who might that have been?
A - Yes, there was a leader in Buffalo Springfield. Buffalo Springfield was Stephen's band. No doubt about it. He was the heart and soul of Buffalo Springfield.
Q - In 1967 Buffalo Springfield was being compared to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Now, how much pressure does that put on a group?
A - (laughs) Oddly enough I think when we were playing I think it was just a general thought in our mind. It was a figment of our imagination, but we thought that we had everything it took to be on the same level as those bands.
Q - In 1966, The Bobby Fuller Four were being hailed as "America's Answer To The Beatles." Did you ever run into Bobby Fuller?
A - I didn't, no. I can hear their music running over my head a little bit right now. They were really great. Buffalo Springfield opened up for The Rolling Stones at The Hollywood Bowl before we ever had a record contract.
Q - How'd you pull that off?
A - I don't really know. (laughs) I have pictures of us walking up the ramp. We opened up for 'em before we ever had a record deal.
Q - "For What It's Worth" didn't sound like a Top 40 record, but it did make it to number 7 on the charts. Did that surprise you or anybody in the band?
A - Well, it surprised me and I'll tell you why. Ahmet Ertegun had come out. He was president of Atlantic (Records). The first recording we did, "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing", which I thought was a mistake to release it as a single, in hindsight. It would've been a much different scenario of how things worked out if they had released "Do I Come Right Out And Say It", which is a more accessible song for AM radio. But never the less, the album did not do as well out of the box as Atlantic or Atco had hoped. And so Ahmet had come out to California to hear new songs that we had written and to encourage us to maybe start recording our second record. Well, by that time it was "Rock And Roll Woman" and "Bluebird", songs like that, that we were rehearsing. We were playing them. When you say did it surprise me? I don't even remember necessarily hearing it before Stephen played it for Ahment and we were packing up our guitars after Neil had played a bunch of songs from it. Stephen had played a bunch of songs and I played a few songs that I had at the time. Then at the end of the day, Stephen said, I've got another one, "For What It's Worth", and that was it. Ahment said, "That's a hit! We have to record that right now." (laughs) So we went in and recorded it. To me it was a nice little Folk song. That's why I say it kind of went over my head, but Ahmet heard it and said, "That's the one!" We went in and recorded it and they took a song off of Stephen's first album called "Baby Don't Scold Me" and put this song on and yes, it did go to number 7 on the charts.
Q - It was played on the radio here on the East Coast all the time.
A - Oh, yeah. It was interesting, it went in pockets though. It didn't just like sweep the country, like it became a big hit in L.A. and then became a big hit in the Northwest or in the mid-West and then in the South. So, it didn't really sweep the country all at once. It might've even charted higher than 7.
Q - Was "For What It's Worth" written about a riot that happened on Sunset Blvd, which wasn't really a riot? There were kids blocking storefronts on Sunset Blvd. and the police had to get the kids to move on.
A - Yeah. Stephen was coming home from wherever he lived at the time from The Whiskey and got down to the intersection of Crescent Heights and Laurel Canyon on Sunset Blvd. where there was a club called Pandora's Box. That's where the kids congregated. They had their little scene going on. The police wanted to shut down that club because of the complaints from some of the local businesses. It was that club right at that intersection where Laurel Canyon, Crescent Heights and Sunset Blvd. all come together and Stephen said, "Whoa! What's happening here? What it is ain't exactly clear." (laughs) So, it had nothing to do with the Vietnam War. It was totally about that situation he saw on Sunset Strip.
Q - Was that headline news in Los Angeles?
A - You know Gary, I can't remember, but it must've been headline news. It would be like if it happened today, it was a situation that needs to be addressed. It could've been a combat zone. There was a lot of things happening in the '60s. I remember walking home from The Whiskey one night on my way to where I was living and got stopped because here we were, long-haired hippies and it was late at night and this little convenience store had just been held up not too many blocks from where I happened to be at the time and the police stopped me to investigate and it wasn't a very pleasant experience. They were rough on us. I can remember man, they asked me for my driver's license and I said, I'm not driving." They said, "I don't care if you're driving or not. If you don't show me your I.D. I'm gonna knock you on your but." But that is not what they said.
Q - What happened next?
A - I finally pulled out my I.D. I wasn't gonna hassle with them at that point in time. They were serious.
Q - When you entered the music business you didn't hear about the word demographics bandied about. I don't know what the money situation was like when you were coming up and I'm not gong to ask, but in the 1960s bands did seem to have more creative freedom in the studio. What would you say to that?
A - When we got started the record companies were looking for creativity. They were looking for something fresh. They never asked us once, "Hey, we need a band that sounds like..." It was never anything like that. We were the band that other bands wanted to sound like and that even went through with Poco as well. It was a great time for freedom to express yourself.
Q - You are a part of the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. What does that mean to you?
A - You know, it's exciting. Although I do think the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame is, I don't know what the word I want to use 'cause I can't understand why some groups are not in and others are. It's an honor to be recognized, but Jann Wenner, I feel had such a hold on that, that if you were his favorite band, you were in. If you weren't, you didn't even get acknowledge. Buffalo Springfield certainly had respect and was certainly deserving, even though we were only together for two years and released three albums. Just look at what happened, Crosby, Sills And Nash. Neil Young went on to be a solo artist and then groups like Poco pioneered the way for the biggest band in American history maybe. But if Jann Wenner didn't like you, or you weren't on his radar, you weren't recognized and so that makes it a little hard sometimes to digest. I'm certainly honored that Buffalo Springfield would have been on his radar and we were able to be recognized in such a way. It's quite a nice honor. But then, I stop and start to think about Poco. We didn't have the big hits, but we certainly pioneered the ground work for a lot of bands and certainly a sound of music. If you really say you're going to recognize someone... I mean, somebody had to start the whole ball rollin'. Because Poco didn't have hits, is it all about the number of AM hits you had, or is it really about the work that you have established? I don't know. Don't get me off on that roll. I might be out of touch here. (laughs)
Q - Can I quote you on what you are saying about Poco?
A - Yeah. Absolutely you can. Poco, we pioneered. The Eagles had two of my bass players. Poco paved the way. Glenn Frey sat in my living room in Laurel Canyon, listening to me rehearsing Poco. So, I mean we had an influence on those guys. Sometimes, because Poco didn't have the Neil Young come out of the band or whatever, we didn't have enough dirt to get recognized and got overlooked in such a way that I think it's an interesting story. We paved the way for a lot of groups. I think Poco should be recognized, but I'm not holding my breath on it. (laughs)