Saturday night, Buffalo Springfield will wrap up their seven-date reunion tour with a headlining slot at Bonnaroo. According to the group’s singer and guitarist Richie Furay, fans who missed out on seeing them this time around will have plenty of chances later in the year. “The plan is to do 30 dates this fall,” he tells Rolling Stone. “The anchors will be Los Angeles and New York. What the other cities are, I can’t tell you right now – but we’re almost certainly doing Red Rocks.”
The plan is to play mostly large theaters, as opposed to arenas and amphitheaters. “We want to keep it a little more intimate,” he says. “Rather than going out and playing a huge something . . . There have been people from Florida, Chicago and Texas saying to me, ‘Hey, you gonna come my way?’ I have to say that with 30 shows, we’re gonna hit those cities.”
Furay became a born-again Christian in the mid-1970s, and since 1983 he’s worked as a pastor at Calvary Chapel Church in Broomfield, Colorado. “The church has been very supportive of this tour,” he says. “I have an assistant pastor that’s doing some of the Sundays and we have a guest speaker come in too. Everybody’s taken care of.”
Hours before taking the stage with Buffalo Springfield at the Santa Barbara Bowl tonight, Furay called into Rolling Stone to chat about the tour.
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Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you and what you were doing when Neil Young first contacted you last year about a Buffalo Springfield reunion?
I think I was probably just in my home studio office, probably working on some church stuff. This thing was not on my radar. I got one of those calls that Neil was calling me, so I got on the phone and we just started the conversation. He said that he’d been talking to Stephen [Stills] and they thought it would be really fun to do the Bridge School Benefit. They wanted to know if I was into it. It’s kind of funny, ’cause Neil said, ‘Well, you know, we don’t have to do it this year if this is too soon. We can do it next year or the next year…” And I’m thinking, “Neil, I mean we’re not 20 years old again. We better do this while we still can!”
I think a day later we all got on the phone – Stephen, Neil and myself. We all agreed to do it. I was on my way to Israel in a couple of weeks, so right after I came back I had four days and then I went out to Northern California. We just kind of started rehearsing and it led to this.
How long after the two Bridge School shows did you start talking about doing more shows this year?
Between Thanksgiving and Christmas of last year it was decided. I don’t know how it all got done. The three of us and our managers just kind of agreed to go ahead and take it to the next step.
I imagine that Bonnaroo was the anchor for these six California shows this month.
Absolutely. They all build up to it. It started in Oakland, which is a little obscure and out of the way. Then we went to Los Angeles and there was a little more tension and publicly visible. Now here we are at a smaller outdoor venue. It’s given us a feel building up to being outdoors at Bonnaroo.
How many days did you guys rehearse?
A solid week. It was to our advantage that we had played in October, so we had at least an hour’s worth of music that we’d already started to rehearse. And then we just moved on from there. One of the neat things about what we’re doing is that we’re doing it ourselves. We don’t have 10 musicians and singers. We got five guys and what you hear is what you get. I think that is something really unique for what we’re doing right now.
Are you singing songs you haven’t sung since in over 40 years?
Oh, yeah! With the Richie Furay Band I do a medley of songs that I sang on the first Buffalo Springfield album. I do a medley of Flying On the Ground Is Wrong, Do I Have To Come Right Out and Say It and Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing. I also play a version of Go and Say Goodbye because I just love that song. So with those four songs I was already familiar, but everything else was pretty much songs we haven’t played for 40 years.
What do you feel when you’re walking onstage with Neil and Stephen? This is something nobody thought would ever happen again.
It’s awe. That’s what everybody is feeling. I saw a guy this morning that said he was coming to the show tonight. He said, “I had tickets 43 years ago in Nashville to see you guys with the Beach Boys.” It was within a day or two of when Martin Luther King had been shot and we’d cancelled the show. He said, “So I’ve been waiting 43 years to see this band play.”
I’m so used to seeing Neil as the frontman. It’s cool to see him sing harmonies or just play the piano. He usually isn’t a utility player like that.
Neil made it clear at the first show – and certainly this was our understanding going in – that this was not Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield or Stephen Stills and Buffalo Springfield. This is Buffalo Springfield. That’s the approach we’re taking. It’s a band and everybody fills their role. [Drummer] Joe [Vitale] and [bassist] Rick [Rosas] fill their roles too. We just share the music and the lead singing. It’s a true band.
There’s no agendas. That’s what’s really neat. I think we’re way past that. I mean, we were 20-year-old kids when we started. We’re doing this because we want to do it and it’s fun and it’s unique and because we know there’s a lot of people out there that, like me, that never thought it would ever happen!
This has to be the most time the three of you have spent together since 1968.
How are you guys getting along? Is it weird after all this time?
No, there’s nothing weird about it. From the moment I saw Neil at the rehearsal hall before the Bridge School we just started talking. There was nothing we had to work through or work out to get our relationship back together. None at all. Then when Stephen arrived it was the same thing. This has been a truly dynamic situation. Everybody is just feeling the same. We left the show last night and Stephen just had the biggest smile on his face. That’s just the way it is.
I think this is the fun we thought we were going to have back in the Sixties. Because of circumstances, it just didn’t happen. But we’re having fun now. There’s energy in Neil. There’s energy in Stephen. There’s energy in me. I feel young up there, man.
Are you at all nervous about playing Bonnaroo in front of something like 80,000 people?
I’m not. You know, sometimes it’s more difficult to play in front of 80 people than it is 80,000. It’s just the way it is. With the nerves of intimacy it can be much more intimidating than playing in front of a sea of people.
A lot of the reviewers have commented on how remarkably preserved your voice is. Do you attribute that to good genes or clean living or just luck?
I think that’s the grace of God. No doubt about it. But I think I’m singing better than I did in 1967. There’s more of a confidence there now.
Are you guys thinking about taping the shows for a live album or DVD?
Well, there’s been no direct conversation that I’ve had, but I know the shows are being recorded. Each one.
Do you think the setlist is going to change at all? I know fans want to hear “Expecting To Fly,” “Flying On the Ground Is Wrong” and a few others.
It’s certainly not going to change before Bonnaroo, but I would say that by the time we go out in the fall we will probably work in five or six more songs. We’ll probably work in “Flying on the Ground is Wrong,” “Hung Upside Down” and “Down to the Wire.” We were just going over the chord patterns to that one yesterday.
I’m sure it’s hard to say at this point, but do you think that Buffalo Springfield is going to carry on in some form after this tour?
Well, I don’t think you’re gonna be able to say that Buffalo Springfield is an entity that you can count on continuing. I mean, there might be some special things that we do – but right now it’s just one day at a time. We all have different careers, and this is what we’re doing right now . . . What’s most heartwarming to me is the friendships. I mean, it’s just too much, man.