Richie Furay on Buffalo Springfield, Life as a Pastor and Solo Artist - Rolling Stone
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Richie Furay on Buffalo Springfield, Life as a Pastor and Solo Artist

“A good portion of this material could have probably gone on a Buffalo Springfield album,” he says of new record ‘Hand in Hand’

Richie FurayRichie Furay

Richie Furay had thought that some of the songs from 'Hand in Hand' might appear on a new Buffalo Springfield LP.

Scott Dudelson/Getty

Richie Furay

Buffalo Springfield were rehearsing for their short-lived 2011 reunion tour when Richie Furay began playing a guitar lick he’d just worked out. “Neil [Young] came over with a smile on his face,” says Furay. “He said, ‘New song, huh?’ I said, ‘Yeah!’ Stephen [Stills] and I both thought the reunion was going to last a little longer and there would be a new album at some point, but that didn’t happen.”

After Buffalo Springfield’s 2011 headlining slot at Bonnaroo, Neil Young turned his attention toward Crazy Horse, Stephen Stills went back to Crosby, Stills and Nash and Furay returned to his day job as the pastor of Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colorado. “I wasn’t sure I was ever going to record again,” he says. “Music just wasn’t the focus of my life, but these songs I began during the Springfield tour kept coming and I couldn’t sit on them.”

About two and a half years ago, Furay had enough material for a new album, and he flew to Nashville to cut his first LP since 2006’s The Heartbeat of Love. Working with guitarists Dan Dugmore and Chris Leuzinger, drummer Dennis Holt, bassist Michael Rhodes and keyboard player Pete Wasner, he recorded the basic tracks in just three days, then cut his vocals back in Colorado over a longer period of time.

He called the finished product Hand in Hand. “The album fits together,” he says. “Three songs in the middle, ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ ‘Wind of Change’ and ‘Some Day,’ have political overtones to them. The others are either love songs or they look at my career. A lot of music on this record is for people our age. I’m not a kid writing about these things anymore. I’m writing it from the perspective of looking back rather than looking forward.”

Opening track “We Were the Dreamers” is a nostalgic remembrance of Poco, the country-rock group Furay founded after Buffalo Springfield split in 1968. “It’s been 40-some years, 1969,” he sings. “On that Troubadour stage it seemed like our time/Laurel Canyon in sunset, that’s where we called home/We made certain our music had a sound all its own.”

The cover image is a photo of Furay and his wife Nancy shortly after they met at a Los Angeles Buffalo Springfield concert in 1967. They’ve been together ever since and have four daughters and 12 grandkids. Their love story inspired the album’s title track. “We’ve been together 48 years,” he says. “It’s not a song about puppy love. It’s a song about people who have been through the trials and tribulations of life and have come out on the other side.”

Furay was inspired to write “Don’t Tread on Me” (not to be confused with the Metallica song of the same name) after 9/11, but it didn’t come together until a couple of years ago. “It’s about a guy disillusioned at the state of the world,” he says. “I just hear people talking on the radio and I can’t believe what they’re saying. I want people to come together. We’re so polarized, and people aren’t talking to each other.”

Furay was immensely proud of the work, but finding a label to share that enthusiasm proved to be challenging. “We shopped it in Nashville and everyone was like, ‘We love this music!’ says Furay. “But then they said, ‘What am I gonna do with a Richie Furay record? He must be 70 years old now.’ They all turned us down.”

Nearly two years passed without a single label expressing interest, but things turned around when the singer played B.B. Kings Blues Club in New York City last year. “It was a Monday night and so I knew that anybody at the show really wanted to be there,” he says. “I worked the room and spoke to everyone that was there. At the last table were people from Entertainment One and they said they came to the show because they wanted to sign me. Bingo, the rest is history.”

Had the Buffalo Springfield reunion never happened, Hand in Hand (which hit shelves on March 31st and hit Number One on Amazon’s singer-songwriter chart) would have never happened either. “A good portion of this material could have probably gone on a Buffalo Springfield album,” he says. “I might have written other songs, but this album definitely wouldn’t exist had we carried on.”

Up until the fall of 2010 Buffalo Springfield seemed like something that would forever remain in Furay’s distant past. The group got together for a few informal, private jams in the mid-1980s, but Young quickly lost interest and they hadn’t played a note together in public since 1968. A single phone call changed that. “Neil called me completely out of the blue and asked if I’d like to play at the Bridge School Benefit,” Furay says. “He said, ‘I’m gonna talk to you first. If you agree, I think that Stephen will agree.’ But I think he already talked to Stephen. I’d wanted to play the Bridge School for a long time. I said, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.'”

The group – which featured drummer Joe Vitale and bassist Rick Rosas subbing in for the late Dewey Martin and Bruce Palmer – played two acoustic sets on a rainy weekend in October of 2010. “It was beautiful even though it was cold, ugly and miserable out,” says Furay. “When we walked on that stage the place was heated. I had never played to that many people in my entire life.”

Nothing was scheduled beyond those two charity shows, but within a couple of months plans started coming together for an American tour. They agreed to play Bonnaroo and a six-date tour of California theaters as warms ups. “We only had to rehearse for a week since we’d really become reacquainted with each other at the Bridge School,” says Furay. “We meshed wonderfully. I felt no tension. I felt no stress or anxiety. Everything was as smooth as could be. When we tried it back in the 1980s, it was a train wreck. I mean, it was just awful. This time it was effortless.”

Around the time of their Bonnaroo show, Furay got word the reunion was going to keep going. “[Neil’s manager] Elliott [Roberts] said to [my publicist] Michael Jensen, ‘You tell everybody we’re going to do 30 shows,'” says Furay. “But when we walked offstage at Bonnaroo it was like, ‘Goodbye, we’ll talk later.’ Basically, there was no talk and I haven’t spoken to Neil since other than a couple of text messages.”

Furay says he isn’t bitter about the situation. “Life goes on, man,” he says. “It’s just like when the Springfield broke up. You can love Neil or hate him. I appreciate him. He has obviously established himself as one of the most significant music icons of our time. But I would’ve just liked something more direct, you know? Like, ‘Hey, I don’t want to play those old songs anymore.’ But then he went out and played other old songs. I don’t get it, but it’s his prerogative.”

In a 2012 interview with Rolling Stone, Stephen Stills was less magnanimous about the situation. “We were supposed to work for most of the summer,” he said. “It left me in a lurch for three quarters and ruined my financial planning. Also, 150 people got laid off that were supposed to work on the tour…. We didn’t go through all that trouble for seven shows.”

Earlier that year, Young attempted to explain his change of heart regarding the tour. “I’d be on a tour of my past for the rest of fucking time,” he said. “I have to be able to move forward. I can’t be relegated. I did enough of it for right then.”

Fortunately for Furay, he discovered long ago that there’s much more to life than playing music to large crowds. This revelation came in the mid-1970s, when he was touring with the supergroup Souther-Hillman-Furay. David Geffen put the band together thinking they’d be a country-rock version of Crosby, Stills and Nash, repeating the formula of matching a former member of the Byrds with a former member of Buffalo Springfield.

Furay had just left Poco and was hungry for success, especially after watching his former bandmates Neil Young, Stephen Stills and even Jim Messina go onto huge things. “All I really wanted was to see my name in lights,” he says, “like my cohorts from my past.” But Souther-Hillman-Furay failed to click with audiences (or even each other) and they dissolved just one year after forming – but not before pedal-steel guitarist Al Perkins had a life-changing series of conversations with Furay.

“He had a little fish on his guitar that said ‘Jesus Is Lord,'” says Furay. “I didn’t want him in the band because I thought he’d stop us from becoming rock stars. I was totally secular.” Perkins did join the group, and the two ended up having many late-night discussions about Christianity. By the time they folded, Furay was born again, ready to devote his life to God.

Today, Furay is the Senior Pastor at Calvary Chapel. “My main responsibility is to provide the Sunday morning sermon,” he says. “And I would do the bulk of counseling if people would come in, because we are a small church. They’ve always been supportive of my music career. I don’t just go play in churches.”

This wasn’t always the case. “About 30 years ago I was given an ultimatum by somebody in the church,” Furay says. “They said to me, ‘You make up your mind. Either you’re doing this or you’re doing that.’ That person is obviously no longer with the church. Many years ago I felt boxed into a corner at times, but nobody has that same thought today. They see that I’m not going any place. I’m there. I’m there for them.”

When he goes on solo tours, other members of the church handle duties such as the Sunday sermon. “We’re not playing to thousands and thousands of people with these shows,” he says. “We’re playing to hundreds of people in small clubs where we drive our equipment around. We set it up and we tear it down ourselves. I call it a family band because my daughter sings with us and my lead guitarist’s son also plays with us. Young people keep us young. We got off this last tour, man, and the people were so appreciative. It was so neat.”

Furay’s show is a journey through his entire career, including Buffalo Springfield songs like “Flying on the Ground Is Wrong” and “A Child’s Claim to Fame,” Poco tunes like “Pickin’ Up the Pieces” and “Don’t Let It Pass By” and even Souther-Hillman-Furay’s “Fallin’ in Love.” He recently even added in “For What It’s Worth,” which he’d never previously played outside of Buffalo Springfield. “A promoter from Japan made playing that song part of the deal of me going over there,” he says. “We worked out our own little arrangement of it. I don’t even think of it as a Buffalo Springfield song. It’s Stephen’s song.”

The tune is, far and away, Buffalo Springfield’s most famous. It’s widely seen as an anti-war song, though Stills actually wrote it after a small Sunset Strip riot, where the police tried to impose a curfew on young people. “People thought it was a political statement about Vietnam,” says Furay. “It wasn’t at all. Back then I wasn’t paying too much attention to politics. I’m paying much more attention now because I have kids and grandkids. My political view really comes from a biblical perspective.”

Stephen Stills is a staunch liberal that often campaigns for Democrats, but Furay’s politics are very different. “I’m conservative in my thought,” he says. “I’m conservative in my theology. I’m conservative in my politics.” It’s therefore no surprise that he isn’t a big fan of President Obama. “He said he was going to unite the country,” says Furay. “I don’t feel like he’s brought us together, and that frustrates me.”

Of the 17 accounts that Furay follows on Twitter, nine are those of right wing commentators like Sean Hannity, Andrea Tantaros, Megyn Kelly and even Michelle Malkin. He also follows WorldNetDaily founder Joseph Farah, one of the loudest voices in the absurd movement that questions the legitimacy of Obama’s birth certificate.

Furay and Farah are traveling to Israel together in November, but Furay’s political opinions are as calm and measured as Farah’s are radical and divisive. “We’re so polarized, and we really need to listen to the other side,” Furay says. “I’m proud of our nation. Have we made mistakes? Of course we have. Do we still have places to grow? Absolutely. But we’re not going to get there if we keep pointing fingers at each other. Someone once told me, if you point the finger at the other guy, you get three pointing back at you.”

Furay’s post-Israel musical plans are unclear. He says he isn’t opposed to another Buffalo Springfield reunion but realizes that it’s probably not going to happen. “It would have to be under different circumstances,” he says. “Not only did we lose Bruce [Palmer] and Dewey [Martin] but now we’ve lost Rick [Rosas]. It doesn’t seem like it’s in the cards.”

No matter what happens, Furay will be content. “So often reunions don’t make it,” he says. “They leave a sort of emptiness because it didn’t match up to what people remembered in their mind.  I think we did though. I think we peaked. And if that was it, so be it. I’m feeling good, man.”


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