I am not a legendary drummer, but I did play in a legendary band, so that's why I included this piece that I wrote about that legendary band in this Legendary Drummers category. Legendary!
Originally published March 2013. This is the liner notes I wrote for our album All Fired Up which was released march 2013. They were not used because there were no liner notes, though the first sentence was used in one of our press releases.
There is no manual for a 45 year old rock band. This band is not in it for the fame or money anymore. Poco is in it for the music and to tickle peoples’ ears and hearts. They are writing that manual. There are very few bands from the sixties who are still actively recording new original material and developing new listeners. Most bands from that era are content to tour the oldies circuit playing festivals and clubs, with one or two original members who hire young subs to replicate the missing members’ parts on their hit records. Poco has managed to keep from becoming their own “cover band” as they reach the midway point of their fifth decade. They do it by being musicians who feed their addiction to constantly creating - “We play because we must!” to quote jazz drummer Tony Williams. Of course they play the hit songs in concert, but with new arrangements, new grooves, different instrumentation, and without trying to sound exactly like the original recordings. The songs are strong enough to withstand these treatments. Poco’s fan base is diverse and extremely loyal, even though they disagree vehemently about which era of Poco defined the band. It seems that the group’s uncanny ability to elude being defined and pigeonholed is what has kept Poco relevant.
This new album has all of the trademark Poco attributes; those beautiful high harmonies, memorable melodies, the innocence of heartfelt lyrics in well crafted songs that tell stories, evoke feelings, and paint mood pictures. It’s a deep melting pot of traditional country rock, delta blues, bluegrass, gospel, Dixieland, Americana, Beatles, pop and pure old balls to the wall rock and roll. This new album is a group effort – self produced and financed by the members of the band and their fans with no record company, no distribution deal, and no payola to Walmart or Starbucks.
Which Poco is this? There have been so many incarnations of Poco that it is hard for even ardent fans to keep it straight. The original 1968 band came about when Buffalo Springfield broke up. Neil Young and Stephen Stills joined David Crosby and Graham Nash to form supergroup CSN&Y, while singer Richie Furay and guitarist Jim Messina wanted to play a new music of their own, blending country and rock and roll, Buck Owens and the Beatles. Back then the object was to come up with something new, a different sound to catch peoples’ ears on the radio. This was the driving motivation of pop rock and roll at the time, to come up with something that sounded different and new and exciting. Multi instrumentalist Rusty Young was a steel guitarist from Denver who started playing when he was six years old. He had played (actually Stephen Stills’ steel) on Furay’s country song, Kind Woman, on the last Buffalo Springfield album and was part of the inspiration for Furay’s and Messina’s vision. Young brought in pals George Grantham on drums and Randy Meisner on bass to sing and play in the band. They practiced in Laurel Canyon and debuted at the Troubador. The music this original band created set the bar very high, not only for all the country rock bands that followed as the genre grew, but for themselves as well.
Poco was hot right out of the chute, garnering all sorts of attention in L.A. with their new brand of upbeat, feel good, toe tapping, country rock music which contrasted with all the protest and heavier music that came out of that Vietnam war era. Their energetic live show stealing performances around the country were legendary but they couldn’t break in to the top 40 radio list and the principals became disillusioned. The members started leaving one by one over a period of five years until the only original member left standing was Rusty Young. He became the defacto leader even though he had not been a songwriter or singer for the band. This was a pivotal time for Poco. In 1979 the Poco album, Legend, went gold and had two hit songs. Young penned and sang “Crazy Love”, a tender ballad with a strong sing-along chorus hook that went to number 1 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart and number 34 on the Hot 100 chart. It has become a standard tune covered by many recording artists. Guitarist Paul Cotton, who had replaced Messina in 1970, penned and sang a follow up hit “Heart of the Night”, still a fan favorite in live shows and I even heard it in the grocery store the other day. To make a long story short, the band never had another big hit song but put out many critically acclaimed albums that were known not only for the music but for some of the best cover art from albums of that rock era (I miss album covers).
Not resting on their country rock laurels, but remaining true to the genre they were partly responsible for pioneering, Poco stayed up with the times. They wrote songs in the eighties that were heavy with synths and processed drum sounds. They wrote songs in many genres: funk, reggae, etc., and used more and more studio musicians, but there was always that special Poco stamp on the music. Members came and members went and sometimes members even came back. There was an English rhythm section for a while. Nicolette Larson was a back up singer on tour. Current bassist/singer/songwriter Jack Sundrud joined the band in 1985. There was a reunion album and tour of the original band. By the nineties Poco had all but ceased to exist, working only short tours and sporadic dates with hired guns, and even as a duo with Young and Cotton. In the early 2000s Poco regrouped with new management, a new CD album, and a new live concert DVD, re-gathering their now mature fan base via the internet. Past members came to play and sing on the record and perform for the DVD. Poco was back up on the horse playing 50 dates a year to packed houses.
Then drummer George Grantham suffered a severe stroke on stage in 2004 and I was called in to sub, eventually becoming a member of the band. We recorded a live “unplugged” CD in 2005, there was a live trio album, and we performed steadily. We played on the Grand Ole Opry for the first time ever. We played a reunion tour in 2009 with Jim Messina, Richie Furay, Tim Schmidt and George Grantham.
When I was a young musician growing up in the sixties it never crossed my mind that someone could actually “retire” from a rock and roll band. Paul Cotton semi-retired to Key West, Florida in 2010, and he was so irreplaceable that we had to go back to the drawing board. We opted to change the music again and go out on a limb. Multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer Michael Webb from Kentucky was brought in for this grand experiment and he not only survived the boot camp but carved out his own unique place in Poco. We were excited and re-energized by the new blood. We had been phoning it in for a while. As the new band started gelling on stage and letting the arrangements happen spontaneously, a new sound emerged including elements of Americana and the jam band genre. Americana? Hell, Poco was Americana before they even coined the term. Many more acoustic and electric instruments were being employed on stage with Mike Webb playing piano, Hammond B3 organ, mandolin, electric guitar and accordion. Rusty plays many more instruments now in the live show now: steel, lap steel slide guitar, dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitar and, for the first time in his life in Poco, lead guitar. The airline baggage fees are horrendous. A new vocal blend developed that is different from all the other Poco vocal harmonies of the past but, at the same time, still very much Poco. The music became more sensitive in the quiet parts and rocking harder in the loud parts- “from a whisper to a scream”. New songs were being were being inspired and written and we wanted to do another record.
This album was started in the snowy Nashville winter of 2011 and finished in early 2013. It was, for the most part, recorded with the full live band in big Nashville studios, and at a spooky old hotel, The Wildwood Springs Lodge in Steelville Missouri - it has a great natural reverb, or at least I think that’s why we were there. The overdubs and mixing was done in our little Nashville home studios. I think it reflects the feeling and mood that this latest incarnation of Poco creates in their live shows.
This recording is a breath of fresh air. It's one of the few that I can listen to without cringing at my drumming. It’s old school and new school at the same time. Though we did not fo so far as record to tape, we used as little digital technology as possible; no drum machines, no synthesizers, no auto tuning or heavy editing, and no extra studio musicians. We played and sang everything except for a saxophone solo played by Bobby Keys of the Rolling Stones. The tracks were cut with the live band for the most part. There was a lot of creativity and group arranging of the songs. We lived and tussled with some of the songs for quite a while before we felt they were right. We had been playing and developing some of them on stage for quite a while. I won’t go into describing and analyzing each song on this album. That’s for critics and real liner note writers. “Talking about music is like dancing about architecture” – F. Zappa. Just listen and decide for yourself. Better yet, just listen and turn your brain off....with headphones.....turned up very loud.
I know it’s kind of unusual for the drummer of a band to be writing the liner notes for an album. How can he be objective? But these are unusual times and this is an unusual band, and I have both an objective and subjective vantage point. I used to listen to my Poco records over and over on my dad’s stereo when I was in high school to learn George Grantham's drum licks . Back then I would dream about playing in a band like Poco, and now I AM playing with Poco. It’s been the longest and best gig I’ve ever had, starting my tenth year in 2013. I’m literally living the dream, baby! Rusty Young is introduced every night on stage as the only person to play at every Poco concert in its 45 year history. He started Poco when he was 22 and he is sixty “something” as I write this and recently became a grandfather. I just learned that I will be a grandfather soon. Why do I still feel 29 and holding? It’s got to be the music. Last year I thought this might be the last Poco album just because all bands end at some point, but now I don’t know. Rusty is still rocking and as long as he can tear himself away from fishing in that stream in the river behind his house and go to the gig or the studio, there will be a Poco.
Bands change. That is a natural fact in the music business. Most fans don’t like it and don’t understand it. They want to define their favorite bands as one particular set of people playing particular songs from one particular period, usually that period in their lives when they first heard that band. Poco has always thrived on change; changing members, changing musical styles, changing directions, persevering through changes, changing despite the criticism. But they also survived because they remained true to themselves from the start and never sold out to repeating themselves. This album was about documenting this new Poco lineup that has created something new and valid. We hope you like it. You can’t pigeon-hole or stereotype Poco as simply a “country rock” band anymore. The first Poco album was recorded to create something new and exciting and different, and country rock just happened to have been that “new thing” that they pioneered at that moment. New an different was the goal in the sixties music business; creating something new, and that has been the prime directive of every new Poco incarnation since. It is what has kept Poco alive.