Notes From the Soundboard: The Joys of Poco

Notes from the Soundboard is a new column appearing weekly on Crossfade, focused on pop music's history and ongoing evolution. Lee Zimmerman shares insights and observations on how music continues to connect with the weirdness of the world. Click here to read past installments.



I try not to spend too much time on YouTube, but today was an exception. Mike, a publicist friend of mine sent me some clips of a reunion gig by a band I adore called Poco. They were shot at the Stagecoach Festival in California on April 26 and marked a reunion of mostly original members who played in the band when they first formed some 41 years ago.

Chances are, if you're under 30, you've never heard of this group. On the other hand, if you're a fan of Americana, roots rock or whatever the hell they call it these days -- and more specifically, groups like Wilco, Son Volt, the Jayhawks, the Old 97s and the like -- then you owe them a debt of gratitude. 
Poco (along with the Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Gram Parsons, and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band) jump-started the whole alt-country movement at a time when long hair and commercial crossover was as rare in country music as cash in your 401K is these days. They rose from the ashes of the Buffalo Springfield, a band that included Steve Stills and Neil Young, and are still considered one of the finest American outfits of all times. (For those who need a further hint, the Springfield first recorded "For What Its Worth," a song Stills still sings with Crosby Still and Nash.)

Richie Furay wasn't a first string player with the Springfield, but when he and Jim Messina went on to form Poco, recruiting drummer George Grantham, bass player Timothy B. Schmidt, steel guitarist Rusty Young and later, singer/songwriter Paul Cotton he helped jumpstart one of the most enduring Americana outfits of all time.

However despite some exemplary albums (still worth seeking out), various members eventually jumped ship -- Furay to the unacknowledged super group Souther Hillman and Furay and later to a church in Boulder Colorado where he became a minister, Messina to the pop puffery of Loggins and Messina, Schmidt to fame and fortune with Poco's sanitized successors, the Eagles. Grantham suffered a massive stroke onstage five years ago and wasn't expected to pull through, leaving Young and Cotton to maintain the Poco legacy, still ignored by the masses and appreciated by only a few.

So seeing the YouTube clips of the aforementioned musicians onstage together made the experience more than worth my time. Grantham looked and sounded superb for a man supposedly on his deathbed. Schmidt, hair still 1960s length and rock star perfect, still hit all the high notes. Furay, Messina and Cotton looked their age, now somewhere hovering around sixty (Messina looks suspiciously like my Uncle Mort) but the harmonies were as precise as ever.

And when they launched into old chestnuts like "Pickin' Up the Pieces," Good Feeling to Know," "Kind Woman," Keep on Tryin'," and yes, even the cornball Loggins and Messina hit "Your Mama Don't Dance," all the memories came flooding back via good vibes and a wave of nostalgia that regaled a time before swine flu, Bush, bailouts, bin Laden, recession, unemployment and another fucked-up foreign fiasco. That's the thing about memories -- sunny songs can transport you back to a utopian era when troubles seemed nonexistent and life was seemingly carefree.

Of course, there's never been a time like that. Before Iraq, there was Vietnam and before the stock market sank there were gas lines and a little scandal called Watergate. But hearing this band harmonizing one more time --

Well, there's just a little bit of magic in the country music we're singin',
So let's begin
We're bringin' you back down home where folks are happy,
Sittin' pickin' and grinnin'
Casually, you and me, naturally
We'll pick up the pieces, uh huh


-- the good vibes brought me back down home indeed and suddenly the music had meaning again. Songs can be a powerful antidote for hard times and when they capture a moment, like these clearly did, well, the surge of emotion ranks right up there with falling in love, getting laid, witnessing the birth of your first kid and having a crib you can call your own. I can't say seeing one of my favorite bands back together changed my life, but it sure as hell help affirm it.
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