Desperados: Poco Keeps on Tryin

Crawdaddy Magazine June 1977 by Michael Barackman

Burbank, Calif - It was a simple casket, stained hardwood with two brown latches on the right side. As an icey wind chilled their faces, four pallbearers began the steep descent to the gravesite. A score of friends and family stood vigil, exchangeing whispered small talk. With the rites administered, the coffin was quickly lowered into the ground: the small crowd dispersed. The eerie silence was broken only by the sound of a car door slamming shut. The vehicle, a jet-black Porsche 911, had been parked on an incline a short distance from the site throughout the entire ceremony. A haggard young man, with brown longish hair and an outlaw's moustache, approached. He looked familiar, though sunglasses helped conceal his identity. The epitaph he read on the tombsonte said: POCO 1969-1977. Glenn Frey lingered a moment, then tossed a wilted black rose on the already mud-stained stone, turned and briskly walked away.

***** Your imagination can get the best of you after walking through the cemetery on Laramie Street within one of the Old West town lots at the Burbank Studios. Here, over 100 acres, reality and fantasy blur easily. The Waltons and Police Woman are filmed within yards of each other. The Burbank lot also houses two recording studios, and in one, dubbed "Scoring Two," the very much-alive group Poco is at work putting finishing touches on it's new album, "Indian Summer." A few short months ago, Poco almost did succumb. After 12 albums, zero Top 30 singles, a modest cult following and a long history of burst bubbles, Poco's current membership-Tim Schmit, Paul Cotton, Rusty Young and George Grantham - were ready to call it quits. "Midstream during this lp," said Schmit, the band's bassist. "You can print that. Because of a certain chain of events, we seriously talked it over."

Poco's cancerous condition grew serious druing the summer months of 1976. Prior to that, the band's future actually looked bright. After switching from Epic to ABC Records and releasing '75's "Head Over Heels," Poco enjoyed its first Top 50 single, "Keep on Tryin'." But the following album, "Rose of Cimarron", did miserably, selling less than almost every other Poco album. The band took an opening act slot on last summer's Stills-Young tour, knowing in advance it would lose money by playing such scattered dates, but hoping the prestige involved would stir interest. When Young forced the tour to an early close, Poco - already on shaky financial ground - lost even more money. Then Al Garth, the talented horn/violin player formerly with Loggins & Messina who began the tour as a full-fledged Poco member, exited due to "a personality conflict." Poco entered the "Scoring Two" studio in December 1976 and left 3 weeks later to sort out the future.

Some observers claim the band originated the entire "country-rock" concept. That is not really accurate-the Byrds and Buffalo Springfield had previously experimented with fusing the two styles. But Poco did give the honky-tonk format it's contemporary focus, by utilizing both full harmonies and pedal steel twang, yet maintaining a high degree of pop accessibility. The insight Randy Meisner, Jim Messina and Richie Furay gleaned during their respective tenures with Poco was used to full advantage later in their careers as part of the Eagles, Loggins & Messina and the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band. Glenn Frey and J.D. Souther, who would arrive daily to observe Poco's early rehearsals at L.A.'s Troubadour, also benefited.

Poco itself has yet to receive a gold record. The kicker came when the band's former label issued Poco Live, comprised of two-year-old material and featuring a horse's ass on the album cover. "We sent them over a bale of hay in appreciation," cracked Dennis Jones, Poco's road manager.

"Lots of people who come to see us tell us how frustrating it must be," said Tim Schmit, dressed in jeans and a washed-out Eagle's "One of These Nights" T-shirt. "They ask, 'How do you feel about seeing the Eagles in the Top Five with a style you had before them?' I can't be brought down by something so trivial. That we were before them doesn't mean nothing."

What does rankle Schmit is that Poco has done all a rock band is supposed to do-toured extensively, released two albums a year-yet doesn't have much to show for it. "When you exist so long at the same level of popularity, it gets to be kind of fatiguing," he admitted. When Schmit gets emotional, he stands and paces. "There's no logic in this business! Steely Dan doesn't go out and tour-they're not really even a band-and they fucking sell ones. Art and business don't have anything to do with each other. "We're not really hurting, but we're not the richest band in the world. We have to go out to keep our payments up."

The financial pinch strained the "Indian Summer" sessions. Poco scrambled to meet an album deadline, but in doing so found they "fucked up" the lp in the mixing stage. Discouraged and disgusted, the group decided to let everything slide for two weeks. "They didn't even want to see the milkman" a friend confided.

Returning to the studio, Poco picked up the pieces. "We were spending too much time here," said Schmit, surveying the studio's cramped surroundings. In the next room, singer-guitarist Cotton stood directly between the huge, hanging sets of JBL and Altec speakers, listening to the final take of his new R&B-style song, "Win or Lose." "I like playing electric more than acoustic," Cotton asserted. The track, which features Steely Dan's Donald Fagen on synthesizer, is representative of the entire album. Poco has cut it's country roots almost entirely. Rusty Young, the band's banjo and pedal steel ace, also dabbles in R&B, while part of his elaborate 10-minute dance trilogy, "The Dance", contains an all-out disco passage.

Poco's current direction pretty much eliminates the possibility of Richie Furay (who formed the original group with Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, Rusty Young and George Grantham) rejoining the band. "Our first name was R.F.D." Grantham chucked wistfully. "It stood for Richie Furay's Dream, or something like that ."

The dream is apparently over. Just prior to Indian Summer's initial sessions, rumors flew that Furay was, in fact, returning to the fold. "I got a message from our ex-manager Larry Larson, who's now managing Richie," Schmit recalled, laughing. "I called him back and he says, 'Hey, ah, Tim, I know you guys are real anxious to get Richie back in the band.' I went 'What?!'" Schmit turned serious. "We haven't really talked to Richie. We never really considered it. I don't think any of us would really love to do that at this point."

Reached for comment, Furay confirmed that he had been approached with the suggestion by Poco manager John Hartman. "It happens about once a year," he confided, explaining that the most recent offer came in November. "What Tim told you was the absolute truth," said Furay. "He didn't know anything about it. John didn't want them to think maybe I would or maybe I wouldn't (rejoin) until it came down from this end.

"I discussed the matter with Larry (Larson), I called Messina and talked to him about it, and afterward I decided no. I think Tim and the group have been doing a great job. To come in and disrupt that thing again, I don't think it would be the right thing to do."

Poco crosses it's calloused fingers, hoping that the winning hand will finally come as a result of "Indian Summer". But past disappointments have led to some skepticism. "We've put out records we just knew going to pop big, and you couldn't sell them for Frisbees, " Schmit frowned.

Poco is at least confident that "Indian Summer" will do well in Australia, where "Rose of Cimarron" was a smash hit. "It was really a thrill," Schmit said, and Grantham nodded in agreement. They weren't joking.

Feed the Fire

Keep On Tryin