Timothy B Schmit Sounds Interview

Sounds 10/23/76

Poco Is Like A Blowfist At 40,000 Feet

By Tom Lott

John David Souther, Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Linda Ronstadt.

Just four of the many people about whom this article isn't. All the same, they have some interesting things in common.

For a start, they all record on the same label, have played with each other in various permutations, possess not dissimilar styles and are all big-shot, LA, country-rock boom people.

What's more - and here's the relevant bit - they have all at some time in their now illustrious careers, played second on the bill to a band that after 11 albums and numerous personnel changes, remain firmly in the moderate rather than big league.

I am, of course, referring to Poco, and no doubt you, like them, have spent many a sleepless night wondering why they haven't achieved glowing success of the Geffen/Asylum spawn.

They apparently embody all the classic ingredients necessary for contemporary adulation. They are a country rock band at a time when that genre has never been more popular. They have an exciting and impressive live act. They produce consistently excellent albums, the most recent being "Rose of Cimarron", their second album on ABC.

Yet their appeal has yet to stretch outside of a large cult following. They have never had a commercially successful single. They tend to be unfairly regarded as a sort of transatlantic Fairport Convention. The millstone round their neck is the fact that they are not new, outrageous or image conscious.

Still, as just about every glibly written piece on them has remarked - they "Keep On Tryin'". This month they come to Britain for the second time in two years, having supported America first time round. Then, they produced critical acclaim not far short of ecstatic.

Now, maybe they have a chance to cement their gradually swelling reputation, here, and achieve the recognition they deserve. If the response is anything like it was for the opening concert in Brussels earlier this month, Poco stand a good chance of becoming ABC's equivalent to the Eagles.

After the concert I had a chat with Tim Schmit, bassist and vocalist. He helpfully established perspective, in between mouthfuls of coffee ice cream, peanuts and Dom Perignon, by giving a potted history of the band.

"In 1968 Richie Furay and Jim Messina, who were in Buffalo Springfield - along with Neil Young, Steve Stills, and Dewy Martin - decided to get something together in a country rock vein. They knew Rusty Young was a good steel player after he played on "Kind Woman".

"Rusty brought in George Grantham who had played with him in a Colorado band.

"They started looking for a singing bass player, and they turned me down in favor of Randy Meisner. I felt terrible about that.

"But Randy didn't even last through the first album,"Pickin' Up The Pieces".

"Then they called me up, and I left Redwing - a Sacramento band who I played with for six or seven years - to play with Poco."

There were three changes after that. In 1970, Messina split and was replaced with Paul Cotton, of Illinois Speed Press non-fame.

Secondly, and more significantly, Richie Furay left in 1973.

"Geffen was pushing him to quit, and he felt he needed a change, he was real frustrated seeing Neil and Stephen go popppp! while he was still saddled with Poco.

"Geffen wanted to make Richie a star, and I don't think he (Geffen) really cared about us - which really discouraged me. He really had me fooled.

"Richie was a real influence on me, I really love that guy. He's really into his own space now - into Jesus and this Christian thing. I don't see much of him anymore, and that kinda hurts me because we used to be real close.

"And I've got to admit I don't really care for his new stuff.

"I don't think his leaving really detracted from the band, in fact it strengthened it, helped to bring out songwriting abilities in a few of us - to shine on some more."

The last change came when ex-Loggins and Messina man Al Garth joined the band earlier this year playing fiddle, sax and keyboards. He sat in on the "Rose of Cimarron" album, and is now touring with the band for the second time.

So the lineup as it stands now is Cotton, Schmit, Grantham, Young and Garth. It's a union that gels beautifully on stage and record, better to my ears than any of the past combinations.

But on a personal level, things are not quite so harmonious. That's not to say there's any obvious acrimony within the group, but Schmit is realistic.

"We are all very different. Sometimes I don't like the other members of the band. We don't hang out together when we're not recording or playing.

It's like a marriage. The initial spark that brings a couple, or a band together, can never be the same as time goes on. It takes some time to attain something better.

"When I first joined the band, there were three or four times when I didn't know whether we were going to stay together or not."

Mark Harman, co-producer of "Rose of Cimarron", pulls his attention away from a Belgian subtitled Starsky and Hutch that is droning in the background.

"One of the amazing things about this band is their dynamics - how they fit together personality wise," he says, ironically. "Actually, they're incredibly diverse personalities, but it's that pressure that glues it together, and the tension that motivates it keeps it spinning.

"Poco is like a blowfish at 40,000 feet."

This oblique metaphor ends Harman's contribution for a while as he returns to S&H.

Musically, the present lineup is a long way from the Poco of "Pickin' Up The Pieces". On record, the sound is a lot richer and perhaps less in a country vein. The stage show contains fair portions of undisguised rock'n'roll. Schmit tries and fails to analyze the change in their approach.

"I don't really know the answer. I just play music because I enjoy it. Call it what you like; I'll call it country rock because it's got fiddle and steel guitar. But a lot of the stuff we do is rock'n'roll.

"I don't think we've gone through any really heavy changes.

"I personally don't like country music all that much. I mean, I enjoy George Jones - and my father still plays with Merle Haggard. But I don't listen to country music at home. I listen to soul music.

"I'm a white boy, but that doesn't mean I can't get soulful.

"I like - and am influenced by - other kind of music. I like Bach. The music in the elevator influences me. It's so terrible, it's great."

One possible reason for Poco's lack of recording success was the fairly undistinguished production on the early albums.

"We've always been better on stage than on album. I mean, " Rose of Cimarron" is really well produced - we're beginning to bridge that gap now - but to be frank I don't think it's anything special."

To criticize your current album just before a major tour could be thought of as, at the very least, an ill-considered action, but at least it sets the seal on Schmit's musical honesty. Albums aren't really his forte anyway.

"Yeah, I prefer to play live. I'm really looking forward to London. The audiences are very polite - so polite they're almost rude. Maybe they're tapping their toes on the inside of their shoes or something. I dunno.

"Yet I've learned that British audiences react just as well in their own way as American audiences. When we came off stage after a London gig last year, I came off saying 'oh shit, we blew it. I'm not sure if they're even alive,' but the people started coming up to us and saying how great we were and what a good reaction we got.

"We're getting used to that now. It's really an equal reaction - just shows itself in a different way."

Schmit finishes a fourth bottle of champagne and the third bowl of ice cream. His mannerisms and appearance are those of an excited teenager.

"I'm nearly 29 and I still get asked for my ID card when I go into bars in the States. I'm still ten years old at heart."

There's a parallel here, if a slightly scaled-down one with the band. Poco are old in rock biz terms - eight years - but retain an un-eroded, un-hackneyed spirit/ambience. Whatever their physical history, their music stands up as unstultified in 1976.

Sure they're all over twenty, and can play more than three chords, and don't sneer and look mean a lot, and aren't on the revered Asylum label and have lots of other things going for them.

But if you're not dumb enough to let preconceptions blur your judgment, then you'll be sharp enough to pay Poco a visit.

They've been pickin' up the pieces for a long time, and at last they puzzle is complete.

Feed the Fire

Keep On Tryin