Thursday, 19 September 2013

'Some called it country, some called it rock and roll': Poco and Timothy B. Schmit

Refreshingly casual
Links in song titles as usual. Tenuous Kinks connection is their country album, the brilliant Muswell Hillbillies. Here's a taster complete with Ray's customary pop at Dave.

When It All Began
I remember the feeling, not so long ago/The kids came dancin', their hearts were romancin'/And the music was live Poco/Some called it country, some called it rock and roll/But whatever the sound, it was sure to be found/With a heart, rhythm and soul

So, through the Eagles and Timothy B. Schmit, I finally get to Poco. What an amazing band. I said before that I thought they were a prototype for early Eagles. They were like outriders, checking out the territory, pioneers. Of course they were part of a bigger movement, a general progression that was taking place in California in the late 60s and early 70s and rose from the ashes of Buffalo Springfield (also forerunners) in 1968, with Richie Furay, Jim Messina and Rusty Young recruiting George Grantham and Randy Meisner. Having just read Hotel California by Barney Hoskyns, I can understand why their first album was called Pickin' up the Pieces. That’s what Stills and Young always seemed to leave in their wake. Pieces.

Particularly winsome: Randy Meisner
I had no idea that Randy Meisner was asked to leave the band. I had assumed (as a new fan) that he was poached by the Eagles but now I see that the timeframe for that would not work. Can't believe they took his picture off the sleeve and had George Grantham redo all his lead vocals. Goes to show that all bands have their spats. What’s astonishing is, if Randy was willing to upset the applecart with Poco, how did he last as long as he did with the surely less easy-going Glenn and Don?

Here’s an extract from an interview with Rusty Young about that era:
It was a great time to be there. The music scene wasn’t what it is today.  It was before MTV and all this other kind of stuff. It was a real local happening there in Los Angeles. Eras were changing. The Troubadour was the hub of it all.  We were like the house band at the Troubadour once we got our band together. Everybody hung out there, from Ricky Nelson to J. D. Souther, Jackson Browne, Waylon Jennings … any night there would be interesting people there.

The Troubador, LA
And here’s TBS on Richie Furay:
Richie is a dear friend of mine, still is to this day. He taught me a lot. I came to Los Angeles when I was still 21 I think, I turned 22 as I was working in that band. I was very young, and he really kind of showed me a whole new level of singing and being on stage. He really had a lot of faith and trust in my ability, which was really wonderful for me. I ended up doing Poco between 1969 and 1977, that’s how long I was in Poco. I was involved in about thirteen albums.

This is typical Timothy – grounded, modest, unassuming, always ready to give credit to others – it’s no wonder he keeps all his friends.

And Poco were pretty central to the whole vibe according to Domenic Priore as quoted in Hotel California:
The Eagles will tell you that the Dillard & Clark shows were like fucking revival meetings … Pogo and Dillard & Clark and Linda Ronstadt were really the seminal events.

Yes. That's when they were still called Pogo. I can imagine that at that time, they would have seemed like the band most likely to make it even though in 1969, David Geffen decided to swap them with Clive Davis for David Crosby.

The biggest hit
As a latecomer to the band, it’s hard for me to catch up with all the albums and changes in line-up. It’s probably best if I don’t try for the moment. I’ve experienced this before, discovering Husker Du by way of Nirvana, so seven years after the former had broken up. If you don’t grow up with a band, you have an entirely different perspective on them than if you watch them progress alongside you. For instance, I’m exploring Poco songs on YouTube but usually there’s little extraneous detail so when I heard Crazy Love (amazing song and as I understand it, their biggest hit and ranked by Billboard as the no.1 Adult Contemporary hit of 1979). I thought that it was TBS singing, not realising that this was after he’d left and it was Rusty Young. Listen to the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean – they sound like something TBS would write and their voices aren't unalike.
Tonight I'm gonna break away/Just you wait and see/I've never been imprisoned by/A faded memory/Just when I think I'm over her/This broken heart will mend/I hear her name and I have to cry/The tears come down again

I’ll concentrate more on TBS’s contribution to Poco although I love many Poco songs written and sung by other members. He arrived with the second album, Poco. [Other core members have included: George Grantham, Richie Furay, Jim Messina, Randy Meisner, Paul Cotton.]

They're trying not to laugh
I can't find where I saw this but I know Justin Hayward, when asked which band he would have liked to be in if he hadn’t been in the Moody Blues, said Poco. Strange, you wouldn’t think they moved in the same circles or that country rock would appeal to him. I get the idea that Poco were a musicians’ band, that other musicians recognised their integrity and ability and wanted to be part of it.Be interesting to know who else had auditioned to be in Poco (apart from Gregg Allman who Rusty mentions in his interview).

As you can see from early Poco clips on YouTube (and there aren’t many), they were characterised by a joie de vivre that all band members seemed to share, what seems to be a simple love of playing, unfettered enthusiasm. Naturally some of these performances would have been mimed but their unselfconscious enjoyment shows.

So, first, my take on some beautiful Poco tracks.

1 Just for Me and You (written by Richie Furay, lead vocal by Richie Furay)
Album: From the Inside
All of them are buzzing with energy. TBS and Paul Cotton seem to have borrowed some of John Denver’s shirts. The melody is all girl-nextdoor prettiness – wholesome and bubbly. When Timothy’s vocals come in, the song gains another dimension. He’s so into it, so vehement.
Wish that I could come/With the mornin' sun/Shinin' through your window/I could be the one/To open up your day/Ooh, words can't begin to say/Feelings that are hidden in/In such a special way/And they're just for me and you.

J. J. Cale (RIP)
2 Magnolia (written by J. J. Cale, lead vocal by Paul Cotton)
Album: Crazy Eyes (the title track was about Gram Parsons)
I can't even begin to describe the passion and soul in this cover version. How does all the guitar playing manage to sound completely uninhibited and yet masterfully controlled?  They let it go just so far and pull it back. Go, Rusty! Chills of pleasure each time I hear it. Simply awe-inspiring.
Whippoorwill's singing/Soft summer breeze/Makes me think of my baby/I left down in New Orleans/I left down in New Orleans/Magnolia, you sweet thing/You're driving me mad/Got to get back to you, babe/You're the best I ever had/You're the best I ever had 

3 Faith in the Families (written by Paul Cotton, lead vocal by Paul Cotton)
Album: Seven
Sounds very America(the band)-esque, West Coast, beautiful tune, lovely piano, marvellous harmonies, full of hope.
Taking the dream how we ran/In the rage of another plan/Heading for the mountain wall/Where it all began to fall/When we heard the wind call/Take your homes in the sun/There ain't no need to run/You've been here, you've been there/You've been everywhere/And the time has come to really care

Timothy B. Schmit
4 Bitter Blue (written by Timothy B. Schmit, lead vocal by Timothy B. Schmit)
Album: Cantamos (‘we sing’ in Spanish – and they weren’t kidding)
The intro and the backing guitars so tentative and tender throughout the contemplative verse building up to the muted anguish of the chorus. Timothy as melancholy minstrel. These women keep doing him wrong. How can he understand the mysterious creatures?

There’s a fantastic, impassioned middle eight too. Have you noticed that these often come quite near the end of songs rather than the middle? Or is it only me?
I keep on calling out your name/I look outside and find the rain/If I only had an idea what to do

5 Keep On Tryin’ (written by Timothy B. Schmit, lead vocal by Timothy B. Schmit)
Album: Head over Heels
Already talked about this in Schmitten. Two and three-quarter minutes of perfection. In the chicken video as I call it (you’ll see why), they all look so casual and confident and their vocals are as pristine as Glenn recalls: a veritable celestial choir.
And I feel so satisfied when/I can see you smile/I want to confide in/All that is true/So I'll keep on tryin'/I'm through with lyin'/Just like the sun above/I'll come shinin' through

Paul Cotton
6 Rose of Cimarron (written by Rusty Young, lead vocal by Paul Cotton)
Album: Rose of Cimarron
Discussed this in Part One and Part Two of my Schmitten blog. Yeah, when am I going to shut up?
In the linked complete version,  you can see TBS shyly smiling – he can't seem to stop himself.

Rusty Young says:
Rose of Cimarron is a song I wrote after I picked up a brochure while [Poco] were on tour in Oklahoma in 1973. It told a story of a woman who took in outlaws in the 1800s. She fed them, mended their wounds and sent them on their way. Or so they say. ... [W]hen I played Rose for the band, everyone wanted to make it a Poco record.

Rusty Young
I love the counterpoint of their voices, Tim’s high harmonies, the grandiose, orchestral-sounding ending and eventual diminuendo.
Hearts like yours belong/Following the dawn/Wrapped up in a song/Rose of Cimarron

Criminal that it only reached no. 94 in the singles chart in August 1976. Why on earth wasn’t it a huge hit? I don't know whether Emmylou Harris’s cover version fared any better. Here's a truncated version in which TBS looks particularly callow, earnest and appealing, in another freebie T-shirt.

When did he alter his style, graduate from freebie T-shirts to the obligatory waistcoats, worn over a loose shirt, three sizes too big for him? 1992?

7 Starin’ at the Sky (written by Timothy B. Schmit and John "Juke" Logan, lead vocal by Timothy B. Schmit)
Album: Rose of Cimarron
More delectable guitar parts. A bright, sunny, stirring sound full of youth and promise.
I've come to discover you've got to think it out on your own/And it takes some time for the words to rhyme/To really feel what you've always known/And when you break through/You might even feel as though you can fly/But when it all comes down I hope I'm around/And not alone again starin' at the sky

Trying to look a little more serious
8 Stay (Night Until Noon) (written by Timothy B. Schmit and Noreen Schmit, , lead vocal by Timothy B. Schmit) 
Album: Indian Summer
A glorious romp of a song from a devil may care Timothy; it always cheers me up. Like children rushing headlong down a hill, like the Ingalls girls in the credits for Little House on the Prairie.
Baby can you stay - oooh stay until the break of day/I wanna feel your body sway/We can let them say what they want to/They can talk themselves into shades of blue/Oooh Baby I got lots of room/Wanna stay with you night until noon
Who wouldn't stay?

The Timothy in Poco was a far more robust figure than the effete, doe-eyed, lovelorn minstrel he is in the Eagles (much as we love him like that). Poco themselves are a breath of fresh air, air redolent of unbridled optimism, boundless freedom and endless possibility.

Thanks once again to,
Next blog will tackle the eternal question: What did the Eagles have that Poco didn't?

For another poem on TBS, click here.