The Country Rock band Poco released their first album in 1969, but it wasn’t until a decade later that they finally had a hit.
When their band, Buffalo Springfield, broke up in 1968, Jim Messina and Richie Furay (guitarists, vocalists, & songwriters) started the band Poco. They added Randy Meisner on bass & vocals, George Grantham on drums & vocals, and Rusty Young on steel guitar, banjo, guitar & vocals. Country Rock was just heating up, and with this talented line-up, Poco was sure to be a big success, even though their name means “little” in Spanish.
Unfortunately, their first two albums in 1969 & 1970 only made it to #63 and #58 on the Billboard Top 200 album chart. Bassist Randy Meisner left the band as the first album was being released. He went on to play in Rick Nelson’s Stone Canyon Band, and then become a founding member of the Eagles. He stayed with them through the album Hotel California.
Poco’s singles weren’t hits either….including “You Better Think Twice” #72 and “Just For Me And You” #110.
I started buying Poco albums when they released the live album Deliverin’ (#26) in 1971. Timothy B. Schmidt had replaced Randy Meisner on bass, and he would replace him in the Eagles years later. When I bought the studio album From The Inside, (#52) also in 1971, I found out Jim Messina had left (to get together with Kenny Loggins), and he was replaced by Paul Cotton. Cotton became the lead guitarist, one of the lead vocalists, and one of the songwriters for the band.
Paul Cotton was a little familiar to me, because I had purchased an album by The Illinois Speed Press from a cut-out bin in 1970. The album had one song I loved, “Bad Weather”, which Paul Cotton also did with Poco on From The Inside.
Poco kept almost making it big. By 1973, the Eagles were taking Country Rock into the upper portion of both the album and singles charts. Poco’s label, Epic, brought in Guess Who producer, Jack Richardson, who helped create a really solid album, Crazy Eyes. Some of the songs featured extensive orchestration like the Eagles would come to use on some of their songs.
Tracks on Crazy Eyes included a beautiful rendition of “Magnolia” which is one of J.J. Cale’s best songs. It also had the first recording of “Brass Buttons” written by Gram Parsons. He had been a member of The Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers. The centerpiece of the album is “Crazy Eyes” (by Richie Furay) which is over nine-and-a-half minutes long, and is brilliantly arranged. The song is in reference to Gram Parsons, who died at the age of 26 from a drug and alcohol overdose that year.
Crazy Eyes was the highest charting of Poco’s first ten studio albums, but at #38, it still wasn’t the level of success they had hoped for. Richie Furay left to join The Souther-Hillman-Furay band with Chris Hillman and J.D. Souther. Instead of replacing Furay, Rusty Young stepped up his songwriting and vocal work. Poco followed the advice of their 1975 song “Keep On Tryin’” (#50), as they moved to the ABC label.
Finally, in 1979 a song written and sung by Rusty Young, “Crazy Love”, made it to #17 on the Top 40 chart, and #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart. Just a reminder, the song starts off…. “Tonight I’m gonna break away…” and the chorus has… “It happens all the time, this crazy love of mine.” The album, Legend, climbed to #14, their best showing ever. It also contained the hit “Heart Of The Night” (#20), written and sung by Paul Cotton.
The album’s cover drawing of a horse was by Phil Hartman of Saturday Night Live. You can see the artwork was incorporated into multiple Poco album covers. Hartman was a graphic artist before he became an actor and comedian. His brother, John, was the manager for Poco and the band America. Phil Hartman also did the excellent cover art for the album History: America’s Greatest Hits.
After 1979, Poco released another seven studio albums, and lots of various “Best Of” collections. I particularly liked the 2 CD set shown above. It contained the songs recorded while they were with the Epic label.
In 1989, the original members of Poco got together for the album Legacy which made it to #40, and had their third and final Top 40 hit, “Call It Love” (#18).
The truth is, no other Country Rock bands ever came close to the popularity of the Eagles, and few even equaled Poco’s popularity. It seemed like the acts were too Country for Rock radio stations, and too Rock for Country stations.
This year, we lost two of Poco’s most important members.
Rusty Young, shown above on banjo & steel guitar, passed away of a heart attack on April 14h at his home in Missouri at the age of 75. Lead guitarist Paul Cotton passed away August 1st. He was at his Summer home near Eugene, Oregon. His wife said he died suddenly, but no cause was given. He was 78.
Even though Poco never became immensely popular, they still attracted a large following of devoted fans who attended their live shows for decades. The musicians of Poco were respected professionals who made a great living doing the thing they loved. Almost everyone would call that a big success.