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Pickin' Up the Pieces

Richie Furay found something unexpected on his way to country-rock stardom: salvation.

An air of hushed tranquility cloaks the Boulder Junior Academy, an unpretentious cinder-block school in a residential section of the town whose name it sports, on this early October Sunday. A smattering of cars occupies spaces in its parking lot, and a handful of casually clad families -- some carrying baked goods, others toting Bibles -- can be seen heading toward its yawning doors. Yet there's little else to indicate that in ten minutes or so, a gathering of men, women and children will be trying to raise the roof in honor of their Lord and Savior.

Inside the Academy's gymnasium, distinguished by a peaked ceiling and a clock with no hands, believers settle into folding chairs arrayed in rows opposite a blue and white wall hanging displayed between two basketball rims. Near the top of the banner are the words "Calvary Chapel" and a stylized depiction of a dove in flight; farther down, the phrase "For we are His workmanship created in Christ Jesus: Ephesians 2:10" is just visible over a combination lectern/loudspeaker, a floral arrangement and an assemblage of six men and one woman clustered tightly together. Several hold musical instruments, but according to guitar-packing associate pastor Michael Patrick, they're not a band. Instead, they're a "worship team."

When the huddle breaks, a trim, vigorous man in his fifties with graying hair, wire-rimmed glasses and the only necktie in the room charges forward, extending his arm to the pilgrims around him. (Before the day is done, they'll number just south of a hundred.) He introduces himself to those he doesn't know with a boisterous "Hello! I'm Pastor Richie!" and his subsequent remarks are equally spirited.

Praise the Lord, he saw the light: Richie Furay traded the rock-and-roll lifestyle for eternal life.
Praise the Lord, he saw the light: Richie Furay traded the rock-and-roll lifestyle for eternal life.
Richie Furay as he looked in 1969.
Richie Furay as he looked in 1969.

"God bless you this morning!"

"You came up from the Springs today? How nice of you to grace our gymnasium!"

"Hallelujah!"

Suddenly the school's bell rings. Without skipping a beat, Pastor Richie declares, "Okay, class! I hope you all brought a pencil!"

The congregation chuckles appreciatively as Pastor Richie scurries to the front of the gym to rejoin the rest of the team: worship leader Scott Sellen, who alternates between guitar and banjo; bassist Sam Fan; Patrick; and vocalists Joan Chiszar, Greg Stewart and Rex Reed. Within seconds, the group jumps directly into a rendition of a folk-rock tune called "Where Could I Go but to the Lord." As the singers proclaim, "Striving alone to face temptation's sword -- where could I go but to the Lord!" with the men occupying the middle range and Chiszar handling the high harmonies in the grand tradition of Emmylou Harris, the sounds of ecstatic strumming fill the hall.

But Pastor Richie, who as Richie Furay is an inductee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, doesn't push himself to the forefront. Instead he takes up the rear, lost in his own private reverie. After all, he's not here for self-aggrandizement. He's here for Jesus Christ.


During his years as a secular musician, Richie Furay kept some select company. His first major band, Buffalo Springfield (the one with which he reached the Hall of Fame), featured Neil Young, Stephen Stills and Jim Messina, who with partner Kenny Loggins created numerous radio staples. He later moved on to co-found Poco, a combo that helped spur the rise of country rock but never truly cashed in on its enormous popularity as did acts such as the Eagles, which poached two members (Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmidt) from Poco's ranks. And when his interest in Poco waned, he formed the Souther Hillman Furay Band with Eagles cohort J.D. Souther and former Byrds instrumentalist Chris Hillman at the suggestion of none other than David Geffen, the mega-mogul who, along with Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg, runs the multi-media DreamWorks operation. In The Operator: David Geffen Builds, Buys and Sells the New Hollywood, a current biography by author Tom King, Geffen is portrayed as a megalomaniacal puppet master of mythical proportions, but Furay (who's read the book and liked it) has a different take. "I hadn't talked to David for a long time, but I wrote him a letter last year thanking him for helping us," he says, "and I got a letter back from him in seven days. That shows you what kind of guy he really is."

Additionally, Furay serves as a historical footnote in the career of journalist-turned-movie-director Cameron Crowe. In a recent Rolling Stone article ballyhooing Almost Famous, Crowe's autobiographical tale about his experiences as a teenage rock scribe, Crowe reveals that the first prominent musician he interviewed was Furay; hence the publication of a Cameron-and-Richie photo as part of a collage of shots showing the writer with other R&R heroes. "There was Cameron Crowe with Roger Daltrey, Cameron Crowe with Elton John...and Cameron Crowe with Richie Furay?" he says, laughing. "I mean, what's wrong with this picture?"

That, in large part, is the story of Furay's dalliances with the fair mistress Fame: He twirled her around the dance floor a time or two but never truly managed to consummate their relationship. For a time, he concedes, the unfairness of this fate obsessed him, and his comments occasionally hint at some lingering bitterness. Nonetheless, he's currently got his eyes on another prize: spreading glad tidings about the Man From Galilee.

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