Pickin' Up the Pieces

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

In 1964, Village resident Furay met Stephen Stills, and together they formed a New Christy Minstrels-esque collective that won the house-band gig at a well-known venue, the Cafe Au Go Go. Dubbed the Au Go Go Singers, they earned a smidgen of notoriety, appearing on a TV show hosted by crooner Rudy Vallee and making a record christened They Call Us Au Go Go Singers in a span of about six months. But that wasn't enough for Stills: He headed to California, where his family lived, leaving Furay to make a living working at an aircraft plant in Connecticut. He was still toiling at the factory when his friend and fellow musician Gram Parsons, who'd been a neighbor in the Village, played him the first album by a California outfit called the Byrds. Furay was fired up by the group's folk rock, and after contacting Stills and wrangling an invitation to collaborate again, he headed west to Los Angeles.

By then, both partners had made Neil Young's acquaintance, and when Furay played Stills a song Young had taught him -- "Nowadays Clancy Can't Even Sing" -- they decided they had to hook up with him. In an oft-told story confirmed by Furay, who contributed to a book about those days by writer John Einarson titled There's Something Happening Here: The Buffalo Springfield Story -- For What It's Worth, he and Stills had spent a week trying to track down Young when they spotted him and bassist Bruce Palmer driving the opposite way down the traffic-jammed Sunset Strip in a hearse. Furay and Stills quickly did a U-turn and flagged down the pair. Young and Palmer promptly agreed to join a band that, supplemented by drummer Dewey Martin, became Buffalo Springfield.

In all, the group lasted less than two years, from May 1966 to April 1968, but it managed to leave a considerable mark. As Furay notes, "For What It's Worth," the act's signature effort, wasn't even on the first pressings of Buffalo Springfield, its debut platter; Stills had written it after the LP's release, and when Atlantic Records' Ahmet Ertegun heard it, he insisted that it be added to the lineup ("Baby Don't Scold Me" was removed to make room for it). "I really didn't see that much special about the song," Furay confesses. "But luckily, people smarter than me did." It become a Top 10 smash, and since then, this tune about a largely forgotten event -- a Sunset Strip demonstration over the institution of a curfew -- has become one of the most famous protest tracks of the era.

Furay leads the conservative Calvary at his Boulder church.
Furay leads the conservative Calvary at his Boulder church.

Even though the next two Springfield albums, 1967's Buffalo Springfield Again and 1968's Last Time Around, contained some prime cuts, including Furay's "Kind Woman," that was it for the hit singles. Meanwhile, ego battles between Stills and Young and a host of other factors made Springfield's demise unavoidable. "At the very beginning, it was awesome, and quite frankly, we didn't think we had any competition but the Beatles," Furay says. "But it seemed like we would take two steps forward and get knocked back three." Young ultimately set out on his own, and after an unsatisfying tour with the Beach Boys -- "We had to sit with our hankies and flowers and fruit and be indoctrinated with the Maharishi before they'd let us go with them," Furay grumbles -- the survivors, including latecomer Jim Messina, decided to cash it in as well.

Over the decades, the band has been the object of substantial nostalgia, but few figured that Young, the first to split, would be struck by such sentiments. Wrong: He's been working for years on a Buffalo Springfield boxed set that may (but probably won't) come out before the holidays. Even more unanticipated was "Buffalo Springfield Again," the centerpiece of Young's Silver & Gold, which hit stores a few months back. In it, he warbles, "Like to see those guys again/And give it a shot/Maybe now we can show the world/ What we got/But I'd just like to play for the fun we had/Buffalo Springfield again."

Does Young seriously want to reunite a band that broke up when Lyndon Johnson was president? Furay isn't sure, but during Young's three-night run at Red Rocks in late September, he spent more time with the legendary chameleon than he has in years. Neither brought up "Buffalo Springfield Again," which was fine by Furay. "It was really about re-establishing a close friendship, and I didn't want it to be about more than that," he says.

Furay adds that he and Young didn't play any music together during the visit -- "but we did play golf."


After Aragon wraps up Psalm 115, the worship team strikes up "You Are My King." The vocalists wail out lines about Christ's "amazing love" as two men pass velvety collection bags down the aisles. Nearly every person puts a little something into the open pouches before turning back to the lyrics printed in photocopied programs that were distributed prior to the start of the service. But at least one woman knows the words by heart. She sits in a chair, her voice raised, her head tilted back, her eyes clenched shut in divine ecstasy, her hands held out in a gesture of supplication. Her infant daughter clings to her blouse, holding on for dear life.

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