[Updated, April 21, 2021, & with good reason]
Thursday evening just after 9:00 p.m. Jason Greenberg texts me “RIP Rusty, Tough loss” I read and think what Rusty. Even though Jason and I share an affinity for live music concerts, we connect on so many other levels, that music was not the first thing that came to mind upon reading his message. A few minutes later I said to myself, it can’t be Rusty, I’d have received some alert via social media. I searched the internet for Rusty Young, Poco’s extraordinary Pedal Steel Guitarist and its only original member who morphed into a great songwriter and after Richie Furay left Poco at the behest (maneuvering?) of David Geffen to form the Souther Hillman Furay Band and singer/frontman after Timothy B. Schmit left the band to replace original Poco bassist Randy Meissner in the Eagles. My reaction on reading the results: shocked. And sad for wife Mary Young. I do not generally post such messages to social media so I emailed her my condolences.
I appreciated the recognition of Rusty’s greatness as musician and songsmith and of his and Poco’s contribution to the “Country Rock” sound – The Times obit (which appeared in the April 21 print edition on page A25) noted “Poco was among the architects of the country-rock movement of the late ’60s, which incorporated traditional country instrumentation into predominantly rock arrangements. The Eagles and scores of other bands would follow in their wake.” – in the articles in Rolling Stone, Variety, the New York Post, USA Today and others. But, it really bugged me to read lofty tributes at his passing rather than during his life; I tweeted to that effect. Indeed, Poco often got short shrift, whether it be the ongoing gross failure of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to induct Poco (albeit members Richie Furay with Buffalo Springfield and Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit with the Eagles are “there”), or documentaries such as “Laurel Canyon” or “From the Byrds to the Eagles” failing to even mention their role. Did you know the late Greg Allman actually jammed and auditioned for Poco (then called Pogo) before he reconnected with Duane to found their namesake band?
Unless the tour got put off I planned to see the latest iteration of Poco at Tilles Center at CW Post this summer. And now a fellow “Poconut” and damn good player and singer, Tom Hampton, joined my all-time fave band – I’ll never get to see this band live after seeing some really exciting live videos. What really struck me when I learned of Rusty’s passing involved seeing recognition for his work as one of the most innovative – if not greatest – pedal steel guitarists in rock and roll, of his ability to play at the highest level, banjo, mandolin, dobro, lap steel, acoustic and electric guitar, and for writing and singing lead on Poco’s biggest hit song, Crazy Love, when Poco only included stalwart Paul Cotton who replaced original member Jimmy Messina in 1970 and two English musicians – bassist Charlie Harrison and drummer Steve Chapman. When Rusty and Paul fronted Poco with other musicians at The Lone Star Cafe in the Village on September 4, 1984, I asked Rusty and Paul to dedicate a song to my then fiance` now wife of more than a few years when she joined me at the show the next eve. Always kind-heartened Rusty agreed and suggested Crazy Love. Indeed at the l1:30 p.m. show we attended the next evening, of course Rusty followed through; Shelly was surprised and since a number of old friends from my Glen Oaks Little League and sandlot football days at the “Oval” who knew us both attended and shouted out after Rusty made the dedication, it made the moment all the more special.
Indeed so many fellow fans developed close friendships with Rusty and his wife Mary, Some retired attended or otherwise able to get around the country attended show outside the northeast. Shelly and I only traveled as far as Sellersville, PA where the band joined several fellow fans and us who were dining before the show at J. T. Bankers on December 13, 2003 (It got included in my e-book, The Public Ought to Know.). The following summer I traveled to Springfield, MA for a free show where original drummer George Grantham suffered a stroke – it inspired a column and chapter calling for National Health Insurance; there during Crazy Love, Rusty stopped singing when he realized George was not in sync on percussion and asked for any doctors in the audience; George is alive today because the incident occurred not in his sleep but at a moment when his bandmate could initiate the acts that led to his emergency care, hospitalization and recovery. George’s wife Debbie posted a message from George on Facebook. Richie Furay, quoted in a number of obits on Rusty bit, posted to Facebook how together they created the “Country Rock” sound. So darn true!
I introduced my children to Rusty and bandmate Paul Cotton in person – Marisa but four and Jonathan a few months passed six – at the 10thAnniversary celebration of late DJ Pete Fornatale’s Sunday Show at The Ritz (January 24, 1993). The acoustic due played Crazy Love and my fave Poco tune, Bad Weather. Rusty was gracious. Later when she started to use the FourSquare app, I learned Marisa dubbed our home, “Grand Junction” after the Rusty-penned instrumental on Poco’s debut LP, named for the title tune, Pickin’ Up the Pieces. My calendar and WAZE both use Grand Junction when events and driving instructions involve my home.
When I first checked out posts on Facebook after I learned of Rusty’s passing – the articles said he passed on Wednesday, I learned it had to have happened later that night. At 9:37 p.m. Rusty’s wife, Mary commented, “Yay!” to Tom Hampton post about picking up Rusty “touring” pedal steel after repairs in Nashville. The Poco website message board contains many condolence messages.
But remember Rusty for the music.
In addition to those mentioned above,
one must listen to the sweet pedal steel on Paul Cotton’s
Ride the Country and
Also the searing steel on Paul’s
A Right Along and
Color added to Richie’s
the Piano sounding solo at the end of What A Day and
the ‘long medley’ including Richie’s Consequently, So Long and Just In Case It Happens, Yes Indeed.
Rusty wrote many endearing Poco tunes, including:
(And someone might just suggest what I “missed” in the comments.)