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A post-BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD/pre-EAGLES country-rock combo, the peaceful and perennial POCO were one of America’s hardest working bands on the circuit. Surpassing the 50-year milestone as of 2018, though never quite able to achieve the same critical and commercial standing as CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG, or Messrs HENLEY, FREY and Co, several songs still resonate with music fans, including the heart-warming, harmony-addled one-that-got-away, `Rose Of Cimarron’.
POCO were founded in August 1968 (as “Pogo”) in Los Angeles, California. BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD alumni Richie Furay and Jim Messina (both vocals/guitar) had witnessed their old band disintegrate as psych/folk-rock morphed into a myriad of directions; and as The BYRDS (and off-shoots The FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS) sprouted wings via the former’s “Sweetheart Of The Rodeo” classic, POCO fitted well into the scheme of things.
Roping in erstwhile Boenzee Cryque pair Rusty Young (steel guitar) and George Grantham (drums), plus “The Poor” defector Randy Meisner (vocals/bass), problems had initially unfolded when Walt Kelly, creator of the Pogo comic strip, objected to them using his trademark. Whilst that dispute was resolved by superimposing the letter “C” over “g”, other letters (and words) were posing a bigger problem when Atlantic Records stood firm against Furay and Messina jumping ship to Epic/Columbia.
Then up popped rising talent spotter, David Geffen, who came up with a solution by convincing the concerned parties to revert the once-binding rights of ex-BYRDS muso David Crosby and ex-HOLLIES geezer Graham Nash – about to launch into CROSBY, STILLS & NASH – to enable a respectively relieved Richie and Jim to pursue their new gold dreams.
POCO’s poignant debut album, PICKIN’ UP THE PIECES (1969) {*7}, managed five months in the Billboard 200; peaking at No.63. Its West Coast hippy harmonising hue and country-embellished soft-rock stylings, laid the foundations for the EAGLES’ subsequent multi-platinum flight. Prior to its release; disgruntled that he’d no part in the penultimate mixing (that was down to Furay and Messina), Meisner quit the group, and subsequently joined RICK NELSON’s Stone Canyon Band and, later, the EAGLES. There was little left of Randy’s lead vocals in the polished master tapes; even his presence on the sleeve artwork was superimposed by a dog. A solid collection of songs, the pick of the litter came through `Calico Lady’, `Make Me A Smile’, `Grand Junction’ and the tempting title track.
An eventual replacement was found in Timothy B. Schmit, who, ironically, had previously lost out to Randy at an earlier audition. The eponymous sophomore set, POCO {*7}, followed in summer 1970; its laidback hooks again ensnaring critics and newly-converted country-rock customers alike on minor hit, `You Better Think Twice’. Something of a one-off for a genre that wasn’t exactly renowned for uncompromising experimentation, the whole of the album’s second side was devoted to a funky, Latin-country medley workout, cunningly-titled `Nobody’s Fool – El Tonto De Nadie, Regresa’.
However, it was in the free-flowing, dope-smoking climes of the live arena where the likes of POCO excelled and, with heads turning to country-rock in droves (even The GRATEFUL DEAD were mellowing out on pedal steel), the group pierced the Top 30, in early ’71, with the concert set, DELIVERIN’ {*7}. If a tad too soon for an album of this outdoor nature, then a few fresh tracks were featured, including `Kind Woman’ and minor hit, `C’mon’.
Fed up with touring, Jim quit for a life of MOR-pop mush in LOGGINS & MESSINA. A new singing guitarist was found in Paul Cotton, who’d made his name with ILLINOIS SPEED PRESS. This line-up remained steady for a further two years, during which time the band recorded a handful of Top 75 albums such as the Steve Cropper-produced FROM THE INSIDE (1971) {*6}, A GOOD FEELIN’ TO KNOW (1972) {*6} and their most critically-acclaimed studio set to date, CRAZY EYES (1973) {*7}. All that was missing was a major hit single, however respective attendant 45s, `Just For Me And You’, the exhilarating `(A) Good Feeling To Know’ and `Here We Go Again’, all fell by the proverbial kerbside.
At this stage in their career, POCO was certainly a match for high-flying contemporaries, the EAGLES, but Richie was becoming increasingly frustrated by his band’s middling commercial returns. When he departed to help form the short-lived super group, SOUTHER-HILLMAN-FURAY BAND, pedal steel maestro Young, Schmit, Cotton and Grantham steered POCO through the remainder of the decade with a succession of competent, if workmanlike efforts, including the aptly-titled SEVEN (1974) {*6}, CANTAMOS (1974) {*6} – Spanish for “We Sing” – and their first for ABC Records, HEAD OVER HEELS (1975) {*7}. The last of these LPs had POCO extending their country-pop arms to embrace a cover of STEELY DAN’s `Dallas’ and Schmit’s Top 50 opener, `Keep On Tryin’.
To maintain their country-rock spice, former LOGGINS & MESSINA fiddler Al Garth (also saxophone) was added to the equation. One of the quintet’s prize pieces from this period was undoubtedly the title track from the ambitiously-produced ROSE OF CIMARRON (1976) {*7}, an FM-friendly/UK radio staple that surprisingly, like the parent set itself, struggled to make much of an impression within the outer reaches of the US Hot 100.
As rivals the EAGLES had soared to their dark desert highway a la “Hotel California”, POCO were the ones who couldn’t leave country-rock behind in the sand dunes; as it turned out they sounded more EAGLES than the EAGLES themselves. In the meantime, Garth was left out in the cold when POCO came to recording their next venture, INDIAN SUMMER (1977) {*5}, and although mixed reviews prevented the LP from climbing further than No.57, one could prick up one’s ears to find out that STEELY DAN’s Donald Fagen had countered in his ARP synth on `Win Or Lose’ and the title track.
Ironically, it was only after yet another member, Schmit, had defected to pesky rivals the EAGLES, and Grantham had reluctantly moved aside for Englishmen Steve Chapman (drums) and Charlie Harrison (bass), that POCO secured bona fide chart smashes for both `Crazy Love’ and `Heart Of The Night’. The attendant LEGEND {*7} album drew similar Top 20 sales returns and was a stark improvement for a country-rock act caught in the multi-faceted crossfire of the post-new wave pop scene.
Shuffling along the corporate corridor to MCA Records, and appending keyboard-player Kim Bullard (ex-CROSBY, STILLS & NASH) to the team, the Top 50 title track from the similarly-prevalent, UNDER THE GUN (1980) {*5}, was encouraging for a group whom many had thought were all washed up with no place to go.
Country-rock bombed when it came to concept sets; rare as they were, and with the ill-timed BLUE AND GRAY (1981) {*5} – concerning the north-vs.-south Civil War – POCO had divided its own fanbase. Whilst half were happy to hear their favourite combo get to grips with their nation’s troubled past, others were not so enamoured with any connotations to the present-day politics of the Republican Reagan administration.
If “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” had given JOE COCKER a shot in the arm a dozen or so years ago, POCO’s amiable COWBOYS & ENGLISHMEN (1982) {*3} shot itself in the foot. This sour set of largely sickly covers signed off the group from their tenure with MCA; but there was no excuse for tinkering with golden oldies, `Sea Of Heartbreak’, `Ribbon Of Darkness’, `Cajun Moon’, `The Price Of Love’ etc. It was hardly recompense when Rusty Young’s `Feudin’’ came away with a nomination for Best Country Instrumental Performance at the Grammy’s. This marked a last stand of sorts, however, as country-rock was relegated to a fairly lowly placing on the agenda of America’s changing musical climate.
The bedraggled troupe soldiered on for GHOST TOWN (1982) {*5}; a much improved album, before they finally hung up their saddles after the lacklustre INAMORATA (1984) {*3}, their second set for Atlantic Records and one that spawned minor hit, `Days Gone By’. For the ensuing four years, POCO were label-less, and members such as bassist Jeff Steele and keyboardist Rick Seratte (the replacements for Harrison) slipped through their fingers. In 1985, the newbies had outstayed their welcome when Jack Sundrud (on bass) and an all-too-brief return for George Grantham, kept up whatever impetus they’d had to keep the motor running.
In 1988, after the intervention of AOR solo star RICHARD MARX, keeper of the flame Rusty Young was rewarded when fellow originals Grantham, Furay, Messina and Meisner helped him get the “real” POCO back off the ground. Bolstered by a pair of moderate hits, `Call It Love’ (hp #18) and MARX’s `Nothin’ To Hide’ (hp #39), comeback Top 40 album LEGACY (1989) {*5} melted the hearts of their long-lost and weary fanbase. After the obligatory tour, Furay – now a man of the cloth and hardly suited to the rollercoaster lifestyle that accompanied “rock” groups – and amid increasing tensions with his bandmates, departed therein, leaving a window open again for guitarist/vocalist Jack Sundrud (though very briefly), and keyboard player David Vanecore.
As year on year eroded at the edges of the band’s line-up, both newbies fell by the wayside; as did Grantham when Gary Mallaber filled his berth in 1991. For the remainder of the decade, Young and the returning Paul Cotton toured with bassist Richard Neville and drummer Tim Smith in tow.
A new millennium and a brand new POCO (Young, Cotton, Sundrud and Grantham) sauntered on down the trail. By and large, 2002’s RUNNING HORSE {*3} added not a thing to the band’s legacy in their quest to reel in the missing years. Unsurprisingly then, there was little of the ragged country glory of old, or the rich harmony work, with which they made their name.
Time was certainly a healer when they enticed Richie Furay back on board for 2004’s in-concert, KEEPING THE LEGEND ALIVE {*6}. However, this was an all-too-brief liaison when POCO’s next live set, BAREBACK AT BIG SKY (2005) {*6} emerged; it also introduced Grantham’s replacement, George Lawrence. An interesting curiosity from October 2003, THE WILDWOOD SESSIONS (2006) {*5} was considered a bona fide mp3/album drop; though it only featured Young, Cotton and Sundrud; Lawrence returned thereafter.
In 2010, after many years of service down the line, Cotton was replaced by Michael Webb.
Dispatched by Drifter’s Church Productions in March 2013, ALL FIRED UP {*6}, carried on in the country-rock tradition, and for fans of POCO they finally had an album they could be proud of. Songs concerning `Regret’, `Hard Country’ and an homage to `Neil Young’, indeed ticked several boxes that they’d previously avoided.
Although no recordings were forthcoming in the next handful of years, 2016 saw Lawrence make way for Rick Lonow (formerly of The FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS), and 2018 witnessed Webb move aside for guitarist/violinist Lex Browning.
© MC Strong/MCS 1994-2002/GRD/BG // rev-up MCS Aug2019

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