By Richie Unterberger

By the beginning of autumn 1971, Poco had become arguably the most popular of the first-generation country-rock bands. Issued at the beginning of the year, their live album Deliverin' had cracked the Top Thirty. Their dynamic stage act blended rock and country with sterling harmonies, seamlessly integrating pedal steel into rock's standard guitar-bass-drums instrumental format. That live act is captured in sparkling sound on this hour-long CD of previously unreleased material, recorded at Columbia Studios in Hollywood on September 30, 1971.

    This wasn't exactly a typical concert. At the time, the group's fourth LP, From the Inside, had just been released, and Poco were gearing up toward some of the most important shows of their young career, which took place on the weekend just after this performance (on October 1 and October 2) at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. This "show" at Columbia Studios was something like a showcase for their label, family, and friends, though the group put just as much heart into their playing and singing as they would to a far bigger audience.

    As Poco singer-guitarist Richie Furay explains today, "I think it was simply a time for the CBS family [Poco being signed to CBS subsidiary Epic at the time] to get to know us better. Certainly it was an opportunity to 'personally' thank the folks at CBS for the support they had given us and to let them see and hear us 'up close and personal.' We set up just like we would have for a small club. The audience consisted of a hundred or so people made up of CBS employees (executives, those marketing and promoting the band), our personal families, and friends. We had made a few changes from the beginning as far as band members, and it was an opportunity for 'the company' to hear the direction we were headed." It was also good preparation for the concerts just around the bend: "Doing the show at CBS was a good opportunity for us to run through the set and work out any 'bugs.' It was a big deal for us to be playing two nights at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium."

    Poco had only been playing for about three years, but they'd already been through a few personnel changes, though three of their five founder members were still aboard. When they came together in late 1968, their lineup included Furay, guitarist-singer Jim Messina (who'd played alongside Furay in the latter days of Buffalo Springfield), drummer-singer George Grantham, pedal steel player Rusty Young, and bassist-singer Randy Meisner. Future Eagle Meisner left shortly before the release of their debut album, however, and Poco played as a quartet for a while before adding another future Eagle, bassist-singer Tim Schmit. In late 1970, Messina was replaced by guitarist-singer Paul Cotton of the Illinois Speed Press, putting into place the quintet lineup you hear on this CD.

    There's still a lot of country-rock in Poco's performance, but Furay agrees that "the band was definitely moving towards more of an edgier rock sound. A lot of that had to do with Paul’s background, although I think we all adapted to the various sounds of our music." Rusty Young proved especially vital to Poco with his pedal steel, here comfortably integrated into both country-rock and straightahead hard-charging rock, sometimes even approximating the sound of a B-3 organ. "Rusty took an instrument that was pretty much exclusively a 'country' instrument and introduced it to the world of rock and roll," feels Furay. "He got a lot of people interested in playing that instrument who probably never would have picked it up."
Adds Richie, "The more we were able to work Paul into the set was important at this time as well. He hadn't been with us very long and it was a time to show the direction we were heading. Having Paul in the band as Jimmy’s replacement gave us a stronger vocal presence. He also took pressure off of me as far as being the main lead singer/songwriter."

    The fourteen songs are a solid cross-section of tunes that had appeared on Poco's first four albums, though understandably heaviest on the songs that had appeared on the third and fourth. "What a Day" had been a highlight of their groundbreaking 1969 debut Pickin' Up the Pieces, and "Hurry Up" had kicked off 1970's self-titled follow-up. "I Guess You Made It," "A Man Like Me," "C'mon," "Hear That Music," and a medley of "Hard Luck/Child's Claim to Fame/Pickin' Up the Pieces" had been on Deliverin', an unusual live album in that the majority of the LP was devoted to originals making their first appearance on record. The remaining seven songs hailed from From the Inside, which the band were unsurprisingly keen to push as it had just been released that very month.

    While the medley had appeared on Deliverin', it made ingenious use of a couple songs that had first been issued on earlier LPs. "Pickin' Up the Pieces" was, of course, the title track of Poco's first album, while Furay's "Child's Claim to Fame" had first been released way back in 1967 on Buffalo Springfield's second LP. "With each new album we always wanted to present the newer material to our live audiences, but you always have to balance that with older, familiar songs," observes Furay. "We found it was easy to accomplish this in a medley format. I still do it today for my live shows.  The people get to hear the old favorites while we stay 'fresh' with the newer songs."

    As one of era's more concise and song-oriented bands, Poco were not apt to indulge in much onstage jamming, but did take the opportunity to stretch some of the tunes out into slightly longer arrangements. "There were exceptional musicians in Poco, and 'stretching' out a song gave Rusty and Paul a chance to show off their talent," says Richie. "We worked hard to make the arrangements of our songs interesting. It wasn’t just to 'kill time' on stage—it was all worked out. I'm not saying each note was the same every night, but the arrangements and the 'bed rhythm' track was the same—we knew where we were going. It was the current standard at the time to play extended solos so we got on board with that from the very beginning with our second album." You can hear some of that in the set-closing "C'mon," a number lasting just over three minutes on Deliverin' (in a version released as a small hit single in 1971), but here breaking the five-minute mark.

    As another change of pace, the band went into an acoustic-oriented interlude of sorts about halfway through the program with "You Are the One" and "Bad Weather." "This part of the set always brought a little different energy—kind of a 'living room' feeling that would bring the audience 'in' to the performance," comments Richie. "It was fun to give the set a little breathing room, if you will—to step back from the 'in your face' electric guitars and focus on the vocals."

    This lineup of Poco remained together until mainstay Furay left in late 1973. With numerous lineup changes, the group's continued to perform and record over the last four decades, though it's their early work with Furay that marks them as one of country-rock's most important bands. "One of the unique things about Poco, though we were the innovators of the L.A. 'country-rock' sound, we weren't going to be pigeonholed into being a one-sound band," Richie notes. "We enjoyed experimenting with the different influences we each had to create our own sound. Interestingly, there were many groups who copied us, but we were the innovators; we paved the way." – Richie Unterberger

contents copyright Richie Unterberger , 2000-2010
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