In 1967, a young musician from Denver named Rusty Young was invited to play steel guitar on what would become the final album by Buffalo Springfield. Soon after, he — along with Richie Furay, George Grantham and Jim Messina — would form the seminal West Coast country-rock band Poco.
Over the next five decades, alongside bandmates that would also include Paul Cotton, Randy Meisner and Timothy Schmit, Young became not only the musical core of the band, but also the writer and vocalist behind hits including “Rose of Cimarron” and the No. 1 smash “Crazy Love.”
Now the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who remains the heart and soul of Poco has made the most surprising statement of his 50-year career with his Waitin’ for the Sun debut solo album.
“I’d intended to retire from the road,” Young admits. “I was certainly slowing down, wanting nothing more than to spend more time at home gardening and fishing. But a fan reached out saying that he had a new artist-friendly record label and asked if I would consider a solo project. I had been offered solo deals back in the ‘70s, but always felt Poco was more important. But I feel I’m now the best I’ve ever been as a singer and songwriter, and I have a better grasp of the music than ever before. And I realized that this was the perfect time to do something that could be a really rewarding part of my legacy.”
The label chief who’d approached Young was in total agreement.
“I was a longtime Poco fan, but really fell in love with the band once Rusty became one of the predominant songwriters and vocalists in the group,” says Kirk Pasich, president of Blue Élan Records. “His role was often overshadowed by others, particularly given Jim Messina forming Loggins & Messina, Randy and Timothy joining the Eagles, and Richie doing Souther-Hillman-Furay. But Rusty Young always embodied what has made Poco such a unique and lasting American band. I knew that being involved with his very first solo record would be special. So when Rusty asked us what kind of album we wanted, we said ‘What kind of album do you want to make?’”
Waitin’ for the Sun is the sound of a hit songwriter, roots innovator and Grammy-nominated steel guitar legend exploring and expressing a lifetime of music influences.
“I learned how to write songs not only from the guys in Poco, but the people I hung out with, too,” says Young. “People like Neil Young, Stephen Stills, and Gerry Beckley from the band America all made a big impression on me. My grandparents, who were professional musicians in the ‘20s and ‘30s, have always been a huge inspiration. As the sole writer on this record, I got to visit all kinds of different places that relate to my musical heritage and experiences. Most of all, I wanted to take people on a journey that was fun to listen to from the first note to the last.”
Produced by Young and longtime Poco bassist and vocalist Jack Sundrud, with assistance from the legendary Bill Halverson (Crosby, Stills & Nash, Eric Clapton, Emmylou Harris), and mixed/mastered by Joe Hardy (ZZ Top, Steve Earle, The Replacements), the album’s 10 songs first came together in the hours just before dawn.
“I live with my wife Mary in a cabin that overlooks the Mark Twain National Forest in southern Missouri, and got in the habit of waking early to watch the sun come up,” said Young. “Just sitting there with my guitar, loving where I live and thinking about how far I’ve come and how lucky I’ve been. After a while, the songs just poured out of me.”
The album was recorded at Cash Cabin in Hendersonville, Tenn., the former home recording studio of Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash.
“June’s old piano is all over the record,” Young says, “and I got to play Johnny’s ’57 Les Paul.”
Young also played steel and acoustic guitars, dobro, mandolin and banjo, with the current configuration of Poco — Sundrud, keyboardist Michael Webb, and former Flying Burrito Brothers drummer Rick Lonow — filling in the rest.
“They are, quite simply, the best musicians I know,” Young says. “You can’t separate me from the sound of Poco, but I wanted to take the Poco sound — the songwriting, the vocals and the playing — to the next level. The goal of this album was to go one step beyond.”
Waitin’ For The Sun opens with the shimmering title track that captures those early morning moments of inspiration. The vintage bounce of “Honey Bee,” featuring guests Jim Messina and George Grantham, pays tribute to the musical gifts of Rusty’s grandparents. “Heaven Tonight” is a lovely Beatles-esque ballad, “Innocent Moon” soars on gorgeous harmonies, and “Down Home” is fueled by Young’s mountain-music mastery.
“Sara’s Song” is the heartbreakingly beautiful ode Young wrote for his only daughter’s wedding day, and “Gonna Let the Rain” is a potent dose of rock and soul. The driving guitars of “Hey There” are reminiscent of Poco at its very best, while the haunting instrumental “Seasons” showcases Young’s distinctively melodic steel guitar.
The album’s most talked-about track may be the warm and joyful “My Friend,”featuring Furay and Schmit.
“I could have done that thing where I asked everyone I’ve ever known to play on the record,” Young says. “But I only wanted to work with a select few who were important to me. ‘My Friend’ is about Poco over the years and the friendships we share to this day. That’s why I called Richie and Timothy; the song is about them.”
Today, Young is looking forward to touring in support of this new disc, as well as planning a series of special concerts to celebrate Poco’s 50th anniversary. Most of all, he’s enormously proud of an album that has been, in a sense, 50 years in the making.
“I’ve been fortunate to have had a magical career,” Young says. “From the moment I was called to play on the Buffalo Springfield album, all through Poco, and now to this solo project, things have just fallen into place. I’ve worked really hard to be the best I can be, and I think this album is the proof.”
Poco will perform with Jim Messina, half of Loggins & Messina and a founding member of Poco, at the Patchogue Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, March 29 at 8 p.m. Tickets are $65 to $75 and may be purchased by going to www.patchoguetheatre.org.
The Patchogue Center for the Performing Arts is located at 71 East Main St. in Patchogue.