The guitarist talks about performing with Neil Young
In last March issue Uncut , we brought you the inside story on Neil Young’s long-awaited Archives project. We spoke to his friends, colleagues and conspirators and, over the next few weeks on uncut.co.uk, we’ll be printing the complete transcripts of these interviews.
Previous installments are available by using the links in the side panel on the right.
Guitarist, vocalist and co-founder of the Buffalo Springfield. Formed Poco with Jim Messina after Springfield’s split in 1968
UNCUT: What was your very first impression of Neil? What do you remember of him calling in on you in New York in 1965?
FURAY: I didn’t have a clue as to who Neil Young was when he showed up at the apartment on Thompson Street, other than he was a friend of Stephen [Stills]’s and his band The Company. He was a high-energy guy, friendly and someone I saw as being very talented. It’s funny that when he played his songs for me, I never once thought “this guy has a strange voice”. I just liked his songs and the way he sang them.
Apparently, you loved “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing”. Can you explain what you liked about it and also what you remember of Neil teaching it to you?
The lyrics to “Nowadays Clancy Can’t Even Sing” were a bit quirky, but it was folk music so that was OK. And the melody was good. But what intrigued me the most was the changing time signature of the song. It was unique and just, well, different. I heard something original in it and that drew me to it. I had an old Revere tape recorder with me and had him sing it for me and that’s how I really learned it.
After you’d bumped into Neil and Bruce [Palmer] at a Sunset Strip traffic jam, you invited them back to listen to an arrangement of “Nowadays…” that you and Stills had done. What was Neil’s reaction? And how did the rest of the day go?
What an historic moment, we were all pretty amazed. It was nothing short of fate and destiny. Neil and Bruce were leaving LA and we didn’t even know they were in town. We did take them back to Barry Friedman’s house and played him the song. I don’t remember exactly what his reaction was but it must have impressed him enough to stick around and start the band. Knowing Neil and how he operates, if he didn’t see some potential and an opportunity, he’d had left. I suppose we sat around and talked about putting the band together and things like that. That was pretty much what was on our mind at that time.
Can you explain the unique chemistry of Buffalo Springfield?
Again, the Buffalo Springfield was a group of destiny, a vehicle to launch the careers of some significant musicians. I don’t remember the group as being something we had to work at, to make it work. When we’d go over a song, each writer pretty much led the way and then everyone would contribute from their own observation. Stephen and I had worked out most of the vocal arrangements for his songs. For whatever reason I had the task of singing a few of Neil’s songs early on. As we’d go over them, each member would make suggestions to instrumental parts and vocal harmony. It was really fun in those days listening to a song develop. When you have a group you have to let each other experiment and, believe me, you knew right away when something didn’t fit.
What do you remember about their early residency at the Whisky A Go Go?
It was at The Whisky where we began to see and hear the potential we had as a band. No one was doing what we did vocally or instrumentally. It was during this time we began to sense we had something special to offer. People started coming out of the woodwork to hear us. Word of mouth was spreading and certainly we saw our dreams start to unfold before our eyes.
Was there a particular chemistry between Neil and Stephen?
There was nothing more or less than mutual respect for each other. Everyone’s looking for a story or some dirt to dig up to give intrigue to a situation, especially when it seems to explode in your face. These were two very talented guys and no matter what band your talking about there will be differences of opinion during the creative process.
Do you remember cutting an early version of “Mr Soul” in the Atlantic studio in New York?
I know we did some studio work during that time but I can’t really remember much about it.
Can you describe how Neil was in the studio at that point? Was he very protective about his own compositions? In an interview with Teenset magazine in early 1968, you described your bandmates like this: “Stephen’s bold, Neil’s sly and Bruce is silent but deadly”, adding that “Neil is tricky about getting things done the way he wants them done”…
What else can I say? I’m not sure I know anymore about what I said other than what was written.
Do you remember recording the songs “Sell Out” and “Slowly Burning”?
When the end of Buffalo Springfield came, was it inevitable? You were obviously pulling towards country-rock, but was Neil more interested in symphonic pop?
The break up of Buffalo Springfield was inevitable. After the first few months we were together, it was a struggle making forward progress. There was somewhere around nine different people in and out of the group in the two years we were together. My feelings were that as long as Stephen was pressin’ on, I’d be there with him. Make no mistake about it, the Buffalo Springfield was Steve’s band. He was the heart and soul of the group. We all had our roles and contributed our gift and talent to the whole, but it was his band. When he decided to move on then, I was ready, along with Jimmy Messina, to go on to the next project.
Can you explain your reaction when Neil suddenly announced he wanted to quit and disappeared on the eve of the Tonight Show appearance?
My reaction was one of disappointment. In those days, being on TV was a big deal. It was a national platform that never came to be. So of course I was disappointed, but I didn’t think of it as betrayal. Whatever was going on in Neil’s heart and mind at that time: who knows? Could he have gone about it any differently? Certainly, life is about choices. Do I have a theory as to the real reason he wanted to quit? Not really, unless there was someone in his inner circle that told him he didn’t need the rest of the band to be a success. From my perspective, as it turned out, he did need Crosby Stills and Nash to really connect.
Stephen claimed that “On The Way Home” was addressed to Neil. What are your thoughts on that? And, as many people have assumed, do you see that song as the story of the Springfield itself?
You’d have to ask Stephen what he meant about that comment. Maybe it does sum up his thoughts and feelings about everything that was going on. It’s a shame sometimes that along the journey you just can’t enjoy the ride.
There’s a great story about your wedding and Neil, where you begged him not to show up in his fringed jacket. So he showed up in a Confederate uniform instead…
Oh boy, Neil! What a great guy: unique and unpredictable. You gotta love him. Neil really was unpredictable. He caught us off guard, but to think he was gonna come dressed conventionally for the wedding, now that I look back on it, was out of the question. Neil was his own guy in all respects and if he needed to be a focal point, even at our wedding, he was gonna do what was necessary! Of course, he didn’t tell me, or anyone that I know of, what he was up to. He’s a big one on the ‘shock’ approach. I don’t remember saying anything to him or him to me afterwards but I’m sure there was a lot of conversation among the folks who came to the wedding. In many respects it was just Neil’s sense of humour. And he can be a funny guy.
What did you see as Neil’s unique qualities when you were working with him?
He may have had an idea about how he wanted a song to go but I don’t remember him being overly possessive in getting what he wanted. He had it pretty much worked out in his head and we all adapted to his basic arrangement and approach. As we would work on a song he was patient as we worked through the process. I don’t remember any tension during the process.
INTERVIEW BY ROB HUGHES