Rusty Young, who co-founded the country-rock group Poco in 1968 and was the only mainstay through the band’s five-decade-plus history, died Wednesday at age 75.
A representative said Young died of a heart attack at his home in Davisville, Missouri.
“I just received word that my friend Rusty Young has passed away and crossed that line into eternity,” co-founder Richie Furay said in a statement to Variety. “My heart is saddened; he was a dear and longtime friend who help me pioneer and create a new Southern California musical sound called ‘country rock.’ He was an innovator on the steel guitar and carried the name Poco on for more than 50 years. Our friendship was real and he will be deeply missed. My prayers are with his wife, Mary, and his children Sara and Will.”
Although he had threatened to retire and to put Poco to rest over the years, iterations of the group soldiered on with Young at the helm, and Poco was still continuing to tour through March 2020, when the pandemic put a stop to shows.
Poco was formed in 1968 out of the wreckage of Buffalo Springfield, as Richie Furay and Jim Messina hooked up with Young, who had been brought in to play steel guitar on one of that band’s final recordings, “Kind Woman,” to form a new group that would carry on in the tradition of the Springfield’s gentlest, rootsiest material. After both Furay and Messina left the group, Young shared frontman status with Paul Cotton for some of Poco’s most successful years in the ’70s and early ’80s.
It was Young who wrote Poco’s biggest hit, “Crazy Love,” which was named the No. 1 adult contemporary song of 1979. In a 2008 interview, Young said, “The only reason we’re talking now is ‘Crazy Love’. That was our first hit single. It’s a classic, and it still pays the mortgage.”
Said Rick Alter, Young’s (and Poco’s) manager more than two decades, “Rusty was the most unpretentious, caring and idyllic artist I have ever worked with, a natural life force that he consistently poured into his music. To fans and fellow musicians alike, he was a once-in-a-lifetime musician, songwriter, performer and friend.”
Born on Feb. 23, 1946 in Long Beach, Norman Russell “Rusty” Young grew up in Denver and played lap steel in local country and psychedelic rock bands in his teens. It was in 1967 that he came out to L.A. at Furay’s behest to play steel on sessions for Buffalo Springfield’s swan song, “Last Time Around.” The two of them shortly went on to found Poco with George Grantham and Messina, along with Randy Meisner, who was shortly replaced by another future Eagle, Timothy B. Schmit. Besides “Crazy Love,” Young may best be remembered for the song “Rose of Cimarron.”
“Richie had done [country-rock] with ‘A Child’s Claim to Fame’ and ‘Kind Woman’,” Young told Goldmine in a 2014 interview. “That was the country part of the Springfield where Neil (Young) and Stephen (Stills) were way more rock ’n’ roll. You have to remember that in 1969, there weren’t synthesizers, so if you actually wanted a certain sound, you had to have a real musician playing. So that’s why I got involved — because I could play steel guitar and Dobro and banjo and mandolin, and pretty much all the country instruments except for fiddle. So I added color to Richie’s country-rock songs, and that was the whole idea, to use country-sounding instruments. Also, I pushed the envelope on steel guitar, playing it with a fuzz tone, because nobody was doing that, and playing it through a Leslie speaker like an organ, and a lot of people thought I was playing an organ, because they didn’t realize I was playing a steel guitar. So we were pushing the envelope in lots of different ways, instrumentally and musically overall.”
Of the period in the ’70s when he emerged as a frontman, along with newer recruit Paul Cotton, Young said, “I think things went the way they were supposed to go. We did have a big hit in 1978, and if it hadn’t been for Richie leaving the band, and Timmy (Schmit) leaving the band, and Jimmy leaving the band, I never would have been a songwriter or a singer, so those things had to happen for my life to be the life it is. So I’m really pleased.”
Young credited David Geffen for forcing him to become a singer-songwriter, after he’d initially only contributed a few songs to the band and never done any lead vocals on the early albums.
When it became clear that Furay was leaving to start up the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, Young said, there was a meeting where Geffen “starts with Tim and says, ‘Now, Tim, you write songs and sing, don’t you?’ And Tim says, ‘Yes.’ So he says, ‘Well, don’t you worry about Richie leaving; you’ll be fine.’ And he looks at Paul, and he says, ‘You play guitar and sing and write songs, don’t you?’ And Paul says, ‘Yes.’ … Then he looked at me and George, and he looked me in the eye, and he said, ‘Now, you don’t sing, and you don’t write songs, do you?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t.’ So he said, ‘Well, you’re in trouble.’ And that was the day I became a singer-songwriter, and if it weren’t for David Geffen saying that to me, it never would have happened, and I owe him greatly for that.”
A reunion album in 1989, “Legacy,” brought Furay, Messina, Meisner and Grantham back into the Poco fold for a single project. In 2009, a handful of reunion shows saw Furay and Schmit returning, including an appearance at the Stagecoach Festival in California. Otherwise, the group carried on with Young as the sole remnant of the group’s original legacy.
In 2014, Young declared that the group was about to call it quits due to the rigors of the road, and his desire to focus on a memoir, but that turned out not to be. The final version of the band, which had Young backed by Jack Sundrud, Rick Lonow and Tom Hampton, was still performing more than 100 gigs a year, according to reps. The group celebrated its 50th anniversary reunion in 2017. Young released his first solo album, “Waitin’ For The Sun ” that same year.
Young is survived by his wife Mary, their daughter Sara, son Will, and three young grandsons, Chandler, Ryan and Graham, as well as Mary’s three children Joe, Marci and Hallie, and grandchildren Quentin and Emma.
A memorial service will be held October 16 at Wildwood Springs Lodge in Steelville, MO, where Young and his wife met 20 years ago.