Poco started the trend but the Byrds got the credit

By MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

Poco is often cited as one of the pioneers of country rock, having followed in the footsteps of The Byrds, whose “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was seen as a template for the sound to follow.

But as Rusty Young tells it, it was actually The Byrds who followed in the footsteps of Poco.

Poco comes to The Palace Theater on Nov. 10 with fellow country rockers Pure Prairie League and Firefall.

The late Gram Parsons, one of the unsung heroes of country rock, was a new member of The Byrds when he helped architect “Sweetheart…” in 1968.

But Parsons was almost a member of Poco before he joined the Byrds, said Young. However, ultimately, Parsons didn’t join the group because he didn’t see eye to eye with other founding member Jim Messina, said Young.

Parsons gave the rest of the band an ultimatum— either Messina went or he went, said Young. The band stuck with Messina.

Before Parsons’ departure, however, Poco was already working on a sound that became country rock, said Young.

It made sense since Poco founding members Richie Furay and Jim Messina had been members of seminal rockers Buffalo Springfield, who dabbled in country music before the band splintered. Young, himself, met Buffalo Springfield when he was asked to play pedal steel guitar on the group’s swansong, “The Last Time Around.”

The idea behind Poco was to mix Young’s country skills with Furay’s and Messina’s rock and roll bent, said Young. “It was an extension of Buffalo Springfield.”

Poco began building an audience for the sound as it gigged at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.

But, Poco was without a record label, said Young.

The Byrds were signed to Columbia.

When Parsons joined the Byrds, he showed them some of the country rock ideas Poco had been working on.

And The Byrds followed Parsons’ direction. And “Sweetheart of the Rodeo” was released to the public before Poco had a chance to showcase the sound they had pioneered.

So, Young explained, The Byrds got the credit for creating country rock and Poco was cited as one of their acolytes.

“It was pretty cheesy,” said Young of Parsons’ actions.

Country and rock had not been complete strangers before Poco played around with the idea, said Young. Ricky Nelson had mixed in elements of rock and country in his solo work. Early rocker and soul singer Ray Charles also did a country album.

But when rock bands like Poco started playing around with country elements, Young said it was more of an extension of what the Beatles had been doing rather than any cultural preference for that downhome sound.

The Beatles, Young explained, were playing with different instrumentation to create more exotic sounds for rock music. The use of instrumentation typically found in country music, such as Young’s pedal steel, was Poco’s way of doing something similar—using traditional instruments to create something exotic in the world of rock.

These days, Young said, bands can change up their sounds simply by punching in commands on a computer, said Young. But in the 1960s and 1970s, you couldn’t do that. If you wanted a particular sound, Young explained you had to play the actual instrument.

When Poco comes to Waterbury, Young said fans can expect an array of songs from throughout the group’s career, with special attention paid to tracks from their albums from the 1970s, such as “Rose of Cimarron.” Additionally, fans can expect the group’s biggest hits, “Heart of the Night” and “Crazy Love.” Young also said the band will play songs they haven’t played in years, some songs from Buffalo Springfield, as well as songs from his recent solo album “Waiting for the Sun.”

“I try to cover all the bases,” said Young.

Poco, Pure Prairie League, and Firefall perform at The Palace Theater, 100 East Main St., Waterbury on Saturday, Nov. 10 at 8 p.m.

For more information, go to www.PalaceTheaterCT.org or www.Pocoband.com.