In our last post we discussed how sometimes in music 1+1 equals 3. In today’s post, the final one in The California Sound series, we talk about how sometimes 1+1+1 equals 1.
To start our story we need to travel back once more to 1973 and check in on some of the musicians we have been discussing during The Southern California Sound series.
Let’s start with Poco…you might remember that the band went through a lot of personnel changes over time. In 1973 Richie Furay, one of the founding members of Poco, was hanging on but he was frustrated with the band’s lack of success especially given the popularity of that upstart band named the Eagles. Richie was ready for some of the same.
Next up is Manassas, the amazing band that Stephen Stills put together. As we reported in an earlier post, Stephen abandoned the group in 1973 while chasing after another Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young reunion that was doomed to failure. In Stephen’s absence, everyone was scrambling to find their next gig. Chris Hillman took some time for a short Byrds reunion but was soon back on the street.
John David (J. D.) Souther spent a lot of time hanging out with his buddies the Eagles and writing with them. He supposedly was offered a chance to join the band but in his words, “I just wanted to stay home and write.”. J. D. released his first solo album on Asylum Records in 1972.
Around this same time David Geffen, the head of Asylum Records, was looking to score big and thought he had discovered a formula that guaranteed him a California Sound supergroup. Take one part Byrd, one part Buffalo Springfield, mix in another great songwriter, and success is guaranteed along with money….lots of money. OK, maybe he wasn’t the first to discover that formula but did I mention that there was money….lots of money.
Richie wanted success and Geffen was pretty convincing that success was a given. Chris just wanted to play and if Stephen was willing to sacrifice Manassas for CSNY they why not give Geffen’s idea a shot. By the way…Chris brought a hell of a band with him including Paul Harris, Joe Lala, and Al Perkins who were fellow refugees from Manassas. J. D. was a great songwriter and had claimed he just wanted to stay home and write but somehow Geffen convinced him. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that J. D. was already signed to Asylum records, maybe it was something else, but once he signed on the Souther Hillman Furay Band was formed. I bet Geffen thought of the idea of using the last names of the three guys as the band name. That guy was just full of fresh new ideas!
The group’s initial, self titled, album was not a bad piece of work by any measure but it wasn’t magic. What you basically got for your money was three EPs (one each for J. D., Chris, and Richie) each of them playing with the same excellent backing band. Each of the three was a great performer/songwriter in his own right but there was absolutely no group chemistry (Hey David Geffen….MAYBE great music is more complicated than you thought!). To borrow the title of their second, and last album, there was Trouble in Paradise from the start.
Chris Hillman might have summed it up best in a Commercial Appeal newspaper interview from April 25, 2008.
“SHF was an odd experience. I love Richie and J. D. dearly, but i really did find myself in the middle almost holding them apart. J. D. was a very introspective guy and a great songwriter — probably the best out of all of us — and I think secretly he had a desire to be in the Eagles, and they just didn’t have room for him, and so he was frustrated. And Richie was much more a professional person who’d always been in bands and J.D. hadn’t so there was a clash there. That band was never meant to be. That was a group that looked great on on paper. In theory it was good, but it never gelled.”
Richie had similar feelings as expressed in an online interview with John Cody in 2007 when he stated: “With us, we had the best musician’s going. And then Chris was playing bass, and J.D. and I are adding our parts. But what looks good on paper doesn’t always work out.”
J.D. admitted his contributions to the groups problems in a October 1998 interview in Goldmine Magazine, “I’m not a great team player under those circumstances.”
So…the group was doomed before it ever started but let’s talk about their first album.
Richie’s leadoff single “Fallin In Love” was the only real hit from the album but I have to say that Chris and J. D. had the best songs on the album. Chris’ “Heavenly Fire”, a song he wrote about Gram Parsons was incredible and “Safe at Home” and “Rise and Fall” were both great in their own right. J. D.’s “Border Town” was the catchiest song on the album and “Pretty Goodbyes” and “Deep, Dark, And Dreamless” are both classic J. D. songs.
Overall, as I said earlier, it was not a bad album but it didn’t have any amazing group moments. Let’s listen….. As always, let me know what you think.
Fallin In Love (Richie Furay)
Heavenly Fire (Chris Hillman, Len Fagan)
The Heartbreaker (J. D. Souther)
Believe Me (Richie Furay)
Border Town (J. D. Souther)
Safe At Home (Chris Hillman)
Pretty Goodbyes (J. D. Souther)
Rise and Fall (Chris Hillman, Len Fagan)
The Flight Of The Dove (Richie Furay)
Deep, Dark, and Dreamless (J. D. Souther)
So there you have it, the Rise and the Fall of The Southern California Sound told in fifteen parts (may apologies to Chris for adapting his song title for my own purposes). I hope you enjoyed the music and maybe learned something in the process. Here is the final complete picture or our Southern California Sound story.