Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Very Candid Look at Divorce Court

There have been many soap operas, daytime talk shows, and reality shows, but none of them are quite like the original Divorce Court, which ran from 1985 to 1992 (this is not referring to the current reality show, Divorce Court, that airs on Fox.) When I was a senior in high school, I was allowed to leave campus when there was no class. With no Internet at the time, I went home in-between classes and watched TV. Even though the show aired during the daytime, many of the stories were risqué and probably wouldn’t have been aired on television if they had been acted out as opposed to discussed in court. The show brought up issues such as divorce, adultery, and abuse, but it also had to come up with wild, original ideas to keep things interesting and fresh. For example, on one episode, a man claimed he was under amnesia when he got married. On another episode, a couple had a German shepherd who had a trust, and on another episode, a woman gave up her son for adoption, then later found him and married him (without telling him of their biological relationship). In each show, actors played the spouses and the witnesses. The honorable Judge William B. Keene (a retired real life Judge) would preside over the cases and solve them in thirty minutes. Every episode would end with Judge Keene giving a sermon on love gone bad before rendering his verdict.

For reasons I can’t explain, I was hooked. The plots were outrageous. The acting wasn’t Oscar caliber, but that just added to the spirit of the show. I continued watching the show as a freshman in college until the show went off the air in 1992. The show went back in 1999 as a reality show (meaning no actors) with Judge Lynn Toler, but it wasn’t the same and I didn’t watch it. I forgot about the show until one day I randomly typed “Divorce Court Judge William Keene” into YouTube and discovered a handful of episodes of the Divorce Court (Judge Keene era) I grew up with. (Any of those episodes on YouTube will give you a taste of what Divorce Court is like.) After reliving memories of watching Divorce Court in my youth, I felt obliged to write this next blog entry on a show that provided much entertainment and enjoyment.

Unlike previous blog entries, this is not an interview of a single person. Instead, it is a story about a show with a cast of five people to tell this story. I would like to thank each and every one of them, as there would be no blog entry without them. The cast is:

Lee Gutenberg (1985–1988): lighting director; one-time actor/husband
Ellen Snortland(1985–1988): actress/lawyer
Joan McCall (1985): writer, 25 episodes
Pamela Hill (1989–1990): court reporter/stenographer
Glenda Chism Tamblyn (1990-1991): actress/lawyer

The cast is going to tell the story of the show’s beginning and end . . . and it is not the final story to tell. Not everyone was willing to talk about their time on Divorce Court. (The first actress I contacted through her business did not want to talk to me.) Some actors leave their appearance on the show off their résumé. But for all those people who would rather not remember their time on the show there are just as many people who are willing and eager to tell their story about their experiences. My hope is that people will feel comfortable talking to me after reading this blog and add more layers to the story of Divorce Court. If you appeared on the show or were affiliated with the show in any capacity and have a story to contribute, please contact me here . For now, this is the 1.0 version of the Divorce Court story.

The first Divorce Court series began in 1957 and ran until 1967. It was then revived in 1985. Despite the fact that show was a soap opera and aimed at that specific audience, the show had some high names involved. Divorce Court was executive produced by Donald Kushner (producer of Tron) and Peter Locke (producer of The Hills Have Eyes, both the original (1977) and the remake (2006)). Kushner and Locke produced several films together, the most famous being Teen Wolf starring Michael J. Fox. Despite the many Divorce Court episodes they produced, the Kushner-Locke Company website does not mention any involvement with the show.

In reference to working with Kushner and Locke, Joan McCall, a writer for the show, responded:

Joan McCall: Working for them was okay. Let’s just say they were very strong. They wanted what they wanted when they wanted it. I understand it, because they were under their time pressures, but they were also less caring than they could have been. At one point during the whole thing, I had to sue them to get them to pay me for the time that I worked. They started badmouthing me, and they could not get any of the writers or any of the people I worked with to agree with them, so they had to give up. So that’s why I think of them as little bit strong and a little bit negative. But I really don’t hold any grudges against them.

Other producers on the show include Esquire Jauchem, who founded the Boston Repertory Theatre, and the late Richard Glatzer, who wrote and directed Still Alice, a film that received critical acclaim, including Julianne Moore winning an Academy Award for Best Actress in 2014.

Lee Gutenberg: Yes, I remember Richard. He was a real nice guy and we would speak often. Esquire was a good friend of Donald Kushner and a very nice guy. I seem to remember that he invented a lighting effect for stage productions. He might have also done lighting designs for night clubs.

But despite those big names behind the camera, there was one key ingredient that was needed in front of the camera: Judge William B. Keene. Judge Keene was a retired judge of the Los Angeles County Superior Court. He was originally issued to the trial of Charles Manson. Unlike many judges in TV and film, Judge Keene rarely use his gavel to keep order. When he had to scold someone, he never resorted to Judge Judy-type of verbal putdowns. His reprimands were to the point and stern. Judge Keene had a real life integrity that no amount of soap opera material could drown out. The cast had nothing but good things to say about Keene.

LG: He’s a really good guy. He was being paid a lot of money for the show and then he was retired. He wasn’t practicing, so you know, he was good. He brought on as much integrity as he could bring on for a show like that. That’s just the way he was.

Ellen Snortland: He was just a straight-shooting guy, and I think the likability factor was strong. People just trusted him and liked him.

Pamela Hill: Bill Keene—very cool, nice, down-to-earth guy. I remember him being a nice gentleman. He was very professional, and he just seemed very staunch, which I’m sure that’s why he’s a judge. I don’t remember any drama.

Glenda Chism Tamblyn: Judge Keene was a delightful person to be around. I remember Judge Keene to be a very patient fellow, but he did have his limits. I only shot one show a day, but he was there all day. They allowed about two hours to shoot an episode, so they would shoot maybe four episodes a day. I never saw him storm off the set or speak harshly to anyone. One afternoon, we sat in his dressing room area and ate lunch together. I think it was then that I learned that he had been the original trial judge for the Charles Manson case. He is just as soft-spoken in person as he is on the bench. It was always fun to see him laugh or crack up on set.

The Honorable Judge William B. Keene

The show initially had real lawyers who were playing lawyers and only actors played the spouses and witnesses. Jim Peck, a game show commentator of shows like The Joker’s Wild, played the courtroom reporter from 1985 to 1989.

LG: For the first three seasons, there were only real attorneys. They would Taft-Hartley them, meaning, they got them the SAG (SAG stands for the Screen Actors Guild, a union for actors in movie and television) card and they were able to qualify for things like healthcare, as well as SAG minimum wages at the time.

ES: A friend of mine was casting. Neil Elliot was a friend of mine from the acting cooperative community called Mastery of Acting and he knew I was a lawyer and also an actress. So he thought, "Oh boy, double-hitter." That’s how I got involved.

It turned out to be a good fit because I have a strong sense of the absurd and my background is in theater. I loved live television.

The lawyers would argue their case and Judge Keene would make his decision. Nobody on the show knew his decision until the ending.

JMC: We didn’t write what he said, and we didn’t write his verdict. Judge Keene always got to do that himself. I guess he was just deciding from everything presented to him. He had his own license to make his own judgment about them.

LG: He wanted to have the final say. Each act was timed—someone up in the booth was timing it—so the length of his judgment, the verdict, varied. Sometimes it would be three and a half minutes. Sometimes it would only be one minute and twenty-five seconds. No one influenced him on that.

ES: We really didn't know what the outcome was going to be. Sometimes it would be a big surprise. Although most of the time, especially the lawyers, would see that one party was gonna prevail. It wasn't rocket science.

As for the actors who were playing the spouses and witnesses . . .

LG: The show employed more SAG actors in the few weeks that we did the show than anyone else in Hollywood. All of the actors were SAG actors. They got SAG minimum. Divorce Court got a lot of people who were either breaking out, or people who were at the end of their career. I think SAG minimum at that time was $525, I'm not sure. You showed up, you got paid, and you walked away. It’s what they call a “strip show,” meaning, it’s just done really quickly. There wasn’t a lot of acting involved. The only thing you had to do is walk from your table to the witness stand, say a few lines and go back to your seat.

The show ran like a well-oiled machine. There were five shows a week, each to air from Monday to Friday, so the shows had to be made constantly. Scripts had to be written, cases had to be filmed, and Judge Keene had to rendered his verdict.

JMC: Our head writer would do research and come up with all of these cases that were actual cases tried in court. We would have the basis story, but we wouldn’t have many of the details because the details weren’t recorded, or if they were, we didn’t have them. We knew how the process worked, and we knew how they argued, so we built a whole scenario out of whatever we were given. Sometimes it was a page. I was used to turning out a lot of work for the soaps. I was just given a script to do, and when that was done, I’d get another one.

They just give you the page and you go back to your little cubicle. I had a little office all by myself, and I would just sit there all day and write. This was before computers. I was doing it on the typewriter. I don’t know if you’ve ever done that, but it is really brutal sitting hunched over the typewriter all the time, but I managed. In a few months, I managed to do twenty-five scripts.

LG: We also had no postproduction the time that I worked there, which means that everything was edited on tape. It was the closest thing to live TV I’d ever done. Everything was question and answer. If an actor had given an wrong answer, they would roll back the tape to the question. The first assistant director would countdown and give the people on the set time for the tape to come up to speed, and the actor got the right answer this time, so it seemed flawless. The music, audio, everything was done live. There was no postproduction except when they sent a tape out to for the broadcast standards to be applied.

We had a rehearsal before every show. I think the first cast got to the stage at five a.m., rehearsed at six, and then at seven-thirty or eight we ran the first show. Then we’d take another hour-and-a-half break while they rehearsed the next show on the set. Then we’d go back and tape that. Then we’d take a lunch. Then we’d do another show. While we were eating lunch, they’d be rehearsing the next show. If everything went smoothly, we were sometimes doing shows every three hours. That’s fast. We did approximately 120 to 180 shows in a season. I worked on over seven hundred episodes, but I was only there until 1988.

ES: To tell you the truth, I can't remember any of those cases. Sometimes I would do five in a row. We didn't learn the lines. We didn't memorize the cases. We just kind of got out there and did it. It was down-and-dirty TV, which I loved. It's fun.

Despite the fast pace of knocking out episodes, that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues along the way.

LG: Other times some shows would go four hours. People would not read the script. Some of the actors would come unprepared. They’d come high. You know, some of them just weren’t doing things right. They’d goof up their lines.

Lee remembers an episode where he had to play the spouse.

LG: During the run-through, one of the actors that showed up was a Hungarian actor. He was a little person, you know, slight in stature, and he couldn’t even say his lines or read them. They were faced with the aspect of sending everyone home and recasting, which would cost them. A producer came up to me and said, “Do you want to be in a show?” I said, “No, I'm not an actor.” Well, I had a doctor’s appointment earlier in the week and discovered I needed some expensive tests performed that would cost me about $1,000 in deductible. This was 1988 money. So I said, “Would I get paid if I went on?”

The producer said, “Sure.” With everything it would cover my medical expenses. I thought I’d be a witness or something; I didn’t know what was going on. Then the producer said, “You’re playing the husband. Here’s the script. I guess you read that.” I had forty-five minutes to read the script. I was thrown into wardrobe. They didn’t have anything that fit me. Most of the clothes I was wearing were held together with duct tape. It was really just a big joke. I mean, there are gag reels of the judge stopping in the middle of a scene, taking out a light meter (a light meter is an instrument that measures light. In TV, a light meter can determine the optimum light level for a scene.), and throwing it in front of my face. I never thought they would air it. I could hear the director over the earphones and people were yelling, “Do you still think that you can do it?” After everything was said and done, I received about $1,800 in residuals and initial pay and stuff.

After the initial three seasons (1985–1988), actors were brought in to play lawyers to cut down costs.

LG: It was just getting harder and harder to find real attorneys who would give up their time for $1,000 a day when they could make or break that.

ES: As long as I was being cast, I was down for it. On a rotating basis, I was cast. I was a recurring person, so they would not have made me a regular because then they would have had to pay me more, right? [Laughs]. But they were very, very, very frugal, which is a nice way to put it.

Oh, here's a quote from Judge Keene. [Laughs]. He says, "I think the actors were better." He commented that sometimes the lawyers were very stiff in front of the cameras.

Judge Keene would be the one constant on the show. There was a high turnover of the writers and production crew.

JMC: [Back in 1985] I only worked for about seven months, and I did those twenty-five episodes in about seven months. Then we went on hiatus. It was a whole big thing because they wanted me to be the head writer, and I agreed to it, and then the head writer wanted to come back. She had a job that fell through at Disney and she wanted to come back. [Laughter]. I didn’t really go back after that whole thing started.

LG: I had the medical story. The results of those tests I took resulted in me being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I basically got out of that whole business. I did a few pilots [pilot means a television show’s first episode] a couple of months later, but I just had to get out mainly due to physical needs. It was a really bad thing, but one of the better things that happened to me because I can’t see myself being in that industry today.

By 1989, the initial people who worked on Divorce Court—the producers, production crew, and the lawyers—were gone. The show continued with Judge Keene, but there were new additions. Martha Smith, best known for playing Babs in Animal House, was the courtroom reporter, taking over for Jim Peck. Soap actors were now playing the lawyers. More scenes would take place outside of the courtroom. The show’s ratings had declined, so this was a revamp to compete with other daytime television. Click here to read the 1989 LA Times article that describes how Divorce Court was rebranding. Pamela Hill was a reporter and stenographer during the 1989 season. She talks about her time on the show.

Pamela Hill: I had moved out here [to Los Angeles] and had signed up to do some extra work. I was acting and modeling back home. I got a call from one of the casting people. They said that they needed someone for the show court reporter and stenographer. I was only out here for about four months, so I went down to the interview and thought, “Oh my god. This is happening so fast.” It seemed a little bit more involved than the extra work. I thought, “Wow.” I remember sitting there and I put my hair up like a court reporter. I pretended I was typing on the stenograph machine—I think that’s what it’s called. I was just pretending even though nothing was there. I was just being very honest and kind of just showing that I could do that. I think they got a kick out of that, and then they said, “Are you dependable?” I said, “Yes, I am. I’m a Capricorn,” and then they laughed.

Martha was having success from other shows, especially Animal House. She was funny and a very vivacious and lovely gal. There is a man named Craig Stepp whom I actually reconnected with. He was a lawyer on the show. He did a lot of commercials and television shows. There was another guy who played a lawyer, Stephen Parr; I think he was on All My Children. I remember Jill Whelan who played the Captain’s daughter on The Love Boat. It was fascinating to me to see a lot of the guest stars on the show, or people playing lawyers were people I had watched on either soap operas or on TV commercials.

I do remember there were really long days. We shot at least a good ten- to twelve-hour day, give or take. I remember there were some pictures [laughs]. One of those pictures had myself and a couple people from the show who were just so tired that, we would be lying [laughs] out on the jury audience chairs just to kind of take a cat nap. I just remember we were conked out because the days were long. They shot Monday all week, Monday through Friday. When I was on in ’89, I think I started shooting in the beginning of September for at least a good two months, and it was five days a week.

It was filmed in Valencia. At the time I didn’t have a car, but I was very fortunate that one of the guys—I think his name was Joe—was grand enough to pick me up from west LA and give me a ride every morning to Valencia, which was very nice because not having a car made it a little bit hard. I believe Joe was one of the camera operators. One morning Joe didn’t show up. So, I’m like, “Oh, my god. What am I going to do?” It’s Valencia. It’s quite far from LA. It’s probably at least a good hour or hour and a half away, and I didn’t know what to do. My roommate wasn’t available to take me, and I didn’t have a car. This was years ago and there wasn’t Uber. I only had so much left in my bank account—at the time I had traveler’s checks, [laughter] and I didn’t have a lot left, but when you’ve got to get to Valencia, you’re going to grab something and call a cab. I don’t think I’d ever called a cab before, so long story short, I grabbed my traveler’s check stash and called a cab. When we arrived, the cab driver told me it was $60, so I gave him what I had. I’m like, “Here, take this. This is all I have. I hope it it’s enough.” I honestly don’t remember, but I think it was enough. I was always early to set, but that day I was probably just more on time. I don’t think I ever told anyone on set that I had to take a cab to get there, but someone had found out. During one of the wrap parties, they gave me a remote control car—a kind of funny gag gift—that I think I still have in storage.

Still struggling in the ratings, Divorce Court had to cut costs even lower. Once the biggest employer of the Screen Actors Guild, the show was now hiring nonunion actors to play not only spouses and witnesses but also lawyers. Glenda Chism Tamblyn was one of the actors who played an attorney on the Florida shoot (1990-1991).

Glenda Chism Tamblyn: One of my agents, Patti Thomas, went into casting. She and Mel Johnson were the casting directors for Divorce Court. Mel cast Swamp Thing and I think Superboy at Universal, and maybe one of the Nickelodeon shows.

At the time I was cast in Divorce Court, I was working at Universal Studios Florida in the post production live actor show (now known as Harry Potter World). Patti called me in to read. I got a callback and then was cast. In the beginning, I don't think they were considering having recurring attorneys. In fact, I recall Patti telling me that they had auditioned practically every actor in central Florida and only saw a few people who would make good attorneys. I was very excited and petrified to learn they were going to use the attorneys on more than one show. I ended up shooting nine altogether, which was one more than anyone else.

I think there were maybe eight or nine of us actor-attorneys at the end. They started out with more, but a couple of people dropped out because of the issues with SAG. The Divorce Court shoot was non-union. I was in Actors Equity at the time and should have passed, but I was determined to do the shoot for the experience. Divorce Court was shot on the stage at Disney-MGM and the first day I drove onto the lot, there were protestors with signs at the entrance. SAG was so ticked off; they ran away to a Right to Work (for less) State. Florida was serious about attracting production into the state, especially into Orlando. I don't remember that the picketing lasted very long, maybe for a week. Summer was starting with a vengeance in Florida at that time. I believe we shot either in late May into June or throughout June. The directors used aliases for fear of work repercussions with the unions. They wanted the attorneys to use their real names, but I'm too much of a stage performer to do that; plus, I really wanted to hedge my bets with SAG and I thought my pseudonym, Ann Montgomery, sounded much more lawyerly. I did have to "explain" myself when I got my SAG card for playing Macaulay Culkin’s mother in My Girl! Judge Keene got into trouble with SAG for being on the non-union shoot, but the production company paid his fine. I think it was in the neighborhood of $10,000.

Some of the actors who were playing spouses or witnesses would also play spouses or witnesses in other court cases.

GCT: Yes, they had a two-show limit for the actors to play major characters.

Along with Judge Keene, a few other things stayed consistent on the show. For example, no one knew what his ruling would be on the show.

GCT: I am a bit foggy on whether or not we got the rulings in the scripts, but the uncertainty could come from the fact that the judge could rule any which way he wanted to regardless of what the script called for. If he felt the case wasn't strong enough or proven, then he had perfect leeway to rule as he saw fit. I think there might have been a few scripts where no one knew how the judge would rule, but I couldn't say for certain. As for the objections and all the lawyer speak, that was most certainly in the script. There was one episode—I think it was the last one we shot—that the producer wasn't too happy with, and so he gave it to me and my "client" who was someone I worked with at Universal Studios Florida, and together we all sat down at the table and reworked the ending. I think we still lost the case, but it was really fun, not to mention challenging, to be able to have such input.

As with any show, there are always a few hiccups.

GCT: I remember one episode in particular that sucked. Oh, my gosh, that thing was horrible! It was either the first one they shot or one of the first ones. I don't think I knew any of the actors in the original episode. The central Florida talent pool was very small at that time—some would say “shallow” [laughs]—and from going to auditions and classes to working, I had a passing knowledge of most of the heavier hitters in the area at least by name. None of those actors were in that particular show, and I don't recall who played the attorney. The production crew kept things close to the vest, but that was just one enchilada too big to hide! The episode was so bad that they had to reshoot it before they could air it in 1990. As for the storyline, the one line that sticks out for me is a witness declaring someone being a slave and someone being the "massa.”

The Florida Judge Keene Divorce Court only lasted one season.

GCT: The end of the run was bittersweet. All of the attorneys that I knew were aware of when our last day would be, as the show had definite start and end dates from the beginning. Since Bruce McKay, (the producer of the Florida Divorce Court shoot) liked me, they scheduled one of my episodes to be the very last one shot. I seem to recall they scheduled the whole day's shoots with their favorite attorneys. It felt very much like coming to the end of the run of a play with the inevitable closing date looming on the calendar. At least with live theater there's always a chance—albeit slim—of extending another weekend. That's just not the case in film and TV. If there is an extension, it's a costly thing that nobody is happy about. I always knew that I would be shooting eight episodes, two a week. Then they gave me the additional ninth episode because of the reshoot.

The show would have an end of season party, but it would end with some tragedy.

GCT: The wrap party that evening was at Disney somewhere near the edge of the MGM property. They had set up an area with finger foods and an open bar. It started around five or six and went until around eight. Then we were off on our own to roam about the park. A few of us stuck together and then went our separate ways for a bit, but then rendezvoused at another bar on the property. I saw two of the attorneys, one of whom was Dan Parson. He was the other attorney who worked at Universal Studios Florida in the Horror Makeup Show. We would often get together and yack about Divorce Court at work. The funny thing about Dan was that he was a straight-laced Church of Christ guy, no smoking or drinking. But at the Divorce Court wrap party, he was knocking back drinks and bummed cigarettes off me. As a disclaimer, I am not a smoker, but back then I allowed myself one pack a year, and I only smoked one with Toni whenever we hung out behind the sound stages. I still had a couple of my "allowance" left. Dan and "Buttonhead" (the crew's nickname for another attorney who lived near Dan) were hanging out at the bar, and by that time Dan was really toasted. He was hanging on me and saying how he was gonna go to California—he was born there, so he called it "home"—to pursue his career. I wrote it off as so much drunken bluster, but evidently he had been talking about it a lot with coworkers.

Divorce Court wrap party (Glenda (2nd to the left, middle row); Judge Keene (4th left, top row); Dan Parson (top row, far right) (1991)

I left the bar not too long after arriving, ran into Bruce and spoke a little bit, and then I went on home. That was a Wednesday; I had the next day off, so I didn't get back to Universal Studios Florida until Friday. Not long after I got to work, the call went out that Dan was missing from makeup and he had missed the day before too. My knees went out from underneath me, and I told the gang that Dan had been really drunk the last time I saw him. I called Buttonhead, who went over to Dan’s house but Dan wasn't home and his car was missing. I thought that maybe he was on his way out west, so I called Bruce in Los Angeles and told him the situation. Bruce hadn't heard from him but told me that he would keep us informed if he did. On Sunday morning, a body was spotted by a hot-air balloonist, floating in a drainage ditch at Disney. Sure enough, it was Dan. Apparently, he had tried to drive home, got lost in the backroad swampy area, ran his car off the road into a ditch, and drowned. It was very, very sad. The funny thing about Dan was how competitive he was. After the first week, some of the hotshot actors decided to see who could shoot his episode the fastest. I don't think I knew about this until several shoots into the season. Dan ended up having the fastest time, and when I asked him about it, he confided that it was because he kept index cards in his pocket and would look down at them when the cameras weren't on him. Cheater!

The show continued for one more season without Judge Keene. A different judge sat on with nonunion actors playing lawyers, spouses, and witnesses. It wasn’t the same without Keene. The eighties’ era of Divorce Court was over.

LG: Judge Keene would call me and say, “You know, we were so close with everybody, but you’re the only one who ever calls me.” He’d ask me what the producers were up to. Nobody on the show. He wouldn’t know anything that was going on. That’s just the nature of that business, you know? I have another friend who had that same thing happen and he said the same thing. He said, “After all of these relationships I don’t hear from anybody.” That’s the sad part.

Reflecting back . . .

PH: It was really cool. I got a write-up article in my local paper in Cincinnati and I still have it framed. It says, “Making it in LA,” and I’m in my dress in the court with the steno in front of me. I got my SAG card from Divorce Court. Until this day, I still get a residual, and sometimes it’s for a dime [laughs].

ES: Ahead of its time. Heteronormative marriage was what we did, right? And so women got cast [laughs]. I would guess the show was one of the biggest employers of women in the Screen Actors Guild. And [laughs] I still have people stare at me in grocery stores and think they know me from something. I'll say, "Well, did you watch Divorce Court?" And they'll go, "Yes!"

GCT: My feelings about the show "evolved,” naturally! I still don't consider it Emmy-worthy TV, but it does/did serve a purpose. As an actor, I'm always in favor of anything that puts a performer to work just so long as there isn't any underhanded exploitation. Reasonable hours, fair pay, professional treatment on set and off . . . those were all present on the Divorce Court set, and I am very thankful for that. I thought some of the episodes were a bit on the cheesy side, but then we all knew it was "made for TV,” and a certain amount of cheese was needed. In fact, the more seriously you took the cheese, the better! Afternoon audiences really dug that stuff.

Those four weeks on Divorce Court were some of the best of my life, personally and professionally. I met some of the most wonderful people in the area and we remained friends for a long time afterwards. Crews disperse, so it was very hard to keep track of those folks, but they were so much fun. I really came to appreciate and sit in awe of their skill.

Technically speaking, my confidence as an actor grew by leaps and bounds. Memorizing lines became easier and easier. I was much more able to work in front of a camera without self-consciousness. The skills that grew from shooting that show have stood me well. Oddly enough, I had to leave the Divorce Court credit off my résumé for a very long time. I had been told by agents and others in the business out here that I wouldn't be taken seriously with that credit. It's hard to believe, since most actors hardly ever get the experience of a recurring role on a four-camera floor shoot. It just goes to prove the number-one rule of Hollywood: nobody knows anything.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

A Very Candid Conversation with Bobby Kimball

Bobby Kimball on the “Rosanna” video (1982)

Bobby Kimball was the original singer(he doesn’t play any instrument)  for Toto. Those familiar with Toto’s hits “Hold the Line,” “Rosanna,” and “Africa” will recognize Bobby’s high vocals. Bobby began his career with Toto in 1977. From 1977 to 1984, Bobby recorded four albums with Toto. Toto’s self-titled album (1978) contained the hits “Hold the Line” and “Georgy Porgy” and went double platinum. Their second album Hydra (1979) went gold. The third album Hold Back (1981) didn’t do as well as the previous two albums. However, Toto rebounded with Toto IV (1982), which earned six Grammy awards  and went triple platinum. Toto IV contains Toto’s biggest hits, “Rosanna” and “Africa.” Despite the success of Toto, the original lineup eventually broke up. Bassist  David Hungate left in 1982 and Bobby left in 1984.

After leaving Toto, Bobby  joined the Far Corporation in 1984 (created by German producer Frank Fabian, who was known in later years for creating Milli Vanilli). Far Corporation had a hit of their cover of the Led Zeppelin classic “Stairway to Heaven” which made it to #8 in the UK charts and #85 in the US charts. (Interesting trivia: Far Corporation is the only band that has had a hit single with “Stairway to Heaven,” because Led Zeppelin never released it as a single.)  Bobby kept himself busy with session and solo work until he was asked to come back to Toto in 1998.

Bobby played with Toto for ten years until guitarist Steve Lukather decided to end the band in 2008. During Bobby’s time with Toto, he recorded three studio albums: Mindfields (1998), Through the Looking Glass (2002) and Falling in Between (2006). In addition, Toto released two live albums: Livefields (1999) and Falling in Between Live (2007).  Also, during the time Bobby was back with Toto, he released his first album All I Ever Needed (1999).

After Toto, from 2010–2016, Bobby was constantly on the road, either with a new group or solo. Most recently, in April 2017, he released his second solo  album We’re Not in Kansas Anymore. Not surprisingly, the music is similar to his work with Toto, but what’s more remarkable is that Bobby has still retained his trademark high vocals and shows signs of little wear and tear.

In this candid conversation, we talk about Bobby’s time in Toto and the Far Corporation. In addition, we talk about his new album We’re Not in Kansas Anymore and his secret on how his vocal chords stay in shape. One mystery we clear up is if Toto’s song “Rosanna” is really about the actress Rosanna Arquette. Many people believe that the song is about Arquette, as Toto keyboardist Steve Porcaro had dated Arquette in the past.

I want to thank Billy James of Glass Onyon PR for setting up the interview, but most of all I want to thank Bobby.

Jeff Cramer:   What got you into singing?

Bobby Kimball:    What got me in singing? When I was just five years old, I started playing the piano, and my mother taught me a lot of chords. And this black guy in this little three-thousand-person town (Note: Bobby grew up in Vinton, Louisiana) that I lived in taught me rhythm. When I played in the piano, I also started singing because my oldest brother was like a white Ray Charles. He was very, very good as a singer and piano player, so I thought it was a good idea to sing, so I did. I was eight years old when I played with my first band.

JC:     How did you come across Toto?

BK:    In 1974, I moved from Louisiana to Los Angeles. I was playing with a great band in 1974 (I started that band when I was eight),  but I got a call from a very good friend of mine—Jon Smith. I played in two bands with him in Louisiana. Jon was from Louisiana in Lafayette, and he was a great saxophone player.

Anyway, when the singers left the band Three Dog Night, the bass player, drummer, and guitar player called Jon to join a new band they were starting. At the first rehearsal, they’d asked Jon if he knew any singers.

So Jon called me and said, “Would you come and sing with some guys from Three Dog Night?” I said, “Try and stop me.” Three Dog Night was my favorite band at the time. So I moved to Los Angeles, we rehearsed, and the band was called S.S. Fools.

When I got here, we rehearsed for about two months in the studio. While  we were rehearsing, David Paich and Jeff Porcaro—the two guys who organized the band Toto—loved those guys from Three Dog Night, and they came to about one-third of our rehearsals. We rehearsed for about two months.

That was how I met those guys. And we became pretty good friends. The manager of S.S. Fools was also the manager of Three Dog Night, and the singers left Three Dog Night because they were losing a lot of money from the manager. Those guys in S. S. Fools hired the same manager.

JC:    The ones that they lost money in?

BK:   Yes, exactly, and the same thing started happening. They were losing money because of that same manager.  Fifteen months later, I left S.S. Fools.  About three months later, I got a phone call from David Paich and Jeff Porcaro, the two guys who put Toto together. They asked me to come and sing with the band.

JC:     Okay.

BK:   I told ’em, “No problem. I love the musicians.” So that’s where I got with it.

Toto 1978 (Bobby far left)

JC:     In the beginning, you’re doing the lead vocals on the single “Hold the Line”(1978). 

BK:    David Paich, the keyboard player, wrote that song. But I sang the lead vocals and most of the background vocals on that. It was the first single. It’s still very fun to do [To hear “Hold the Line,” click here.]

JC:    You played on three more albums after Toto’s debut album, Toto (1978). Now, particularly, we get to the high point  of Toto IV(1982). I guess one question that many people have: Was “Rosanna” really about Rosanna Arquette?

BK:     Well, actually, I don’t think the song was written about her, because she kind of came around and she started living with the second keyboard player, Steve Porcaro, about two weeks after I did the lead vocal on “Rosanna.”

JC:   Oh, then I guess it’s not about her, since the song “Rosanna” was about a breakup. You know, the chorus, “Not quite a year since she went away, Rosanna left!”

BK:    Yes. She would go on television—the Johnny Carson Show  and several other things. She was an actress. The thing is, when she would say that the song was written about her, I never denied that.

I didn’t want to do that because she was a nice person. For the Toto IV tour, we were on the bus for quite a while, and she was on the bus with Steve Porcaro.  

JC:      Okay. So, they were together when the song was written. Interesting.

BK:   It was very great to know her. [To hear “Rosanna,” click here.]

JC:    Toto IV (1982) was the biggest album. It went triple platinum. It even out-sold the debut album, which went double platinum. Even the band’s second album Hydra (1979) went gold. And yet after all this success (three great selling albums out of four albums), the original lineup never continued. Why was it the last for you? Why was the last for David Hungate, the bass player?

Toto winning grammys in 1983 (Bobby 3rd to right)

BK:    Well, Hungate left right after we recorded the Toto IV album. He moved to Nashville. I think his wife is the one who got him to stop touring. However, about the middle of the fifth Toto album, Isolation (1984), I had sung three of the songs and did most of the background vocals.

I wrote one of the songs with David Paich. Anyhow, there was a problem and they asked me to leave the band. They hired a good friend of mine, Fergie Frederiksen, to replace me.

Fergie had played with a band in Louisiana that I had helped originally put together called the Levee Band. That band first broke up when I left that band to come to LA, but they got back together about three months later; they had some new players and Fergie was the new singer.

Toto hired Fergie to sing with Toto for that fifth album, Isolation. He just went into the studio and copied the vocals on the songs that I’d sung. He was great, and he was a really nice guy. But he’s dead.

I did several benefit concerts for his family while he was dying. And that was really, really good because he was there. Before he died, he was at some of those concerts and it was super nice.

But as for me, I moved to Germany after I left Toto in 1984. 

JC:    What did you do in Germany?

BK:   There was a guy named Frank Farian, one of the most famous producers over there. He called me about three days after I left Toto and asked me to come to Germany. I moved to Frankfurt. That was great for me because my mother’s father was born in Frankfurt.

I wanted to go abroad and concentrate on how great Frankfurt was. Anyhow, I did a Self-titled album  with a group called Far Corporation. That was the first time I met one of the drummers who would later be with Toto for a long time, Simon Phillips.

Bobby in Far Corporation (2nd to right)—1985

JC:   Yes.

BK:   Simon was playing drums on Far Corporation’s album. It was fantastic to meet him. [Far Corporation’s first single was a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Click here to watch Bobby deliver an impressive Robert Plant impression. He sings the last quarter of the song starting “As we wind down the road . . .” starting at 4:47.] 

JC:    Okay. You eventually came back and played with Toto. How did that happen?

BK:  In 1998, they called me back after they had hired three other singers. Fergie Frederickson, who replaced me, was only with the band for a little less than a year. Then they hired Joseph Williams. Joseph went to school with some of those guys in Toto, and they hired him.

Joseph was with the band for a couple of years, then they fired him. Then they hired another guy and he was with the band for almost a year. Then they called me in 1998. So, I needed to come back and sing with the band. I sang with them for ten years. So, I was with ’em, altogether for eighteen years: eight years first; ten years second.

JC:           What happened at the end of those ten years? Why did you—?

BK:  When I got back with the band, I wrote the lyrics on eight of the eleven songs on Falling in Between. [To hear “Falling in Between” performed live, click here.] 

Toto 2006 (Bobby, sitting, far left)

We were on a two-and-a-half-year tour. Mike Porcaro, was our second bass player when David Hungate left. He also was (original Toto drummer) Jeff Porcaro’s brother. Mike Porcaro, halfway through the Falling in Between tour, walked into our dressing room and told us that we were going to have to get a substitute bass player, ’cause he couldn’t hardly stand up any more. He couldn’t hold his bass.

He had Gehrig’s disease, ALS. Not long after that—a couple weeks after—David Paich, the main keyboard player, told us we had to get a substitute keyboardist because his sister—his only living relative—needed a double-lung transplant, and he had to come back to LA and get it for her. He couldn’t do it while he was on the road.

JC:    Okay.

BK:   In 2008, at the end of that tour, Steve Lukather decided he wanted to end. By that point, the only original members in the band were me and Steve Lukather.

We had a substitute drummer, Simon Phillips because Jeff Porcaro died. We had a substitute bass player and a substitute keyboard player. In 2008, when we finished the tour, Steve Lukather decided that he wanted to form a solo band. There were only two original members on that stage.

So, Steve quit the band, and the band kind of fell apart. I started touring all over the world. I played with musicians that I met while I was touring all over the world with Toto.

When an agent would call me or email me about doing a tour or concerts, I would contact some of the best musicians I had ever met while I was touring with Toto. I would contact the musicians and tell them, “Put a band together. Here’s the set list.” And they would, and they were always great. I’ve been out of the band since 2008, but it hasn’t been a problem for me.

JC:   I know what you mean about great musicians, ’cause I certainly heard a lot on your recent solo album. Why don’t we talk about your latest album, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore [2017]?

Cover for We’re Not in Kansas Anymore (2017)

BK:     My solo album . . . I really, really love it.

JC:    How did you get started on that?

BK:  John Zaika is the guy who wrote the tracks. He got the tracks recorded and everything, and I was on the road most of the time. He was in Dallas for a while recording with a friend of his, so he went out to LA, and when I got back home, he asked me to come and do the vocals. I changed a lot of the lyrics. On the other solo album I did, All I Ever Needed (1999),  I wrote all of the lyrics, the melody, and John wrote the music. John’s absolutely brilliant and a great friend of mine.

JC:   Well, John captures the classic Toto sound in those album tracks.

BK:  Yeah, he did some brilliant stuff. [Laughs] Well, those songs were super fun. [Click here to hear some official video clips of Bobby singing from his latest album.]

JC:    Mm-hmm. One thing I was mentioning before: your vocals . . . you’re still hitting all the high notes. How did you keep your vocals in great shape? I’ve watched other vocalists go through wear and tear, but you’ve managed to keep yours in great shape. How do you do it?

BK:   Well, I sing a lot. About three years ago, I was having a little bit of a problem with my voice. I am a part-owner of a hearing aid company in this town, Rhina, in Germany. The doctor—the eye, ear, nose, and throat doctor—is super, super doctor.

He checked my ears and my voice and everything, and we drove about thirty minutes to this town called Münster to a hospital. There is a specialist vocal doctor there. Well, I sat on this little thing and he sat right across from me, and there was a machine to the right.

There was a little device that was connected to the machine; it was about the size of a fountain pen. He told me, “Open your mouth as wide as you can. Stick your tongue out as far as you can.”

He put that device around my left vocal cord, moved it up and down, and he put it on my right vocal cord, moved it up and down. When he took it out of my mouth, he said, “Sing a high note.” Oh man. I said [makes high-pitched noise].

JC:   [Laughs] The hair on my neck just stood up from hearing you, Bobby!

BK:    That doctor was fantastic. If I ever have any more problems, I will go back to him.

JC:    Do you have any plans to tour behind your new album?

BK:   Oh yes, actually. This guy from Belgium has booked me a ton of concerts, and I will also be doing some – four or five of the songs – from We’re Not in Kansas Anymore and All I Ever Needed, the first solo CD I did with John.  I’m gonna do some of those songs because I absolutely love ’em, and I wrote the album.

The Belgium guy booked me a ton of tours, and I’m gonna be on the road with an orchestra and this fantastic conductor who is a friend of mine. It is going to be absolutely super fun.

JC:   Since you’ve been a veteran at it for many years and you’re still hitting the high notes, what would be your recommendation for anyone who wants to go out and sing?

BK:   [Laughs] If they want to sing, and they can sing, I would say they absolutely should do it because it is so fun and so fantastic.

Bobby Kimball singing (exact year not known)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Very Candid Conversation with Richie Furay

Richie Furay started his music career as a guitarist and singer with the rock band Buffalo Springfield in 1966. Buffalo Springfield became the launching pad for music legends Stephen Stills and Neil Young. (Buffalo Springfield was Stills and Young’s first major band.) Buffalo Springfield is best known for the song “For What It’s Worth.” They recorded three albums: Buffalo Springfield (1966), Buffalo Springfield Again (1967), and Last Time Around (1968). The band didn’t last long and broke up in 1968 due to many lineup changes (nine members were in and out of Buffalo Springfield), drug-related arrests, and personal tensions. Despite their short run as a band, Buffalo Springfield was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997.

After Buffalo Springfield’s breakup, Richie and Springfield bandmate Jimmy Messina formed Poco, a country rock band, in 1968. During Richie’s time with Poco (1968–1973), the band released several records. Although Poco was well received by audiences and critics, they weren’t matching the sales and success of Stephen Stills, who had found success with his trio Crosby, Stills and Nash, and Neil Young, who had a successful solo career. In addition, Poco bassist Randy Meisner left after the first album to join the Eagles. (The next Poco bassist, Timothy B. Schmit, replaced Mesiner in the Eagles in 1977.) Likewise, Messina left Poco and formed a successful duo with Kenny Loggins known as Loggins and Messina.

Disheartened by Poco’s inability to attain success, Richie left Poco in 1974 and formed a trio named Souther–Hillman–Furay Band (SHF). J.D. Souther was a songwriter who had co-written songs for the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, and Chris Hillman was an original member of the Byrds. The band never took off, but a significant change occurred in Richie’s life. While working with Souther and Hillman, Richie met Al Perkins (a guitarist for SHF), who was a Christian. At that time, Richie was having marital problems. Perkins introduced Richie to Christ, and through Christ, Richie repaired his marriage and accepted the fact that his musical career wasn’t as successful as his peers.  

SHF recorded two albums: their self-titled album The Souther–Hillman–Furay Band (1974) and Trouble in Paradise (1974). Despite the talents of the three men, the trio never formed a chemistry, thus SHF fell apart. Richie recorded several solo albums through 1976 and 1982. These albums contained themes of Richie’s newfound faith, and in 1983, Richie became a pastor at Calvary Chapel in Broomfield, Colorado. He still is a pastor today. (The website for Calvary Chapel church can be found here.)

During his time as a pastor, Richie had reunions with his first two bands, Poco and Buffalo Springfield. Poco reunited in 1988 with a gold record Legacy. Although Legacy went gold and had a top 20 hit, “Call It Love,” Richie did not stay long with the band. Richie was unhappy with the video “Call It Love” (directed by future Transformers film director Michael Bay), particularly with the provocative scenes between the men and women actors. He left Poco as a result. He reunited with Stills at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when Buffalo Springfield was inducted in 1997, and then he reunited with both Stills and Young at a Bridge School benefit tour in 2010.

In this candid conversation, we cover Richie’s time with Buffalo Springfield, Poco, the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band, and his solo career. Richie was referred to me by Santos (my interview with Santos can be read here.) Like my interview with Santos, this interview with Richie is about a great musician who was trying to reach the top but instead found Christ. I want to thank Santos for referring me to Richie, but most of all, I want to thank Richie himself.

Jeff Cramer: So, what prompted your interest in music?

Richie Furay: Oh, my gosh, it's just one of those things that happened in my life. I'm not even sure. I didn't really have a musical family.

My mom sung in the church choir, but my dad wasn't musical. I remember when he gave her a tape recorder one year for Christmas; I confiscated the thing and just sat in front of the radio all the time taping all this music.

As I got a little older, music just began to saturate my heart and my life. It seemed that music was the direction I was going to pursue.

JC: How did you get started with Buffalo Springfield?

RF: [Laughs]. I was in Otterbein College in Ohio. In college, I joined an a cappella [a cappella is singing without instrumental accommodation] choir. At one point, we went on tour, and during the tour, we made a stop in New York City. We had a Saturday night off. One of my friends decided, "Hey, why don’t we go down into Greenwich Village and sing." I laughed and said, “Yeah, right. Okay. Where are we gonna sing, the street corner?" And he said, "Oh, we'll sing in some clubs."

My friend—I'm telling you, man, he could sell anybody anything. My friend talked his way into getting three club managers to let us sing at their club. We sang during the time that they were turning over the audiences. [Laughs]. But we still thought it was a big deal to sing in those clubs.

After performing, a bug really caught me. I said, "Man, I’m coming back here in the summertime, and I'm gonna get into the music business somehow. I'm gonna get into doing folk music." Folk music was happening in Greenwich Village and it was a big thing.

When I went to New York the next summer, I talked my two friends into coming with me. Stephen Stills was working in one of the little clubs that my friends and I played in. That's where I met Stephen and we became really good friends.

A guy named Ed E. Miller put a band together for us, and it was a group like the Serendipity Singers or the New Christy Minstrels [early folk bands of the sixties]. It was a group of nine—there was stand-up bass, the banjo, as many guitars as you could get, and two girls.

The group was together for about six months. We did an off-Broadway play for two weeks, so it was a quick run. [Laughs]. We did a record for Roulette Records, and we did a supper club [a club that provides dinner and entertainment] tour of Texas.

After that, the group broke up. Steve went off to California with part of the band, and I went to work at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft in East Hartford, Connecticut.

A friend of mine, Gram Parsons [Parsons was a pioneer in the country rock field], brought me the Byrds' first record while I was working at Pratt & Whitney. I said, "Man, I've got to get a hold of Steve. I've got to find out what's going on, because I've got to get back into music."

So, I got a hold of Steve, and Steve said, "Hey, come to California. I've got a band together. All I need is another singer and we're ready to go." I said, "I'll be there." So, I quit my job at Pratt & Whitney and went to California sometime in 1966.

Of course, the band was just me and Steve at the time. No one else was there. That was the beginning of the Buffalo Springfield.

JC: Buffalo Springfield’s first album (self-titled album, 1966) contains their most well–known song, "For What It's Worth.” However, the song seems like an anomaly on that album, as all the other songs are folk rock and “For What It’s Worth” isn’t.

RF: Well, actually, "For What It's Worth" wasn't even on the very first record.

JC: Really?

RF: There was a song called "Baby, Don't Scold Me,” but that song got taken off the record and was replaced by “For What It’s Worth.” We were sharing our new songs for our second album with Ahmet Ertegun, who was the president of Atlantic Records. Ertegun and the band were in a little house in Topanga. I think it was Steve's house.

The first album didn't really do what Atlantic Records had wanted it to do or thought that it was gonna do. They thought it was gonna really make a mark right out of the box. So, we played all of our songs—a lot of them appeared on the second record. At the end of the day, Stephen said, "Well, I've got one more: ‘For What It's Worth.’"

JC: Yes.

RF: And that was the song. Ahmet said, "We've got to record that song now." We recorded it, and after recording, Atlantic Records took "Baby, Don't Scold Me" off the record and put "For What It's Worth" on the record. The song went to number seven in the country and left its mark in the world of musical history for sure. [Click here to see a 1967 presentation of “For What It’s Worth.”]

Buffalo Springfield (Richie, bottom left) 1967

JC: The music direction changed dramatically on Buffalo Springfield’s second album Buffalo Springfield Again. One reviewer described Buffalo Springfield’s first album and second album as if you started from the very first Beatles’ album (where all four worked as a group) to an album like Sgt. Pepper’s or The White Album (where everyone was going in their own direction and not cohesive as a group). [Laughs].

RF: Well, Jeff, that was actually what was happening. The only record that we really made as a group was the first one.

JC: Right.

RF: On the second album [1967], there were a few songs that were recorded by everyone, but mostly people were going off in their own way. Neil Young was doing his thing and Stephen Stills was doing his thing. And while we were recording Buffalo Springfield Again, I actually had an opportunity to start my solo recording career as well.

By the third album [1968], it was really every man for himself. [Laughs].

JC: Was there any song on Buffalo Springfield’s third album where all the group members played together?

RF: A couple of songs . . . I can't remember. I would have to go back and look at the album. I'm sorry, but I don't think too much about it. There were a couple of songs that everybody played on. Then there were quite a few more on the third record that [bassist] Jimmy Messina and I put together so that we could at least release the third record. That third record would have never gotten released had Jimmy and I not contributed a few more songs. So, we got the third record out.

The third album was pretty much a lot of individual effort. There's no doubt about it. It was a shame. The band had a lot of potential, but there were nine people in and out of the band in two years. It was just really hard to keep the band together.

Neil, of course, had different aspirations. For me, Buffalo Springfield was Stephen's band. He was the heart and soul of the band. A lot of people think it was Neil's band, but it was Stephen's band all the way. He was definitely the heart and soul.

I told Stephen one day, "Listen, man, as long as you're here, I'm here," even though there were so many people in and out of the band. But at the end of the day, when Stephen decided it was time to move on and do some other things, that was when I decided, "Okay, well, that's it. It was a fun run."

JC: Immediately you started Poco after the breakup of Buffalo Springfield.

RF: Yep. I had already gotten my feet wet from live concerts and making records, so I didn't want to quit. I was ready to keep on going.

Jimmy Messina was the most recent member of Buffalo Springfield, (Buffalo Springfield went through nine people; Messina was number nine of nine) and we struck up a really nice friendship. Jimmy is a very talented guy. He’s very talented in the technical aspects of recording and he helped me out quite a bit.

So, Jimmy and I started Poco. Jimmy had played bass in Buffalo Springfield, he would now play guitar in Poco. As we were finishing up the last Buffalo Springfield record, we had the idea of the kind of band that we wanted. We wanted to cross over or do a bridge between country music and rock and roll music. There were a few people that were attempting to do that. The Byrds were doing it at that time and we wanted to continue that.

Rusty Young had played steel guitar [a guitar where one hand plucks the strings and the other hand changes the pitch with a steel bar or handle] on my song "Kind Woman" that was on the Buffalo Springfield Last Time Around record [Buffalo Springfield’s third album]. So, Jimmy and I asked Rusty if he would like to join the band because he fit right in the niche of what we wanted to do.

We were looking for singers as well. Rusty said, "Well, I've got a great drummer back in Denver. His name is George Grantham. He’s a wonderful singer and great drummer. Maybe we could see if he would like to join the band." And of course, George joined.

Then we started auditioning bass players. Actually, on the same day, I think we auditioned Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit.

JC: Oh, really? I didn't know they both auditioned from the beginning.

RF: At the very beginning, Randy was our first bass player. He lasted right up through the recording of the first record, Pickin' Up the Pieces, and then he left the band. Then Timothy joined the band after that.

Initially, Poco had Jimmy Messina, Rusty Young, myself, George Grantham, and Randy Meisner. Then it began to take on all the different changes that it went through when Paul Cotton took Jimmy Messina's place [1971] and Timothy took Randy's place [1969].

Poco 1969 (Richie, 2nd to right)

JC: Like your previous band, each album from Poco was different from the next album [laughs]. Pickin' Up the Pieces, Poco’s first album, is very country-like.

RF: Kind of . . . I mean, that was the motivation behind the record. “Pickin' Up the Pieces" (the song), "Consequently So Long," and different songs like that had the steel guitar.

But there were some other elements. We were still trying to maintain and hold onto an original rock-and-roll sound that we were trying to establish at the same time. We were a rock-and-roll band that wanted to cross over into country. "Pickin’ Up the Pieces" was the song that was basically leading the way on that. [To hear “Pickin’ Up the Pieces,” click here.]

JC: On your second album (self-titled 1970), there's a Grateful Dead-like jam of one of the songs from your first album, Pickin’ Up the Pieces.

RF: "Nobody's Fool" was on the first album, and then we redid the song as "Nobody's Fool/El Tonto de Nadie, Regresa" on the second album. That was basically to say, "Hey, listen, we have two great soloists," as far as instrumental soloists go in the band, Rusty Young and Jimmy Messina. It was really very popular during that time to do those extended instrumental jams. We just said, "Yeah, we'll do that. We can do that too." Poco was a very versatile band. When you listen to that jam, it has a lot of jazz flavor on it too.

JC: That’s what I mean. There was a mix of country and rock on the first album. By the second, there was jazz.

RF: Yeah. I think every artist doesn't want to do the same thing over. You want to think that you're progressing. You want to think that you can take the gifts that you've been given and use them or create something that's new and fresh.

I think you have to do something that's fresh with every album. If you just keep doing the same thing, it’s not going to be fresh. And so, that was one of the reasons.

After the second album, we did a live album [1971]. Around the time the live album was released was the time that Paul Cotton was coming into the band to replace Jimmy Messina. As a band, we thought, "Okay, we need to reestablish our rock-and-roll roots." Paul certainly added to that. I can't remember the album after—

JC: That was the one I was about to ask you about, From the Inside.

RF: Oh, From the Inside. Yeah, that was the next one. [Laughs].

JC: I was going to ask you about that album, because I know it's been mentioned that you really did not like the production on that album. [Laughs].

RF: Well, I think it was new for all of us. That was the first record that we did that Jimmy didn't produce as an in-house producer, an in-group producer. Steve Cropper [the record’s producer] came from a little different musical background than we did.

I certainly think that Steve did a good job, but I think maybe there were some things that were going on that he didn't relate to. Steve was just cutting his teeth on a lot of production at the time.

Great guy, man. As a matter of fact, I just put a song on my Facebook page two days ago, called "Starlight," which was on one of my first solo records. Steve played on that, and it was really fun to have him play on it.

Steve was a great guy, but I think there was a little bit of a disconnect. Also, there were a lot of things going on in my life at that time, and I wasn't really connected in the process as much as I would have like to have been.

JC: From what I read, you were starting to have some thoughts about leaving Poco around the time you were making the album A Good Feelin’ to Know [1972]. Although, you would stay on for one more album, Crazy Eyes [1973]. So, what began the change in thinking, "Maybe Poco isn't for me"?

RF: Well, I had seen a lot of my friends having more success. Stephen in Crosby, Stills & Nash. The Eagles were starting to come along at that time. And Randy [who first joined Poco] was in the Eagles and they were starting to make some noise.

With A Good Feelin’ to Know, we were looking for a producer who could help us. We had great FM air play. FM was the underground radio at the time, but there was the AM radio that we didn't have, which was the format that really lifted you or put you into a genre of acceptability.

We were looking for a commercial producer. We didn't want to go back and do another record with Steve. We wanted to find someone who was more in-tune to hit records. My first choice at that time was Richie Podolor. He produced Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf. But Richie didn't work out. We recorded a couple of demos with him and took them to CBS, but CBS said no. I don't know why they said no.

It was suggested that we listen to some of Jack Richardson's production—he produced Canadian rock band the Guess Who. We really liked a lot of what Jack was doing, so we hired him.

Jack came out and listened to us as we were rehearsing at one time. We all just said, "Yep, let's do it. Let's get together. We relate to him. He's a great guy. He's easy to work with."

So, we started Good Feelin' to Know. When we recorded Good Feelin' to Know, everybody  thought, from the production right on down the line, “This is it. The title track is the song that's going to be the AM hit that's going to give us the opportunity to move along.” [A live version of “Good Feelin' to Know” can be heard here.]

And when it didn't happen, it was very discouraging to me. I just thought, "Well, if this record's not gonna do it, then there's not one that's gonna do it." At that time, I decided that I was going to pull out and try to find another avenue to pursue my career.

JC: What did you do right after Poco?

RF: Right after Poco I got together with Chris Hillman (from the Byrds) and J.D. Souther (who was already starting to make a name for himself, as he was co-writing some songs with the Eagles.) With the encouragement of a record executive named David Geffen, we put together the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band [SHF].

On paper, the band looked great. You've got three great songwriters. Well, I won't say ‘great’—I don't want to put myself in the category of great. You have three songwriters. [Laughs]. Chris Hillman, J.D. Souther, and myself.

We had a really tremendous band with Paul Harris (keyboards), Al Perkins (guitarist), and Jim Gordon (drums). On paper, it looked like this band was a can’t-miss. This had to be another Crosby, Stills & Nash. But there's never gonna be another one of those no matter what anybody thinks.

Crosby, Stills & Nash got together because they were close friends, they were working together, and it just evolved. We were put together on paper. Like I say, what always looks good on paper doesn't always translate out into real time. And it didn't.

Richie (far right) on 1974 self-titled album

With Chris and J.D., we didn't necessarily gel as a working unit. They're both dear friends of mine today. I love them both. I've worked with Chris quite a bit. I've had J.D. sing on some of my solo records. There's nothing that would keep us apart other than the fact that it just didn't work for us in that format. [To hear SHF’s “Fallin’ In Love” click here.]

JC: Okay. So, after that band broke up, what did you do next?

RF: [Laughs]. What did I do next? [Laughs]. Well, there was a guy in the band [SHF]. His name was Al Perkins, and I didn't want Al in the band.

JC: Oh.

RF: I thought that Al was gonna be a detriment to the band. Chris Hillman is the one who brought him in because he had worked with him previously, and he was insistent on the fact that Al was the guy that we needed. Al played not only guitar, but he played steel guitar, he played Dobro [a wood-bodied, single-cone resonator guitar], he played banjo—he was a multi-instrumentalist. He was a great player and a great guy.

But Al had a little . . . what do I want to say? He had . . . not a stigma, but he was a Christian. At that time, I didn't want to have a Christian in the band.

JC: Wow.

RF: I thought Al was going to stop SHF from the success that I was looking for at that time.

Why would that make a difference? You know what, looking back on it, I know now that Jesus draws a dividing line. I thought having Al in the band was going to cause us to flounder and flop. He had a little fish sticker on his guitar that said "Jesus is Lord." And I just said, "No, I don't want this guy in the band."

Jeff, Al could have been anything. He could have been a womanizer. He could have been a drunk. He could have been a drug addict. He could have been anything. But he was a Christian.

And that's the reason that I didn't want him in the band, because Jesus does draw a line. Back in the day, it wasn't necessarily very popular to make a bold stand for Christianity. But Al ended up leading me to the Lord and became [laughs] a very dear friend of mine. But in the beginning, I didn't want him in the band.

Then things started to change in my life. My wife and I started to have some marital problems, and it really threw me for a loop. And I just decided, "You know what? I have to decide what's the most important thing in my life right now. Do I really want to be this rock-and-roll star?"

Yes, I've seen Stephen's name up in lights. I've seen Neil's name up in lights. I've seen Randy Meisner's name up in lights with the Eagles. Jimmy Messina had taken off with Kenny Loggins and became a big star. I was thinking, "What about me? I'm just as talented as these guys are." I don't have an ego or nothing like that, but [laughs] I was kind of feeling sorry for myself.

I decided SHF was going to be the way to go, but then we had this other thing going on with a Christian in the band who wasn’t ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and was very out front with his little sticker on his guitar and unashamed of his faith. And I was thinking, "Oh man, this just isn't gonna work out."

Then the rug was pulled out from under me, and my wife [Nancy] said, "You know, I'm out of the marriage. I don't want to be married any longer." I thought, "Good lord, man, what's going on? Everything's falling apart in my life."

I had to reassess what was important to me. Did I want to put my family back together, or did I want to keep on continuing this rat race of trying to put together a rock-and-roll band that was gonna be a star that would burn out in time?

JC: Obviously, you decided to reassess your life at that point. What happened from there?

RF: Well, I did reassess and there was a series of circumstances. Nancy and I separated for seven months after being married for seven years. There was a lot of deep soul-searching in those seven months while the Lord was working in both my life and Nancy's life.

 Nancy and I did begin to talk. I thought at one point in time when she came up to visit that we were just gonna get together again and try to make it work, but she was not ready at that time.

Through time and through circumstances, Nancy and I began to talk, and we said, "Hey, we can give this another try." This happened between the second SHF record and I've Got a Reason [Richie’s first solo record] that we started working on our marriage and came back together. We will be married fifty years on March 4th.

JC: In addition, Al Perkins would introduce you to Calvary Chapel. The chapel would become a big part of your life as well.

RF: Right. Al took me to a church in southern California called Calvary Chapel. Al just took me down there, and all of a sudden I started meeting all these young guys. I guess they were familiar with my music and they probably thought more highly of me than they [laughs] should have at the time. But I was looking up to them because they had this walk with the Lord. I was just trying to get my life back together.

I made a lot of good friends out there at Calvary, and I made changes in my life as to the direction that I wanted to go and what I was gonna do. The fact is, Jeff, I thought I was gonna put together the rock-and-roll band for God. That was really what I thought after Nancy and I got back together. I thought that was my purpose in life. I was gonna make Christian rock records.

JC: Yes.

RF: First of all, I had to get everything else together. I had to get my family together first, because if that wasn't gonna work, then it didn't matter. It no longer mattered if I saw my name or my group's name at the Hollywood Bowl or Carnegie Hall. That didn't matter anymore. What really mattered was my family. I had this gift. When God gives you a gift, it's something that he doesn't want you to bury. He wants you to use it.

At that time, I was trying to figure out how all this was gonna fit together. First of all, I had to get my family back together, so when that happened, I met a friend at Calvary Chapel. His name was Tom Stipe. Tom and I started writing music together. We actually wrote quite a few songs on my first solo record, I've Got a Reason, the first album that I did apart from a band.

I’ve Got a Reason (1976) album cover

That record kind of tells a lot of story of the struggles that I was going through—trying to work out my relationship with Nancy, how our life was gonna evolve . . . I've Got a Reason were the struggles I was having at that time, and trusting in the Lord to put together my marriage, which everybody said was pretty much over and done with.  David Geffen came to me and said, "You're not gonna give me one of those Jesus records, are you?" And I said, " I think you're gonna enjoy this music, man." [To hear “Look at the Sun” from Richie’s first record, click here.]

It was interesting. On that record, the name of Jesus isn't mentioned one time. Yet, when it came out, the Christian community rejected it because of that fact.

JC: Oh.

RF: It wasn't because of music. It was because of the fact that the I never said Jesus’ name. So, it wasn't Jesus enough for them, or it wasn't quote-Christian-unquote for them.

But the secular world caught on right away and they rejected it too. Even though it came on the charts at good numbers and was getting support, I couldn't get the support of the record company to go for it because they were afraid. "What are we gonna do with this guy, a man who is now an outspoken person for Jesus Christ?"

So, the secular world rejected it as well. There I was, caught between a rock and a hard place, not knowing which way to go and what to do. But there was the record out there.

That was the beginning of the solo career and the beginning of some other things. Nancy and me starting to get our life back together and our marriage back together. It was an interesting time in 1976. [Laughs].

JC: Did you do any more solo albums after that?

RF: I followed that up with an album called Dance a Little Light, which was another record that was on Asylum [David Geffen’s record label.] At that time, I was kind of required to give Asylum more products after leaving SHF, so I did Dance a Little Light.

I thought really a very fine record. It was not as directly faith-based as I've Got a Reason was. David Geffen had left Asylum at the time, and another guy had taken over, and we did not have a rapport.

I played a concert in Los Angeles, in support of Dance a Little Light, at a place called the Roxy. The record company was coming down and I was hoping they were gonna say, "Well, you know what, it's been a good run, but we're gonna cut you loose. We're gonna let you go."

Well, that was not the fact.  I blew them away, because I had a great band. I've always had great live bands. I blew them away at the Roxy, and they said, "When are you gonna do the next record?"

JC: [Laughs].

RF: And it's like, "Oh man, I've given you two, and you've done nothing at all with them." I was so disheartened, but I went back at the encouragement of another friend and recorded another solo record called I Still Have Dreams. We had a top 40 record with that, but Asylum still neglected to get behind it. At that time, I was throwing up my hands, saying, "What in the world do I do now?"

 Then I thought about doing a record for a Christian record company called Myrrh. I gave them a record called Seasons of Change. They re-released my first record, I've Got a Reason, while I put together the songs and the recording for Seasons of Change.

But for some reason, I just couldn't get it going with anybody, so that's when I began to really throw up my hands. After I gave them Seasons of Change, nothing happened with that as far as in the Christian community.

I was still striving, man. I was still trying to get that recognition record, that recognition in a group setting somewhere, whether it be a secular setting or a Christian setting. It was like I was out in no-man’s-land. I’d created a lot of good music that nobody had even heard of because the record companies at first didn't know what to do with me. First Asylum and now Myrrh.

Basically, that was when I stopped making music for a while. I said, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" I started a little Calvary Chapel affiliate church in Boulder, Colorado. [Laughs.]

JC: Is that when you also became a pastor?

RF: Yep. That’s another interesting little [laughs] sideline, because a lot of people think, "Well, if you haven't gone to seminary, then you can't really be an official pastor." But that's not how it worked with Calvary Chapel.

I would go out and do some things with some friends of mine who were Calvary Chapel pastors and were on the radio. I would sing a few songs before they came out and preached their message to the radio audience. We started a little home Bible study in Boulder, and then we started an affiliation of Calvary Chapel church.

After about eight years, music came back around. What goes around comes around.

JC: Right.

RF: In 1988, Rusty Young had gotten in touch with me and wanted to know if I would like to do a Poco reunion. I said, "Sure, that would be fun. But who's gonna be the bass player?" Was it going to be Randy? Was it going to be Timothy?

Then I thought, “Who’s going to be the guitar player?” I thought the way to do that project would have been to bring both of them into it.

I think Timothy had just been asked to rejoin the Eagles at that time, so he opted out of it. I don't remember what happened with Jimmy and Paul, but I really wanted to see both of them because they both contributed so much to the band that it would have been nice. It got whittled down to where it was gonna be Randy and Jimmy.

Poco, 1989 (Richie, 2nd to right)

That became a struggle. Quite frankly, I had just become a pastor and there were some struggles. There were some songs that I really did not relate to or believe in and thought that if I was a part of those songs that I was endorsing them. And I didn't want to endorse them.

One thing led to another, and I finally agreed to do a six-week tour, I believe. After that six-week tour, I abandoned the whole thing.

JC: Why did you abandon the whole thing?

RF: There wasn’t a mutual respect. I will admit that I was feeling like, “I’m out here in no-man’s-land with these guys." I had talked with them about the mutual respect that I felt, and they needed to show me the same respect that I showed them. It was hard for me to continue. The fact is, I had seen the video for “Call It Love” and did not like it. I was very, very, very specific about what I did not like about the video to the band, the management, and the record company. I was told by the record company and by my manager at that time, who was Allen Kovac, that they would not release that video until it had been approved by the band.

Poco was going down to Nashville to play at the RCA national convention. I was told that the video had already been released. I basically pulled a Neil Young. I went up to my room, got my bags packed, rescheduled to play, and I was on my way to the airport and out of town.

JC: Okay.

RF: I mean, if words don't mean anything, then actions will definitely speak. It was a sad situation. It was something that could have been avoided in so many different ways if there would have just been mutual respect. But there wasn't mutual respect. They thought I was being too—what do you want to call it— “stuffy Christian” or whatever. I really wasn't. But there were things that just didn't sit with me that I felt I could condone and stand up there and feel good about.

Back at Calvary Chapel, the people at Calvary Chapel were looking for some songs for what they call a worship album. I was asked if I had any songs. I said, "Sure, man, we've got some songs." I had been writing some songs with my friend Scott Sellen. Scott and I started playing the songs for Calvary. The people in charge of the record said, "Well, you've got enough songs for your own record. Why don't you just make your own Christian record?" So, we thought, "Okay, we'll make our own worship record."

That actually got me back into making music again. I recorded the album, In My Father's House [1997], and that one led to another one called I Am Sure [2005]. Those are what I like to call “devotional records.” I don't want to say, "Okay, these are Christian rock records," or whatever. They're just devotional. They're not all worship records.

There are some songs on there that you wouldn't think of doing at a worship service, but there are songs on there that you would do at a worship service. They’re just devotional. They're for people who love the Lord and want to draw close to him.

JC: You would later reunite with Buffalo Springfield at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1997. I think I read that you did a Bridge School benefit with Stills and Young as well.

RF: Yeah. That was probably about five years ago.

Richie (center, singing) at Bridge School Benefit, 2010

Neil called and asked what I would think about doing a little reunion. So, we did. You know what? It was fun. It was the second time that we had tried to do a reunion.

We tried to do a reunion in the eighties, prior to the Poco reunion. It was a nightmare. It was a train wreck. It was really bad. I was a little hesitant in committing to doing this project with Stephen and Neil. But, boy, when we got together, it was no work at all. It was just easy. It was just fun. We did the music, and it was great. We were actually supposed to do a tour.

JC: Really?

RF: A thirty-day tour. After we did the Bridge School, we did seven other shows, and the next year we were gonna do a thirty-day tour. But Neil, once again, decided that he wasn't into it anymore.

JC: Yeah.

RF: And that was it for that. But it was fun. I think everybody who participated in it had a fun time. Now, we've lost Rick Rosas (our bass player at reunion). Joe Vitale (reunion drummer) and Rick did such a wonderful job.

That was a good fun time. I would have liked to have done the tour. It was fun.  

JC: What about getting into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Buffalo?

RF: Yeah, that was quite an honor. It was certainly a humbling experience to be inducted. But I tell you what . . .  it is a . . . [laughs]. How do I want to say it?

JC: Yeah.

RF: It's kind of like a bittersweet thing, because I think it's very political how one gets in there. Yes, I do think Buffalo Springfield was deserving, but they got in there because Neil is very close to Jann Wenner [owner of Rolling Stone magazine]. Obviously, Springfield has made a mark, Neil has made a mark, Stephen's made a mark, and so they are very deserving. In my estimation, Poco doesn’t get any recognition for the pioneering job that we did, and I think that's a shame.

JC: Well, bands such as Chicago (who was inducted in 2016) and Journey (who is being inducted in 2017) were ignored by Rolling Stone and the critics, but they were successful with fans and the mass public. Eventually, both bands had to be put in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. [Laughs].

RF: Yeah.

JC: You’re still at Calvary Chapel as a pastor. Talk about what goes on daily for you as a pastor.

RF: Well, Chuck Smith, who started Calvary Chapel, really taught us to do book by book, verse by verse. That’s what we've continued to do in Colorado.

We have a small Calvary. There are big Calvaries, there are small Calvaries, there's medium-sized Calvaries. We're a small Calvary. As to why, the Lord knows what we can handle, so that's what he gives us. We’ve been a church since 1982 in Colorado.

We aren't really a traditional church, but we have our worship. We have a message. We pick a book that we're gonna go through from chapter one through the last chapter of the book.

We have outreaches as far as some missionary outreaches. It's just like . . . we're a church, man, just like [laughs] every church would be.

JC: Any plans to get back into music?

RF: I've never planned anything. I think it's best that way. As far as a musical career, I'm writing songs again right now. We'll just see what happens with those.

I'm gonna be seventy-three in May. It's not like I'm looking to build a career of any kind. I mean, the fact that we're even talking, there must be some significance to my life that you would even want to talk to me about what I'm doing. So, I'm not trying to become anything or do anything. I just watch it go and just enjoy life as it comes my way, man. I have four daughters. As I’ve said before, Nancy and I have been married for fifty years come March 4th. I have twelve grandchildren.

I've been blessed. I have been blessed more than any one guy should be blessed. I'm just very grateful for the way the Lord has worked in my life. The Bible says, "If you delight yourself in the Lord, he'll give you the desires of your heart” [Psalm 37:4].   I have the desires of my heart and can't even imagine anything else that I could desire.  

Richie at Calvary Chapel, 2011