When the five original members of the trailblazing country-rock band Poco decided late in 1988 to reunite for the first time in 20 years, record companies weren't exactly jumping over the corral fence to lasso a bunch of fortysomething country rockers with no recent hits among them.
"People were saying, 'Can these guys still sing?' And 'These five guys can't get along for 10 minutes,' " said Rusty Young, the steel guitarist who was the only member to hold on from Poco's beginning to its end in 1984.
In a recent phone interview from a tour stop in Colorado (Poco plays tonight at the Ventura Theatre, and Saturday at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim), Young said that a hot new pop name, Richard Marx, helped Poco secure a record deal. Marx agreed to write and produce a song for the Poco project, a selling point that Young said was vital to the band's landing its deal with RCA Records.
The resulting album, "Legacy," showed that Poco's members--Young, guitarists Jim Messina and Richie Furay, bassist Randy Meisner and drummer George Grantham--still could sing, and that the band also could sell records far more readily than it had the first time around. Released last August, the album has sold more than 500,000 copies.
Formed in 1968 as an outgrowth of the influential Buffalo Springfield, Poco was one of the first bands to devote itself entirely to a merger of country music with rock.
The group's record sales during its early days were meager; it was left to the Eagles, a band that was partly an offshoot from the original Poco, to turn country rock into something major. By the time Poco had its one moment of commercial glory with the album "Legend" in 1979, all but one of the original members were gone.
When Poco formed, Messina said, the idea was "to take a step closer in the direction I felt rock music was going in--that was to make it more country- and blues-oriented than folk-rock."
The original Poco suffered from "built-in obsolescence," Young said, because it had three singer-songwriters in Furay, Meisner and Messina, and "everyone wanted to take their shot at doing it their way."
Meisner left in 1969, before the band had finished its debut album, "Pickin' Up the Pieces." He struck gold as an Eagle. Messina departed in 1970, also to find brighter commercial pastures in a partnership with Kenny Loggins. Furay lasted with Poco until 1973.
The re-formed Poco decided to let its manager and record company decide the touchy issue of whose songs to record. "We wanted to exclude any possibility of conflict that could come between us," Messina said.
As Poco began to tour early this year, the source of conflict turned out to be Furay's religious convictions. The singer, who became a "born-again" Christian in the mid '70s and is now a minister in Boulder, Colo., decided after an initial three-week swing that he would not be able to stay on the road with Poco. (Jack Sundred is filling in for Furay on the tour.)
"We found you cannot mix the ministry and rock 'n' roll. Richie felt that 'Your Mama Don't Dance' was too suggestive," Young said, referring to the Loggins & Messina hit that, like other songs from the members' later careers, is worked into Poco's sets.
"We had battles over song lyrics that I thought were frankly absurd. He's a good guy, but the tension was so high. You never knew when someone was going to say an offensive word. There's no hostile feeling. It's just the reality of it."
It's uncertain what will follow for Poco.
"We made a commitment to do a record and a tour, and after that, if we were well-received and having fun, we'd take another look at it," Young said. "I think there'll be another Poco album."