The Song Remains: Rusty Young 1946 – 2021

Founding father of country rock, legendary steel guitar player and Poco frontman.

On April 14th we lost one of the great pioneers of Country-Rock. Norman Russell Young, known to all as “Rusty” and as a frontman for the band Poco, which he led since forming the band in 1968 with fellow Buffalo Springfield bandmates, Richie Furay and Jim Messina, died of a heart attack at the age of 75.

Born in Long Beach, California, Young was brought up in Colorado and began playing lap steel guitar when he was just six years old, graduating to giving lessons on both the lap steel and standard guitar while he was still in High School. By this time he was already playing bars with various country bands, as well as playing with Denver based psych-rock outfit, Boenzee Cryque.

He moved on from lap steel to pedal steel guitar, building a distinctive sound around his use of a Leslie Speaker cabinet that could make his pedal steel sound like a Hammond B3 organ and he was a real innovator when it came to the use of pedal steel in a rock setting. Poco never resorted to synthesisers or complicated studio techniques; their sound was based around what they could reproduce in a live setting and much of that was down to Young and his prowess as a musician.

He joined Buffalo Springfield in the late 60s, specifically to play on their final album, ‘Last Time Around’. When the Springfield finally called it a day in 1968, he turned down an offer to become the pedal steel player in The Flying Burrito Brothers and, instead, teamed up with Furay and Messina, bringing in Drummer George Grantham and Bass player Randy Meisner to complete the band and Poco was born. Young would devote his life to what, quite rapidly, became his band. Other members would come and go but Young would always remain, presiding over a band that became something of a finishing academy for country-rock musicians, with the likes of Paul Cotton, Timothy B. Schmit and Kim Bullard all passing through the ranks. The band would go through twenty-four different configurations in its fifty years of existence but Rusty Young would always be there, leading from the front and preserving the sound of a band that was always a distinct presence in a genre where few bands stand out as unique.

Not only was Young a great pedal-steel player, he also contributed vocals (lead and harmony), guitar, dobro, mandolin and banjo to the band’s recordings and, after Richie Furay and Jim Messina, was one of the main songwriters throughout their long career, being responsible for penning some of their most memorable tracks, including the hauntingly beautiful ‘Rose of Cimmaron’ and their biggest commercial hit, ‘Crazy Love’. Poco released nineteen studio albums and a further eleven live recordings and, while the band never scaled the heights of the likes of The Eagles or The Byrds, they were a constant, solid presence over five decades of delivering high-quality music. Poco will go down in history as one of the great country-rock bands and, while their early success is rightly recognised as being for the sum of its parts, the band’s long term viability was really all down to the vision and drive of Rusty Young.

Poco ceased life as a touring band in 2014, though Young would continue to do one-off shows over the next few years, with various band members, under the Poco banner. He released his one and only solo album in 2017, ‘Waitin’ For the Sun’ and made his last recording in 2019 with the release of a song, ‘Listen to Your Heart’ to benefit a local animal shelter. In 2020 he finally announced his retirement as a working musician. Sadly, it was not to be a long one.

“Rusty” Young – Feb. 23, 1946 – April 14, 2021. A founding father of Country-Rock.

About Rick Bayles 190 Articles
Now living the life of a political émigré in rural France and dreaming of the day I'll be able to sing those Cajun lyrics with an authentic accent!

6 Comments

  1. Rusty’s solo album from 2017 well worth seeking out. Rose Of Cimmaron absolute classic song. R.I.P.

  2. Love Poco in all of their guises as each line-up had something to commend it but Rusty was the constant throughout. I saw them several times from Feb ’72 at The Rainbow (absolutely brilliant), both here and in the States and they were a great live band too. One of the most under-rated bands ever.
    I was fortunate enough to meet Rusty twice, most memorably at the best New Year’s Eve of my life (09/10) when Poco did a show in Norfolk Connecticut and the venue owner told the band that we’d come over from the UK for the show. Rusty, his wife Mary and the band were seemingly bowled over by us making the trip and gave us gifts of memorabilia but of greater value, their time in conversation. I treasure those memories and shall as long as I have a memory !
    A really sad day.

  3. Yes Poco were a great band. We saw them twice, once at the University of York and a couple of years later on a double bill with America at Newcastle. I seem to recall that the two bands were alternating as headliner and Poco opened that night but I know who I preferred.
    One of Rusty’s lesser known accomplishments is that he had a variety of Geum named after him (less horticulturally minded readers can look that up). We used to have it in our garden but it got lost a few years ago but I think the RHS still list it.
    Contrary to expectation Rose of Cimarron was a favourite of John Peel via his wife Sheila – though I remember him saying once he really loved the part towards the end where the guitar comes in – and I know just what he means.
    Rusty Young you will be missed.

  4. Rusty’s unexpected death has really hit me hard – God, I loved this band and I still do, especially the albums from the Furay era – his pedal steel work was consistently brilliant and wildly innovative. Poco’s Deliverin’ record probably did more to get me into country rock and Americana than any other, and it still sounds thrilling to this day. I was too young to see them at the Rainbow, sadly, but did catch the America tour, when they were still great but neither as wild or exuberant as they were in the early days. Thanks for the music, Rusty – and also for being a modest, gracious and thoroughly nice guy. RIP.

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