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Rusty Young, Poco Co-Founder and Pedal Steel Player, Dead at 75

Rusty Young — co-founder, singer, and multi-instrumentalist with the pioneering country-rock band Poco — died April 14th of a heart attack. Young, who was 75, passed away at his home in Davisville, Missouri. His death was confirmed by a spokesperson, Mike Farley.

In Poco, Young made his name and reputation as one of the first musicians to integrate a pedal steel guitar, then largely associated with country, into rock & roll. Young’s spunky playing enriched the band’s goal of fusing two seemingly disparate genres, and on Poco standards like “A Good Feelin’ to Know,” he even pushed the sonic limits of the instrument. “Rusty was one of the most innovative people on the pedal steel guitar,” Poco founder Richie Furay tells IndieLand. “Nobody had ever heard a steel guitar run through a Leslie cabinet when we were doing it. We wanted to bring rock and country together, and that pedal steel gave us that rock & roll organ sound.”

In later years, Young’s role expanded to include songwriting and more vocal duties. In 1979, his soothing acoustic ballad “Crazy Love” became the long-struggling band’s first and only top 10 hit after a decade in existence.

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Born Norman Russell Young on February 23, 1946, in Long Beach, California, Young grew up in Denver, Colorado. He played in local bands and worked in a music store, but his big break arrived in 1968 when Furay, then in Buffalo Springfield, decided he wanted to hear a steel guitar on “Kind Woman” on the band’s final album, Last Time Around. The band’s road manager knew Young and asked him to fly to L.A, in what Young would later call “a lifetime decision.” As Furay recalls, “Sight unseen or unheard, Jimmy Messina [also then in the Springfield] and I said, ‘Let’s get him out here.’ Rusty had to borrow a steel guitar but he put that part on and Jimmy and I looked at each other and said, ‘There’s our guy.’”

While in L.A., Young also auditioned for what would be the Flying Burrito Brothers but instead opted to join Poco, the band that Furay and Messina formed after the Springfield folded.

Although they never hit the commercial heights of the Eagles or garnered the critical acclaim of the Burritos, Poco exuded a good-time, crowd-pleasing vibe, captured on their 1971 live album Deliverin‘. Young himself wasn’t content to sit behind the pedal steel as other players had. Furay recalls a Poco show at Carnegie Hall where Young “turned the pedal steel guitar over on stage and was playing it down on his knees, all turned over. He was doing it like Pete Townshend would have.”

Members like Furay, Messina, Paul Cotton, and later Eagles bassist Timothy B. Schmit came and went over Poco’s 50-plus years, but the departures allowed Young to showcase his skills as a songwriter and singer — not only on “Crazy Love” but Poco standards like the campfire rockers “Rose of Cimarron” and “Sagebrush Serenade.” His pedal steel and dobro work also ran through the band’s epic, nine-minute country rock symphony, “Crazy Eyes,” Furay’s tribute to Parsons.

In 2017, Young finally released a solo album, Waitin’ for the Sun, while continuing to tour with Poco. Right up until the pandemic, Young continued to tour with the current version of Poco, the only original member left in the group. “I don’t have to do this,” Young said in a 2019 interview. “But I took a vow when I kind of took over the band that the music would always be something that the guys that have been in the band would be proud of. And that I would be proud of what we’re doing.”

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