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Poco Guitarist Bids Farewell With "Out To Pasture"

“Honestly, it’s a little weird to think of it as a traditional tribute album,” Tom Hampton says of his new endeavor, Out To Pasture - “but I’m realistic enough to accept that it’s the only shoe that fits, so I’ve made peace with it.”

A budding singer/songwriter who found greener pastures as a multi-instrumentalist sideman for most of his professional career before becoming the last man to join Poco in 2020, Hampton was deeply influenced by the seminal country-rock band “literally for as long as I can remember caring about music,” he says. “From the time I had a radio in my room and started to pay attention to what I was hearing, they were always around.” He recounts that experience in his song Wildwood (Livin’ In The Band) that leads off Out To Pasture:

In the beginning, not so long ago
For a thirteen year old kid in Tennessee
There was just a little magic in that music they were singing
And I could hear it calling out to me

They left a trail of love and glory
As they crossed the southern sky
I know my life would be a sadly different story
If that harmony had somehow passed me by

If some of those lines sound familiar, there’s a reason for that. “I wrote that song in my hotel room during Poco’s last annual ‘Wildwood Weekend’ - I couldn’t sleep, and I thought it’d be a fun exercise to try to write an entirely new song from lines of existing Poco songs…and it went well for a while, until I found myself reflecting more on the history and our shared mortality, and - well, it went in a different direction from there. It became a love letter instead of a songwriting exercise.”

“A love letter” might be a more fitting description of Out To Pasture as a body of work, and Hampton says as much in the liner notes. While it is, at its core, a homegrown recording featuring a set of Poco songs, Hampton contributed two original songs to the effort, and a third that could be considered a posthumous co-write with Poco founder Rusty Young called Where Did The Time Go (which first saw light as an intimate acoustic performance by Hampton credited to his band Cimarron615 on this spring’s Blue Elan release My Friend: A Tribute To Rusty Young).

“Poco recorded a live performance at the Belcourt in Nashville some years ago that opened with the chorus of that song, and Rusty never finished it, to my knowledge,” Hampton says. “so when we lost him last year, I had this urge to take that four line chorus and write something that reflected on his own story…how he took such a leap of faith as a kid and embraced this life that he lived right up until his last moments on earth, and how what he left behind has left such a mark.”

Hampton finished the song and took it with him to Joshua Tree for what was to be a one-time concert taping, filmed with the surviving members of Poco and guest artists from the label, with an extra day booked in the studio to contribute tracks to the Blue Elan tribute record. Kirk Pasich, the label head and co-producer of the record, heard the song and insisted on recording it alongside the other Cimarron615 contributions - and the song closes out the sixteen track collection of Rusty Young songs.

“The next day, we were checking out of the hotel and getting ready to board the shuttle to the airport, and we got a group text from Kirk - he essentially said that he thought we should make another record of original music, and he’d love to put it out…so we became a band on the way to the airport.”

Hampton had already been recording tracks for what would become Out To Pasture before the trip west, focusing on a handful of his favorite Young songs - and had barely gotten back into the studio when word came of the passing of longtime Poco guitarist Paul Cotton.

“When Paul died…man, so many feelings. I mean, in some ways, he’d felt lost to me for a while, because we’d largely fallen out of touch over the past few years. The last time I saw him was that same Wildwood weekend, when he and Rusty played together for the final time. The last thing he said to me before we parted ways was ‘Tommy…I sure wish we lived closer’. He was just a giant in my formative years as a singer and a guitarist, and to me - Rusty and Paul really were Poco.”

The loss of Cotton refocused the record, as it opened up Cotton’s catalog of songs, and it spurred another thought, as well.

“Mark Gould, a Poco fan and music critic from Connecticut, had interviewed Paul at a show I’d attended years and years ago, and I remembered reading something he’d written in the resulting article that Paul had said about he and Rusty riding off into the sunset…so I reached out to Mark to ask if he had recorded that interview, and thankfully he still had a cassette tape of the conversation. So he let me include the conversational snippet of Paul on the record.”

Hearing Paul Cotton talk about how his relationship with Young had outlasted three marriages and countless band members prior to Hampton’s stirring rendition of Running Horse isn’t the only “lump in the throat” moment on the album. The version of Where Did The Time Go that closes this set of songs ends with a collage of sounds that insinuates farewell in novel fashion.

“Rusty was a Porsche aficionado, and had owned one for ages,” Hampton said. “So I had this picture in my mind at the end of this song…of Rusty just walking away, out to the driveway and getting into his car and driving off into the sunset with the first song from the first Poco album playing on the radio. I put this collage together in the studio and called my son Danny in to help me pick the proper Porsche sound effect, based on the model Rusty drove. I don’t know that the moment will be obvious to many folks when they hear the record, but the ones who know will get it.”

The treatments of Young and Cotton compositions alongside songs penned by Hampton specifically for the record sets it apart from the usual tribute format - with the aforementioned Wildwood, the closing track, and a nine minute nod to his musical forefathers (aptly titled Legends), Hampton sidesteps the typical tribute process and makes it intensely personal:

I can’t explain this thing we do
You don’t choose it - it chooses you
It’ll either claim you or it won’t
You either love it or you don’t

To play or sing - to learn to fly
You knew at least you had to try
To test your patience and your will
To wear shoes you might never fill

“It’s not separable from my life - from my identity, this stuff - it’s who I am,” Hampton says. “I know people say this stuff all the time, and most of the time it sounds like hyperbole, but music literally saved my life. If I hadn’t discovered it when I did, I’d have been a casualty in some form or fashion - cooking meth, stealing cars, something. I invented a future out of nothing based on this belief that I could do this, and if I hadn’t had people like Rusty and Paul in my life, I couldn’t have kept telling myself that this was possible without them.”

Hampton’s love letter to his heroes-turned-friends-turned-bandmates will be released on a deliberately small scale, sold almost exclusively from his website and eschewing the usual streaming services. “I made it for a very niche audience - not everyone will get this album or understand it, and I knew that going in. It’s for other folks who love this band as much as I have, and making it brought me a degree of closure and peace that I wouldn’t have gotten to if I hadn’t done it. It’s for other folks who loved this band as much as I did. That’s not to exclude anyone, but it’ll help knowing all that going in.”

You can get Out To Pasture at Tom Hampton’s official website ( - the first song from the album, Wildwood (Livin’ In The Band) is available for streaming from his site, and a full preview of the album is available on his YouTube channel, linked at his official site.