We are running an Interview series by Gordon Ames (otherwise known as “Big G”, host of The Real Deal 93.5FM KOOK & AM1230 Kerrville, TX) called Musicians That Matter. We’ll be posting interviews he has conducted over the years with some of his favorite Artists.
MUSICIANS THAT MATTER: STEVE YOUNG
Steve Young. You may not necessarily know the name, but I’ll bet you’ve heard the music. Remember a little song made popular by the Eagles, Dolly Parton, and more – “Seven Bridges Road”? How about “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean”? Most think it was a creation from another great songwriter – Waylon Jennings. A prolific songwriter, with haunting vocals, Young’s said he prefers taking others’ songs and making them his own. He even went to high school with Johnny Winter. The following interview was conducted before Young’s house concert at Paula and Marty Reynolds’ Hilltop House Concerts in the Texas Hill Country in April,2008.
Gordon Ames: What kind of guitar did you bring to play today?
Steve Young: I’m playing a D-28 Martin that I’ve had about 20 years or so, and that surprises me. I just got it to take on the road. I’ve got a ’51 Martin and I thought I shouldn’t be taking this on the road. So I went down to Gruhn Guitars in Nashville and kind of traded around and ended up with this one. This guitar sounded pretty good as new guitar. Martin has several levels of guitars now, and this one is pretty good. And I’ll tell you, some of their upper line guitars, I’ve fooled with a couple, and they’re the finest guitars I’ve ever heard. That’s with their finest woods and finest craftsmen, and they are not cheap.
Gordon Ames: Have you ever played with the real nice Taylor’s, or Gallagher’s?
Steve Young: I have somewhat, but I like the power of the Martins. Now I like the idea of having an old Gibson, but I don’t have one. The Gibson has a different quality, but it’s almost like you need both. If I wasn’t so lazy, or if I had a roadie, I’d have a line of guitars on stage. I’d have a lap steel and a nylon string up there, but who wants to keep up with all that? So the one I can rely on is “Old Dependable”, so to speak. It gets me through.
Check out his blistering, phenomenal guitar playing here on his song “Travelin’ Kind” filmed at Music Star Norderstedt 6-7-2000:
Gordon Ames: What was it like for you, growing up in the south? I figure some of your views didn’t go over to well, or meet the status quo of the south in the late’50’s and ‘60’s.
Steve Young: I was born and grew up in the Deep South, and I must say it wasn’t easy for me. I always marched to a drummer, I had different views about politics and religion and I had them relatively young. Sometimes that didn’t fly to well. I was known to spout off about it sometimes, especially in my drinkin’ days! It was pretty dangerous actually. I was a young folk singer, or wanted to be. I really wanted to be a New England folk singer, but they never would accept me. I was always hard to categorize, and people wouldn’t know what to make of it. But I did admire the comments and the music of Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. And that didn’t fly too well in the Deep South. It was not quite redneck enough….but music saved my life a few times because I could play the stuff rednecks loved. They thought I was great and they wondered why I didn’t do that all the time.
Gordon Ames: Who influenced your writing style, and secondly, your playing style?
Steve Young: My playing style is very eccentric and mostly self taught. I had a guy who went out of way to help me get started and somehow saw something in me. I couldn’t get my hands on a real guitar till I was fourteen. I always wanted one from the time I was a tiny kid. Music was bigger than life to me. I heard black people sing and the emotion was overwhelming to me. The power of that with all the built in sorrow and joy was just overwhelming to me as a little kid. It was the real deal. I heard the commercial guys on the radio, the country guys, and now, a lot of that looks real good compared to…I was made to go to church and I heard the gospel songs, and every now then somebody would come through with a guitar and that was a thrill! And I really wanted a guitar. As A little boy I used to tell people I was going to be a musician. They would humor me, and I’d make up thirty minute songs and drive them nuts. So I grew up wanting a guitar, my family was very poor. When I was fourteen my mother bought me a Gibson ES 125 thin body. That was a bunch of money in those days – $125.00.
That was a real instrument, this was in 1956. I started learning; I had a vision of a sound. I notice guys playing the piano playing a part up here and a part down there, and I wandered why couldn’t I do that on the guitar? When was about 16 or 17, I was living in Beaumont, Texas and Carlos Montoya came to Lamar College. I went to see him and I didn’t know what flamenco was. But when I saw him play, I was blown away that one man on one instrument could make all that sound. I’d learned a lot, but that made a big impact. I had intuition for it. In about three years I learned most of what I know now. I’ve refined it since then, but I was just obsessed with the guitar. I remember one day sitting in class and it just came to me how the neck worked. I was enlightened to the scales, and the runs. I just saw it and thought; now I understand it!
One of the things that benefited me that anyone can learn is classical technique. That shows the orchestra that exists within the instrument. I was always drawn to the roots music, bluegrass, blues, early rock – Sun Records, Elvis. And I still love that music to this day. Memphis never gets the credit. It’s much more musically rich than Nashville ever will be. Nashville manufactured that hokey-hillbilly image way back.
Gordon Ames: You are known as a prolific songwriter in the music community. When you decide to record a cover tune, what do you look for?
Steve Young: Well, a song I can live. If I was an actor, it would be like a part that was me. It has to be real to me. I have to make it mine. I really enjoy taking a song I feel that way about, and sometimes it can take a long time to come up with just the right touch. I think that’s really my greatest talent, interpreting.
Gordon Ames: The early days of what became known as the Country Rock scene, you were there, you were part of it, you contributed to it.
Steve Young: Yeah I guess I was, and I did.
Steve Young performing “Alabama Highway” from the DVD Heartworn Highways Extras : Heartworn Highways.
Gordon Ames: What stands out? Did you and Chris Hillman and Gene Clark and Gram Parsons, et al, know what you were creating?
They may have, I didn’t. I was just doing my thing. I don’t know what Parsons knew.
My favorite record I’ve ever done is Rock Salt and Nails. It was recorded in ’68-’69 and released in ’69. There’s something about that record I really like. It was recorded on a 16 track recorder with 2 inch tape. That’s one reason it sounds good. It was a simple pure thing. James Burton was playing some pure roots stuff. Gram Parsons took an interest in that record and he admired it. I never had the concept that I’m going to go somewhere and I’m going to have this career. I just really never thought about all that.
I just drifted along doing my thing. I didn’t have the self-promotion instinct, and I just didn’t care about it. I sort of had a “beat” attitude, you know what I’m saying? All I cared about was the music, like hearing Townes talking about “For the sake of the song”; it’s all that mattered. In spite of me a couple of things happened, mainly the Eagles and Seven Bridges Road. That certainly helped me survive. Joan Baez, Rita Coolidge, and Ian Matthews did it. And that’s where the Eagles based their arrangement, Ian’s version. If I had a nickel for every time that song had been performed, I’d really be rich.
When I was doing that A&M album, some of those guys played some of the cuts for Waylon, and he really liked it. I had admired Waylon, but I never expected to meet him and get to know him. When I finally moved to Nashville years later, one night I went to a Harlan Howard Guitar Pull thing, and there was Waylon. He started talking about how much he loved my work and how great I was, and I couldn’t even get a word in. He was flying! He changed it to 4/4 time and it became a landmark song for me.
Gordon Ames: The White Trash Song, was that just a fluke or…
Steve Young: I saw all that growing up in Alabama and Georgia. I had a group of country cousins and we’d go visit them when I was a kid. They lived on a red dirt Georgia back road, in a shack, with twelve kids. Farmers. No electricity, they had a well on their back porch, but they had nothing, yet they were the happiest, freest people I’d ever met. I loved to visit them. Great sense of humor, and they kept up with all the latest music, country, rockabilly, that stuff. Great food they grew in the fields and canned. Happy people.
The song was not a put down of them, but a celebration. I wrote that early on, as a teenager.
Josh Graves laid down the dobro on that song and he was hot. We went on the road together and we’d get drunker’n hell every night! I haven’t had a drink since November, 1979. And I like it. I was such a heavy drinker I was going to die at age 37. Not to mention the drugs. I’m glad to be sober, I haven’t missed a thing. A lot of people never get the chance to come back.
Gordon Ames: Nashville….?
Steve Young: (Laughter) I always had a hard time with Nashville. I reluctantly live there. I’ve mellowed, and it’s improved some, in the fact it has more immigrants. You know there’s some real Mexicans there, some folks from India, some of this and that. I’m not satisfied at all with living there. It’s a dilemma for me. And I may yet move, and where would I move if not Texas or New Mexico? I couldn’t afford a home in California. I need to travel out of there occasionally.
Gordon Ames: What about the establishment?
Steve Young: I don’t have anything to do with them. They suck. And they suck more than they probably ever did. No one can keep their word. Everyone’s in hurry and jumping to the next opportunity. There’s something missing…
Gordon Ames: Soul?
Steve Young: Absolutely. I’d rather work with guys that have time to live with you, and let it gel.
Gordon Ames & Steve Young
You can find Steve Young on the web at www.steveyoung.net.
~ Gordon Ames (Big G)
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Gordon Ames (Big G) is a prominent radio personality in the Texas Hill Country with a large online following. He is host of Big G’s Texas Roadshow on The Real Deal KOOK 93.5FM Junction,TX and AM1230 Kerrville, TX, and columnist for Hill Country Happenings Magazine as well as Outlaw Magazine.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.