Mar 30, 2016
Steve Young (1942 - 2016)
Oh no, there goes another one.
Very sad to learn of the death last week of the great Steve
Young - not the best-known, yet one of the best. A great songwriter with a soaring voice and deep country roots.
Born in Georgia and raised in Alabama, Young first gained attention as an incongruous figure amid the psychedelic scene of late 60s Los Angeles. ‘He is not your run of the mill garden
variety Alabama country faire/Left on
Silver Lake he keeps a small apartment top an Oriental food store there’
was how pop polymath Van Dyke Parks described him in his song ‘The All Golden’,
on Parks’s eccentric 1968 debut album Song
Young made his own first album, Rock, Salt and Nails, in Los Angeles the following year; a pioneering rethink of country music, on which a
yet-to-be-significant Gram Parsons played a supporting role.
Though a number of famous artists covered his songs over the
years (Waylon Jennings did a great ‘Lonesome, Ornery and Mean’) probably his
best known song was ‘Seven Bridges Road’, which became as staple of the Eagles’
repertoire. I much prefer Young’s version.
But perhaps my favourite Young recording – and the one I’m
thinking of right now - is on his excellent album from 2000, Primal Young. It’s a substantially
rewritten and entirely personalised version of ‘Little Birdie’, a popular old
hillbilly song, recorded by the Stanley Brothers, among others. While Van Dyke
Parks flutters on an accordion, Young sings about the brevity of life and the
‘patch of blue’ he’s looking for, always returning to the timeless refrain:
Little birdie, little
Come sing to me your
Got a short time to be
And a long time to be
Though by all accounts Young had a hellraising youth, by the
time he toured New Zealand in the late 1980s (courtesy of Kevin Byrt and Real
Groovy Promotions) he was teetotal and Buddhist. When I saw him in Wellington
he sang like a bird.