R.I.P. Steve Young

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 Cycle.

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 birdie

Come sing to me your song

Got a short time to be here

And a long time to be gone

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.

Tags: van dyke parkssteve youngthe eagles

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