I spent a good many years, most of my twenties, thirties and then some, in L.A. and I often just ache
for California sounds and sensibilities. So when I heard that outlaw singer/songwriter Steve Young was coming to perform at a South By Southeast concert in Myrtle Beach, I was very excited. Besides just being a fan of his talent, I knew the Georgia born musician had also been a transplant to L.A. and figured he’d be telling stories and playing some California music.
I wasn’t disappointed. This Southern boy has a soft spot for L.A. and it shows in his lyrics. “Silverlake” (Switchblades of Love/1993), which he performed simply and beautifully, is an unabashed love letter to a neighborhood just near downtown L.A. When Steve lived there back in the late 60s, it was a sweet little barrio and artists’ refuge … before it became “too gentrified,” as he commented during the show. I love his line, “Silverlake is about more than gold.”
His rendition of Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita,” an edgy tale of a heroin addict on the skids, was somehow starkly warm, fitting because Los Angeles is the ultimate contradiction.
But let me get off the California bent here and talk about this artist, and artist he is.
Growing up throughout the South, Young was an early Elvis fan and by his teenage years was already a skillful guitarist. He moved to New York City in the early 60s, becoming part of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village.
Steve Young’s music is hard to pigeonhole. It’s blues, it’s folk, it’s country, it’s even Celtic. But above all it’s Southern, and it’s soulful.
The South By Southeast show was a super all-acoustic concert, just a songwriter and his music.
Steve’s son Jumal Lee Young was supposed to join him at the Music Feast, but he’s been sick and couldn’t make it.
So, for two hours, Steve Young shared his tales of the road with us, giving us the backstory for each tune, very much the same format as his live album, Stories Round the Horseshoe Bend (2007). Just a songwriter and his music. And a wicked sense of humor.
“The song’s pretty famous; I’m not, but the song is,” he quips, introducing “Seven Bridges Road”(Rock Salt & Nails/1969), his tune that was recorded live by the Eagles for their Eagles Live album (1980). It was also covered by Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton and Tracy Nelson, among others.
Talking about “Lonesome On’ry & Mean”(Seven Bridges Road/1972), Young’s tune made famous by outlaw country artist Waylon Jenning, the songwriter deadpans, “Yeah, I don’t know why Waylon wanted to make this his image, but he did. I mean the song’s about givin’ up drink and drugs and performing sober. Waylon never realized that.”
Other tunes he performed included his “White Trash Song”(Seven Bridges Road/1972) about his family, mind you; the eloquent “Montgomery In the Rain” (Seven Bridges Road/1972), a hit by Hank Williams, Jr. and traditional songs like “Little Birdie” and “Hoboin’.”
It occurred to me during these old folk tunes, that Young’s talents as a vocalist and his arrangements are equal to his songwriting skills – which are considerable.
If you get a chance to experience Steve Young live, jump at it. This is exactly why I “Trust the Frog.” (www.steveyoung.net)