US-based session musician, songwriter, producer and former Rolling Stone magazine writer Jon Tiven, lifts the lid off of the business of making music…
Reggie Young was just laid to rest. Even if you don’t know his name, his music has undoubtedly hooked its way into your heart on more than a few occasions.
He was a key part of the famed house bands at Memphis’ Hi Records and American Studios, and one of Nashville’s most celebrated session men who played for a who’s who of major artists and on countless BIG records.
A guitar player’s guitar player; he was an elegant picker who never had a note out of place, and never missed an opportunity to add some heavenly tone to a record.
The electric sitars on “Cry Like A Baby” by The Box Tops and the original version of “Hooked On A Feeling” from B.J.Thomas, pretty much defined the way that instrument would be integrated into American pop music forever.
Reggie’s work on career records like “Suspicious Minds,” (Elvis) “I Can Help” (Billy Swan) and “Always On My Mind” (Elvis and Willie Nelson’s versions) elevated them in a way that all guitarists should aspire to.
First and foremost, what he played reinforced the melodic elements of the song and took it to a higher level by underlining its most attractive elements. He never ‘noodled’ or played a fill that didn’t add something. He was as good a listener as he was a player.
The service for Reggie – who passed away at his home near Nashville on 17th January 2019 at the age of 82 – was a very beautiful one, and like most Nashville memorials for musical people, there was a lot of singing and playing.
Outstanding performances by Jessi Colter (“His Eye Is On The Sparrow”), Will McFarlane (“That’s the Way Love Goes”) and B.J. Thomas (“Home Where I Belong”) reminded everyone of the spiritual nature of Reggie’s gift.
Over 500 turned out to see him off, including the cream of Muscle Shoals: David Hood, Spooner Oldham, Dan Penn – and a wide variety of artists and musicians who’d had the pleasure of working with Mr. Young.
Everyone’s words about Reggie made him seem like one of the nicest people you will meet in life, and I’m proud to add that my experiences with him bore that out.
I had the privilege of working with Reggie on three occasions, each one of them a high point in my musical career.
The first time we met was in 1995, when I was producing an album by Donnie Fritts, “Everybody’s Got A Song”. Donnie had written his share of hits with other people singing, including Ray Charles and Dusty Springfield, and he was and still is, a well-respected musician and entertainer.
He wanted to make a go of it with a solo album and since we were friends and co-writers and I had a record label’s backing, we were on. Half of Nashville guested on the record in some capacity, and when it was time to record Reggie’s guitar parts, the bulk of the album had already been completed.
Guest vocalists such as John Prine and Dan Penn had sung their duets, and guitarists Stephen Bruton and Jack Pearson did a lot of six-string heavy lifting.
At the eleventh hour we had vocalists Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, three quarters of the legendary Highwaymen, coming in over a few days, and Reggie sandwiched in between to add his licks to their duets.
Waylon was up first, and after he sang “A Damn Good Country Song”, Reggie set up to do his bits. He had no pedal board, just a small Fender amplifier, distortion and a delay unit, and his trusty Telecaster guitar.
That’s all he needed. After hitting plenty of high notes with a run-through, he asked for “another shot”; although we were well beyond satisfied with what he’d done.
Reggie beat it of course, and it didn’t take more than an hour or so to get all his licks in. Each time he added himself to the recording, the record jumped up a notch in quality.
When Frank Black (of The Pixies) asked me to produce his “Honeycomb” album a few years later, I had moved from New York to Nashville, and I was given the task to assemble the Nashville “cats.”
Reggie was tops on my list, along with my friend Steve Cropper, who had gone to High School with Reggie, but hadn’t really worked with him (except on one single).
When they got together, along with “cats” like David Hood, Spooner Oldham, Chester Thompson, Anton Fig, Buddy Miller, Akil Thompson, and Billy Block, it was one giant lovefest.
There was one track in particular, “My Life Is In Storage,” on which Reggie was given an extended solo, and I took the opportunity to sit opposite him so I could watch him work. The Heavens opened…
What came out on the first take was absolutely breath-taking; an elegant melodic opus that I thought was perfect. But Reggie insisted he could do better, so we opened up a track and did another take.
My mind was blown…
He played the same ideas he had laid down previously; but fine-tuned it as if it was charted out and all he had to do was read it properly. But there was no road map, this was uncharted territory and my mind was blown.
A few years later I found myself leading the band for Jack Daniel’s Birthday Bash, whereby the whiskey fellas flew in 200 lucky contest winners from the UK, to be the audience for their annual shindig.
Entertainment was provided by three “name” singers (selected by the JD people), all backed by “the Nashville Cats.” I got to select the musicians, so it was David Hood, Craig Krampf, Mark T. Jordan, Billy Block, and Reggie. Singers were Shingai (from the Noisettes), Juliette Lewis and Patti Smith.
The plan was to rehearse for one day without vocals, then bring in the main attractions on day two for a rehearsal, with a gig on day three. A week before the event, I got a call from Reggie who was having misgivings about signing up for this and wondered if I could possibly find somebody better suited.
I assured him that although this was a little out of his comfort zone, it would be fun and I would make sure he didn’t feel too much like an alien. I suggested we get together in my house to run through the songs on our guitars.
Of course, he had them down better than I could (even with my charts). But I had the opportunity to sit with Reggie one-on-one and run through the material, which was an education for me and a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The gig was spectacular, everybody had a blast and I don’t think Reggie had ever done anything quite like that before. There are clips of it online, so hopefully you can see/hear for yourself.
Reggie lived a full 82 years, and I know he enjoyed himself immensely doing what he did best. He had the companionship and love of his wonderful wife of the last 15 years, Jenny Lynn, a cellist with whom he played frequently.
The gentle smile on his face let everyone know he was already halfway to Heaven. Bless you Reggie, for sharing the view.
Too much music…
We live in a time where there is a lot of music available, at times it seems like too much. People long to be told what is good and what is hip (not necessarily coinciding, btw) and the gatekeepers of old (record companies, Terrestrial radio) have been subsumed by “Influencers”.
In my youth when I wrote for Rolling Stone, Fusion and a host of other magazines, I tried to introduce people to bands nobody else was writing about: notably Queen and Big Star.
Back then they called me a “Tastemaker” rather than an Influencer. Today, being an Influencer is very important, and those who make it their task come in many forms.
Ask Larkin Poe, a duo comprised of the sisters Lovell (Rebecca and Megan) who have been making rootsy, blues-leaning records for some time and are now getting better known for doing so.
In fact, they scooped the “Best New Band/Artist Of 2018” nod in this very magazine’s end of year round-up in December and were “Hot Contenders” in other categories. I concur!
The music they make is rooted in gutbucket blues, but not necessarily aimed at purists. Although when they covered the Son House song “Preachin’ Blues”, it hit one true fan where it hurts; that one fan being Bob Seger.
Bob himself asked for them to open his farewell tour, and his audiences have heartily embraced them. “We’re glad that he digs what we’re doing, and his audiences have been profoundly supportive.
“We get a full house to play for and we do our best to warm them up. We’ve had a few standing ovations which we do not take lightly”, say the duo.
I recommend you check them out, particularly if you have an affinity for blues music. Thank you Bob Seger, for being not only a great artist, but also an “Influencer”.
Me and Mr Jones…
While invoking the name of Detroit legends, I have a desire to make you aware of the new record out this month (February 2019) by Willie Jones.
Willie was the first person to sing r&b in the Motor City, according to r&b and soul Queen Bettye LaVette.
Willie was signed in the 1950s to a singles’ deal by Atlantic Records with his group The Royal Jokers, but never broke through in a big way.
All the while, the folks who came to see him and said “I can do that”, were starting record labels and hitting the bigtime.
Willie is now 81, still has all his notes and sings beautifully. Pravda Records is issuing his extended play single “Gotta Let It Go”/”Warning Shot”/”Let’s Groove” digitally this month, vinyl release in May.
I highly recommend it – even though I produced and co-wrote it. Conflict of interest? No conflict. I’m just interested in great music and I sure you, dear readers, are too. Quite sure….Enjoy!
By Jon Tiven
Reggie Young photos: Jon Tiven