LifeNotes: Outlaw Country Artist Steve Young Passes

Steve Young. Photo: steveyoung.net.

Steve Young. Photo: steveyoung.net.

Acclaimed singer-songwriter Steve Young passed away in Nashville on Thursday, March 17, at the age of 73.

Often called a “songwriter’s songwriter,” Young wrote such classics as “Seven Bridges Road,” “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” “Long Way to Hollywood” and “Montgomery in the Rain.” He was a key figure in the progressive or “Outlaw” country movement of the 1970s.

Steve Young was born in Newnan, Georgia, on July 12, 1942. He was raised in Alabama and strongly identified with that state’s native son, Hank Williams. His family also lived in Texas during his boyhood.

He spent part of the 1960s in New York City, kicking around the edges of the folk-music scene in Greenwich Village. He relocated to California in 1964 and formed the band Stone Country.

On the West Coast, he performed and recorded with Gram Parsons, Gene Clark and Chris Hillman, all of whom were cornerstone artists in the emerging country-rock genre. Young’s debut LP, Rock Salt & Nails, was issued by A&M Records in 1968. Parsons, Clark and guitar ace James Burton all played on it.

Young tired of Hollywood and moved to Marin County. He ran the Amazing Grace guitar store there for several years before making his way to Music City.

Waylon Jennings recorded Young’s “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” as the title song of his 1973 album. This record was the first of the star’s self-produced Outlaw collections.

Young’s Nashville-recorded Seven Bridges Road appeared on Reprise Records in 1972. It has since been reissued three times by various other labels. Honky Tonk Man was issued in 1975 by the Mountain Railroad label. Steve Young appeared in the Outlaw music documentary Heartworn Highways in 1976, singing his song “Alabama Highway.” The film featured him alongside such figures as David Allan Coe, Charlie Daniels, Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle and Larry Jon Wilson.

RCA picked up his recording contract and issued his two most well known albums, the aptly named Renegade Picker (1976) and No Place to Fall (1978). Both were roots-music classics, with hints of blues and gospel in his Southern country sound. Labelmate Jennings took him on tour as his opening act.

Hank Williams Jr. issued his versions of Young’s “Montgomery in the Rain” and “Long Way to Hollywood” in 1977. Others who recorded his songs include Tracy Nelson, Joan Baez, Ian Matthews, Ricochet, Dolly Parton and Rita Coolidge. Travis Tritt revived “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” in 2003.

Rounder Records reissued Steve Young’s Seven Bridges Road (1981) and Honky Tonk Man (1984) and also put out the artist’s new sounds on To Satisfy You (1981). Also in 1981, The Eagles scored a pop and country hit with “Seven Bridges Road.”

During this part of his career, Young gave up drugs and alcohol. He’d long been Regarded as a “zen cowboy” and now began to explore spirituality in his music. Recorded in Sweden, his 1985 album Look Homeward Angel added synthesizers to his sound.

His intensity and conviction as a live performer made him a “cult” favorite artist, particularly in Europe. His 1990 collection Long Time Rider was recorded in the Netherlands. He issued his first concert recording Solo/Live in 1991 on Watermelon Records, which also issued 1993’s Switchblades of Love.

Later recordings include 2000’s Primal Young, 2006’s Songlines Revisited and 2007’s Stories Round the Horseshoe Bend.

Steve Young’s son, Jubal Lee Young, competed on NBC’s The Voice in 2015. His current CD is titled On a Dark Highway.

Funeral arrangements have not been announced. Steve Young believed in reincarnation.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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