Faron Young Biography

25 February 1932, Shreveport, Louisiana, USA, d. 10 December 1996, Nashville, Tennessee, USA. Young was raised on the farm his father bought just outside Shreveport and learned to play the guitar and sing country songs as a boy. Greatly influenced by Hank Williams (in his early days he was something of a soundalike) and while still at school, he formed a country band and began to establish a local reputation as an entertainer. In 1950, he gave up his college studies to accept an offer of a professional career and joined radio station KWKH, where he soon became a member of the prestigious The Louisiana Hayride show and found other work in the nightclubs and honky tonks.

He became friends with Webb Pierce and for a time toured with him as a vocalist with Pierce’s band. In 1951, he made his first recordings for the Gotham label with Tillman Franks and his band, and achieved minor success with ‘Have I Waited Too Long’ and ‘Tattle Tale Eyes’ before he joined Capitol Records. In the summer of 1952, Young was dating a girl called Billie Jean Jones, when she attracted the attention of Hank Williams. He persuaded Young to arrange a double date, which resulted in Williams threatening him with a pistol and claiming Jones for himself. Young backed off and Billie Jean became the second Mrs. Hank Williams.

In 1953, Young formed his own band, moved to Nashville, where he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry and gained his first US country chart hit with a self-penned song called ‘Goin’ Steady’. His career was interrupted when, because of the Korean War, he was drafted into the army. Although interrupted by this, his career certainly benefited from the exposure he received after winning an army talent competition. This led to him touring the world entertaining US forces, as well as appearing on recruiting shows that were networked to hundreds of radio stations. Young returned to Nashville in November 1954 and resumed his career, gaining his first US country number 1 the following year with ‘Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young’. This established him beyond any doubt as a major recording star, and between 1955 and 1969 he amassed a total of 63 US country chart hits, of which 46 made the Top 20. He developed the knack of picking the best material by other writers and had a number 2 hit with Don Gibson’s ‘Sweet Dreams’ and further number 1s with Roy Drusky’s songs ‘Alone With You’ and ‘Country Girl’. In 1961, he recorded ‘Hello Walls’, thereby making the song one of the first Willie Nelson compositions to be recorded by a major artist. It reached number 1 in the US country charts, also became a Top 20 US pop hit and was Young’s first million-seller.

In 1956, his popularity as a singer earned him a role in the movieHidden Guns. This led to his own nickname of The Young Sheriff and his band being called the Country Deputies (at one time Roger Miller was a member of the band). In later years he became the Singing Sheriff before, as he once suggested, someone queried his age and started asking ‘What’s he trying to prove?’ After the initial success with this easily forgettable B-movie western, he made further film appearances over the years including Daniel Boone, Trail Blazer, Raiders Of Old California, Country Music Holiday, The Road To Nashville and That’s Country. He left Capitol for Mercury Records in 1962, immediately charting with ‘The Yellow Bandanna’, ‘You’ll Drive Me Back’ and a fine duet recording with Margie Creath Singleton of ‘Keeping Up With The Joneses’. In 1965, he had a US country Top 10 hit with ‘Walk Tall’, a song that had been a UK pop hit for Val Doonican the previous year. Young quit the Grand Ole Opry in the mid-60s, finding, like several other artists, that it was not only difficult keeping up the expected number of Saturday night appearances but also that he lost many other lucrative bookings. After the success of ‘Hello Walls’, he perhaps unintentionally tended to look for further pop chart hits, and in consequence, his recordings, at times, became less countrified in their arrangements. He soon returned to his country roots, usually choosing his favourite twin fiddle backings.

Young easily maintained his popularity throughout the 60s and 70s and toured extensively in the USA and made several visits to Europe, where he performed in the UK, France and Germany. He appeared on all the major network television shows but seemed to have little interest in having his own regular series. At times he has not endeared himself to some of his fellow performers with his imitations of their acts. In the 70s he was still a major star, with a series of Top 10 US country hits including ‘Step Aside’, ‘Leavin’ And Saying Goodbye’, ‘This Little Girl Of Mine’ and ‘Just What I Had In Mind’. ‘It’s Four In The Morning’, another country number 1, had crossover success and also gave him a second million-seller. It also became his only UK pop chart success, peaking at number 3 during a 23-week chart run. He left Mercury in 1979 and briefly joined MCA Records. In 1988, he joined Step One Records and ‘Stop And Take The Time’, a minor hit, became country chart entry number 85.

Over the years, he became involved in several business interests and, with the exception of heavy losses in the 60s (in respect of investments to convert an old baseball stadium into a stock-car racing track in Nashville), he was very successful. Young became involved in publishing companies, a recording studio, and a booking agency, plus co-ownership ofMusic City News newspaper. He was always noted for very plain speaking and has incurred the wrath of the establishment on several occasions for his outspoken views. A suggested association with Patsy Cline led to various stories of his dalliances and whether correct or not, it may well be that he revelled in the publicity they caused. In September 1972, he gained unwanted publicity by his reaction to an incident at a show. At a time when ‘This Little Girl Of Mine’ was a hit for him, he invited six-year-old Nora Jo Catlett to join him on stage in Clarksville, West Virginia. She refused, whereupon Young swore at the audience, stormed off stage, grabbed the child and spanked her repeatedly (the child collected autographs and had been told by her mother not to approach the stage but to wait near the front until Young finished his act). The child’s father swore out a warrant for his arrest and after pleading guilty to a charge of assault, he was fined $35. The following year a civil action claiming $200, 000 was filed. In his defence, Young claimed the child spat in his face. Eventually, almost two years later, the Catlett family was awarded only $3, 400. He was involved in various actions, once stating, ‘I am not an alcoholic, I’m a drunk’, and on one occasion, he shot out the light fittings of a Nashville bar. He was reputed to have had affairs with many women while supposedly remaining happily married. In 1987, after 34 years of marriage, his wife finally obtained a divorce on the grounds of physical abuse. She claimed that he had also threatened her and their 16-year-old daughter with a gun and often shot holes in the kitchen ceiling. A fair and concise summary was offered in 1980 by Bob Allen, who parodied Young’s hit song in his article entitled ‘Live Fast, Love Hard And Keep On Cussin’.

During the 90s Young was stricken with emphysema and, in a fit of depression, shot himself in December 1996. Until his death he was semi-retired but still made concert performances as well as guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry. Faron Young was one of country music’s greatest legends, but went to his grave relatively unknown to many outside the genre (he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 2000). Paddy McAloon of English pop band Prefab Sprout paid tribute to him when he wrote the beautiful ‘Faron Young’ on the band’s 1985 album Steve McQueen.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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