Steve Young - A Living American Treasure
by Van Dyke Parks
was "the American Century". It's history was written by the
Steve Young's music reflects an intimate singular view of that perspective.
His compassion holds its DNA.
Part of that is innate. But much of it was tempered by Steve's unique
experience on his own road----the road less traveled. There Steve studies
include what life is being ground under in the name of progress. He's
over cotton, taken a bullet. and survived the ravages of fame &
maintaining a rare humility.
In the age of Corporate rock, Steve Young's palpable anti-hero brings
to Southern California, the Home of the Homeless.
Steve and I met. We were rich with optimism. Folk music was just about
plug in, to amplify its central concern for civil rights, our generation's
cause celebre. Civil rights drove the coffee-house lyrics of every
folk-singer. Music veterans of the McCarthy era (who'd seen the witch
of idea-suppression) mixed easily with the new radical-chic that was
shake the very foundations of American politics. It took courage. Steve
"Going 'electric'" raised the hair of folk purists. But folk
music had a
bigger political role to play. It had to amplify to compete as a
radio-reality. "He who hesitates is lost", as illustrated
in that famous
confrontation at Newport between Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan. Dylan went
electric on-air while Phil stayed behind, in the small rooms of discontent.Steve
came to this coffee-house melange with two other Favorite Sons of
Alabama, Richard and Jim. He was the heat behind their beat. Audiences
nailed to the floor with Steve's incredible voice, incendiary guitar
virtuosity, birth-right to the blues, and vise-like grip of Scotch/Irish
He'd come to Los Angeles informed by a life rich in adversity, balancing
In him is the blood of The Cherokee and the Welsh, the triumph a European
cconqueror, and the perspective of the vanquished Native. Spiritual
discovery is written all over him. It's in his lyrics, and in the epic
American poetry he's elevated with his music.
He still has more questions than answers. In that, he stands apart from
crowd (as he did in when we met). Back then, I took his sense of
uncertainty then as a sign of sanity. It was not temporary.
The Byroads fired the first salvo across the radio waves of the Atlantic,
with the folk-rock classic "Mr. Tambourine Man". Most of the
been single performers were courted by others who new it could work
them.Steve and I thought about it. We formed a group called the Gas
Company. In one concert, we opened for the Lovin' Spoonful, Steve playing
lead guitar, and an eager Steven Stills on rhythm guitar. It was an
I identified with Steve Young. He lived on Mariposa, in Hollywood, with
several other exiles from Alabama. They called it "Tobacco Road".
was a picture of the infamous Governor George Wallace hanging in the
room. Somebody had penciled in a mustache, and he looked like a
dead-wringer for Adolf Hitler.
These enlightened southerners were looking for new ways of
self-definition. I sought refuge with them. They made me feel less ashamed
of my own southern birth.
We were approached repeatedly by record companies, (either singly or
group), to sign on the dotted line. But in each case, there was the
of "selling out", and Steve was wary.
For what profit it a man if he gain the whole world, but lose his soul!
Steve is a "player" who's kept his soul.
When he's not in Nashville, (or touring), he lives on the other side
clock in L.A., in the hills where the coyote survey the city skyline
the cactus. He's picked up a Spanish fluency in its immigrant wash.
home is an alter where Buddha meets Selena in a dream escape. His is
romantic's dream, with cautious optimism.
We meet as old friends. I recognize him for what he is: a prophet in
own land. He's concerned with sobriety. But he needn't be. He's as sober
man as I know, next to my own father. It's a solace in this material
Some 30 years and 20 albums later, he still remains a powerful force
American songwriting, able to question the comfortable, comfort the
questioning. Sometimes we're lucky enough to play the same room. Catch
if you can.
Recently he came back to L.A. from the road, and I got to play on this
close-to-the-vest CD at the invitation of J.C.Crowley, (whose work I've
long admired). It adds dimension to Steve's immense body of work. It
celebrates Steve's acute vision.
Unique, with an uncompromising, unvarnished truth, here is Steve Young---
"A Living American Treasure".
Los Angeles 1999