History is replete with performers who were major stars in their particular genre and were forgotten as soon as the hits stopped coming. Faron Young scored Top Ten hits on the country charts for over two decades, but his legacy is seldom celebrated. The fact that he currently seems like a minor footnote in country music doesn’t mean that he didn’t live an interesting life.
Young was raised on a dairy farm in Shreveport, Louisiana, by a father who never completed a sentence without using obscenities. Faron felt emotionally disconnected from his father, much like his children would later feel about him. As a fan of Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, Young was a natural pop crooner, but geography and seeing the fan reaction to a Louisiana Hayride performance by Hank Williams pushed him into country music. Those competing influences are quite pronounced on his early material – he sounds like a pop star trying to emulate Hank Williams.
His first single, “Hot Rod Shot Gun Boogie No 2,” was released in 1951 and foretold his future decades later by pronouncing “I lost my wife with a jug of gin.” Webb Pierce served as an early mentor to Young, hastening his connections within the industry, and Young moved to Nashville in 1952. He continued to impress the right people, performing in front of his idols Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams on the Grand Ol’ Opry stage at the age of twenty. (Young also brought Billie Jean Jones Eshliman from Shreveport to Nashville. Billie Jean scored a country music trifecta – marrying Hank Williams, Johnny Horton, and having an affair with Johnny Cash. Faron later told the twice widowed woman, “I’m damned glad I didn’t marry you. I’d be dead.”)
He was drafted into the Army shortly becoming a star, serving with Uncle Sam while his breakout hit “Goin’ Steady” went to #2 on the country charts. He spent most of his two year military tour traveling throughout the country, entertaining the troops. Having top cover from a country music fan Commanding General allowed Young to tell other military officers to go to hell on a regular basis. He would meet and later marry Hilda Macon, the great granddaughter of country music pioneer Uncle Dave Macon, while in the service. To describe Hilda’s marriage to Faron as long suffering underestimates the reality of both words of that phrase.
After leaving the service, Young reestablished himself on the country charts, going to #2 with “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’),” which George Strait took to #1 in 1988. His first #1 country hit was “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young,” which had little going before it except it’s title hook (which ended with “and leave a beautiful memory”). Young detested the tune at first listen, but enjoyed it more when it began filling up his coffers. He was cast in a number of Western movies and looked like he was on the course to being a major star. However, in 1955 a package tour with Elvis Presley reset the playing field for popular music. Both Faron Young and Eddy Arnold found that following Elvis onstage resulted in a level of humiliation that neither man was willing to withstand. By the end of the tour, Elvis was the headlining act.
Most of Young’s singles in the 1950s and 1960s followed the same pattern – a fiddle intro, an upbeat rhythm, steel guitar solos, and lyrics that were morality tales about sin and bad judgment. Perfect honky tonk material. He had a strong preference for a two step shuffle beat and while he projected confidence and range as a singer, he wasn’t a great stylist. For example, his 1956 version of “Sweet Dreams” was a bigger hit than Patsy Cline’s rendition, but vocally there is no comparison. Young sings it as another piece of material that crossed his desk while Cline wrings every ounce of emotion she can out of the song. Young would never record a song after Ray Price had released it, knowing the vocal comparison would do him no favors.
He broke his usual shuffle mode with his version of Willie Nelson’s “Hello Walls,” which was a #1 country single and crossed over to #12 on the pop charts. Vocally, both men liked to stay behind the beat of a song and while his studio musicians laughed at the lyrics, Young instinctively knew he had a major hit on his hands. Nelson begged Young to purchase the song from him outright, but Faron refused to do so, knowing that would be a penny wise, pound foolish decision for Nelson. Instead he loaned him money to get through a tough stretch and Nelson repaid the gift decades later with a purebred Simmental bull. Young would often be magnanimous to songwriters and complete strangers, while treating his family and band members with withering contempt. He was probably most loved by those who knew him the least.
Young continued to chart hit singles throughout the 1960s, but also founded the “Music City News” publication, invested in real estate, had a child out of wedlock, and hit the bottle with ever increasing enthusiasm. When touring with George Jones, the evenings frequently ended with fisticuffs between the two hard living, hard drinking men. One of his strongest efforts of the decade was the 1969 drinking song “Wine Me Up,” which made its debut in outer space when astronaut Pete Conrad included it on his mixtape for the Apollo 12 mission.
Young scored his last #1 hit in 1971 with the waltz time heartbreak number “It’s Four in the Morning,” which also became a surprise pop hit in the U.K. The success seemed to knock him sideways, as he then moved to a much more countrypolitan sound that was much less successful. He would often invite a young girl onto the stage as a charm the crowd moment and thought the 1972 mawkish single “This Little Girl of Mine” would be a perfect opportunity to milk that gimmick. After he lost his temper and spanked a girl onstage that seemed like much less of a good idea. He never fully regained his commercial footing although 1975’s “Here I Am in Dallas,” which asked the question, “Where in the hell are you?,” had a nice edge to it.
Regarding Young’s generous side, he had a fine eye for talent and employed Johnny Paycheck, Roger Miller, and future Buffalo Springfield drummer Dewey Martin in his band when they needed a break. He was also credited for working with Charley Pride on the road, giving the African-American singer a stamp of approval that helped him win over white audiences. (As a side note, the last drummer in his band was a former professional wrestler manager named Marc Gullen. Gullen never sold a wrestling ticket, but is well known by hardcore grappling nerds for conducting one of the most unintentionally hysterical promos in the history of that odd business – quite an accomplishment if you think about it).
Young’s enormous ego couldn’t handle the transition from superstar to former star. He became estranged from his family and his wife finally left him after decades of neglect and verbal/physical abuse. During one incident, Young decided to shoot several holes into the ceiling of his family home, a strategy that has never been cited as an effective means of reconciliation. He had several DUI incidents during his final decades, almost biting off his entire tongue during one alcohol induced driving accident. For awhile, he appeared regularly on Country Music Television’s “Nashville Now,” as longtime friend Ralph Emory enjoyed Young’s quick wit and unpredictable antics. After months of quiet planning, Young committed suicide in November of 1996. His ashes were spread on Old Hickory Lake with a dusting left on Johnny Cash’s property. In 2000, the former country star, actor, businessman, and alcoholic was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He lived fast, loved hard, and while he didn’t die young, he died on Faron Young’s terms.
(Note: much of the history for this article comes from the well researched 2007 book “Live Fast, Love Hard – The Faron Young Story,” written by long time fan Diane Diekman).
It’s the music, stupid
a restless and fearless freak show
Eminem and Calvin couldn’t move Bey
summer’s entertainment is rewarded
compares the end of a romance to the end of life
House pure and simple
lays down his claim to being a giant
Elvis Costello And The Imposters and Nick Lowe And Los Straightjackets At The Rooftop At Pier 17, Thursday, August 11th, 2022
embraces the moment with a big smile