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Faron Young – The Singing Sheriff Remembered


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).


  1. Kenny Brent on February 25, 2018 at 5:32 pm

    My name is Kenny Brent and I was a very close friend of Faron’s up until the day he shot himself and died the next day. I was devastated, putting my own music career on hold and driving a truck. Yes, Faron liked to drink, and yes his marriages were a nightmare, but he was my friend and a very good friend. He boosted my career a few years before he died when we went into the studio and re-cut 2 of his big hits as duets. I believe I am the last to record a duet, if not the last to record with Faron Young. He generously donated his time to the project and we sang our hearts out to “Wine Me Up” and ” Sweet Dreams” (yes it’s hard to even come close to Patsy’s emotional version, but we did come pretty close in my opinion). It was a highlight of my career, well of my life and Faron also came out to Illinois when I lived there with my then wife and 2 small children and performed a show, allowing me to be the opening act, accompanied by Faron’s band. I was already close friends with Ray Emmett, Faron’s bass player as he had gotten me my first job in Nashville going out with Jeanne Shepard on the Opry Tours.
    Faron was hysterical, a very funny man, but yes, he was so prideful and egotystical that I also believe that is why he took his own life. I had survivors guilt for quite awhile thinking I should have known, or I could have done this or that.
    The morning he shot himself we were supposed to go out and look at a bus for myself and I called him, called him again and again, and no answer. Later that day when I got home a friend called and asked me “Did you hear about Faron”? I was like no, did he get in trouble again driving? He then told me to turn on the 5pm news and I heard what had happened. I drove straight to the hospital but couldn’t get into be with him as I wasn’t family. My heart broke and my spirt plummented and I left Nashville and headed back to Colorado where I started driving a semi for my ex-wife’s husband.
    I have been playing guitar and singing Country Music since I was 12 years old. I started on Denver’s KLAK Radio Show,
    “The Rocky Mountain Jamboree”. Soon at age 14 I was hired to play Ricky’s Lounge on W. Colfax in Lakewoo, CO every Friday and Saturday Night for $10.00 a night, 2 shows a night. I had to sit in the kitchen on my breaks because I was too young to be out in the bar. I went from Ricky’s Lounge on to the stage of the “Country Palace” doing shows with Rose Maddox and the Maddox Brothers and Slim Whitman.
    I started my new band at age 16, and we were picked to open for Buck O”wens at Elitches Tracadero Ballroom in Denver, CO where I received a standing ovation of 3000 people for singing “CATTLE CALL.. I married my sweetheart, Rocky Mountain Jamboree Darlin, Donna Harris when I was 18 and she only 16. We decided to head to Texas, Lubbock, TX, where we were hired immediately by Houston Tramel of the Jockey Club where we became house band, well for a month, lol. We had decided to play a New Years Eve gig for another club paying us more than Houston would. When he got wind that we were going to do the other gig one night he marched right up and told me on the bandstand that if I played the other club, it was over for us at the Jockey Club. But he wouldn’t match the other clubs money, so I just picked up the equipment right then and there, called my manager, Ralph Paul (Former Operations Manager at KLAK Radio in Denver) who was working at WENO in Nashville as General Operations Manager, and he said he would come get us and take us to Nashville.
    Now there’s a reason I told you about my history back then. Ralph came and got Donna and I and our new son Kenny Ray the next day aftert we had our disagreement with Houston. We pulled into Nashville around 10:30pm that night and Ralph stopped in front of a honky tonk and said he was goin in to have a beer and did I want to go with him? Donna and the baby were asleep in the car so I followed Ralph into the bar. Ralph knew everyone, and he went to a table where a guy was sittin and we sat down with him at his table. I apologize but I don’t know the mans name, and I cannot think of the name of the bar right now. Anyway we got our beers and I headed to the bathroom, it had been a long drive after all. I came back and sat down rejoining the the conversation with Ralph and the man. I hadn’t noced another guy had sat on the far side of the 2, and when I really took a look, I said to myself, Oh my God, that is Faron Young. Faron was my hero, my idol. I had loved Faron’s music since I was just knee high to a Grasshopper, an only child for 10 years when my brother Brent was boron, followed by Brenda 2 years later and Spunk, my sister from my mom’s 2nd and 4th husband, Bob Liming . She was born in 1967.
    So, anyhow, there sat Faron Young and I was ao nervous, excited and scared. There he actually was! We were introduced and I said to him, trying not to go overboard, I”Its a pleasure to meet u Mr. Young you have always been one of my favorite singers and I admire your talent. I do believe I have almost all your records in my collection”, or somethin to that effect. I’m not sure if it started right there or 10 minutes later, but it started all the less. What started? Well Faron Young, my idol, hero, the man I wished I was, started teasin me. Relentlessly. “Your Too Pretty To be a boy”, and just teasin me. I cant really stress on how bad it was. I was SO hurt, humiliated and disapointed and MAD as hell. I hated Faron for that moment it went on all night until it was time to leave. Every one was saying there good nights, shakin hands with the group who stood between us and the door, and of course Faron was there. I wanted to just walk right by him but Ralph was slowin me down right in front of me. So I decided to be the man, do the right thing and buck it up. I walked up and put my hand out and so did he. I felt something in his hand as he shook my hand he passed a folded note with his office number on itr and it said call me. and we will get you goin. I returned to Texas not long after for a few years, but when i moved to Nashville again, I called and went to see him. He and I became buddies, drinkin buddies alot of the time, but we also talked alot of music, and I understood Faron’s frustration of the new so called “country” which isnt at all, and how he pioneers, the originators of Country Music, Real Country Music, got shoved on the back burner for some fly by night, no country singing, glittr and glam pretty boy or some hot chick whos face and body and probably rich parent got her into the business without paying dues one like we all had to triple times over, and now the “producers” just want money, not caring at what cost and who it hurts. Faron Young is a perfect example of how they destroyed one mans passion, zest for life, and ripped the only thing that was right in his life and world, his way of earning a living and threw it in the garbage, like rotten food, just so they could line their already fat wallets more. They sold him out, and me as well. But I promised Faron I would stand by traditional Country Music and never change that ever, and I have stood by that promise.
    I have many more great happy fun stories about Faron, and of course Waylon whom I got to know and become friends with when I returned to Lubbock after a few weeks in Nashville aftr meeting Faron. Happy Birthday Chief, Love and Miss You, Kenny Brent

    • Sherry on December 10, 2018 at 12:09 pm

      Thanks for the story Steve. Faron Young is important and this helps to keep his memory alive. I really enjoyed your thoughts too Kenny, I am sure Faron Young appreciated your friendship.

  2. Steve Crawford on February 25, 2018 at 7:47 pm

    Mr. Brent,

    Thank you for adding your perspective and first hand knowledge of Faron Young to my article. It’s a shame that so much of the history of country music has been forgotten. Thanks for keeping his memory alive.

    Steve Crawford

  3. David Waters on February 26, 2021 at 5:28 pm

    Wow Kenny Brent!! Thats not how I remember it

  4. Janice Coleman Van Horn on October 27, 2021 at 7:06 pm

    I’am so glad I was a WW II baby. Well August 31 Three months seven days early Country music at its best in my life time. Faron is one of my many favorites. Wish I had known him He would have known I’d of came cried with him till he let go !

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