Faron Young: 1932 to 1996
In those days, there were giants: honky-tonk heroes, men whose very names — Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price, Carl Smith — conjure images of dance halls, beer spilled on a hardwood floor, ill-fated romance in cheap motel rooms. Their powerful voices over a relentless swing groove had a direct line to America’s soul.
It was into this world that Faron Young emerged. As a teenager still living in his birthplace of Shreveport, Louisiana, Young had aspirations to be a “pop” singer. But, swept away by the honky-tonk tidal wave, he sought the help of Webb Pierce, a more established singer from Shreveport. Through Pierce, Young eventually won a regular spot on KWKH’s Louisiana Hayride. Young’s first recordings were made at KWKH and were released on the Gotham label. On these sides, as well as the earliest of his Capitol recordings, one can hear the impressionable young singer’s infatuation with Hank Williams’ vocal style.
A powerful station at 50,000 watts, KWKH could be heard throughout the southwest; the Hayride had propelled the careers of both Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell into high gear only a couple years earlier. One of Young’s Hayride performances caught the ear of Capitol Records’ Ken Nelson, and on March 1, 1952, barely 20 years old, Young recorded “Tattle Tale Tears”, the first of many sides for Capitol.
By May 1952, Young had recorded his first hit for Capitol, “Goin’ Steady” / “Just Out of Reach (of My Two Open Arms)”, which went to #2 on Billboard’s country chart. But his rocket to stardom sputtered when he received his draft notice; in November 1952, he reported for two years of active army duty.
Hard-core honky-tonk fever had subsided when he returned to civilian life, but the time was right for a more seasoned Faron Young. A series of successful recordings included “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’)”, “Just Married”, and the honky-tonk anthem “I’ve Got Five Dollars and It’s Saturday Night”. In 1955, Young scored his first #1 hit with Joe Allison’s “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young”. The song was more than a performance; it became a credo for the life of the country singer. Though he escaped the alcohol baited traps that snared Hank and Lefty, Young was known for his outspoken style, his flamboyant live performances, and his flair for expensive clothes, good cigars and a good time.
Young’s association with Capitol was long and successful, culminating with his huge 1961 hit recording of Willie Nelson’s “Hello Walls”. The soft edge of “Hello Walls” was a preview of the years to come as honky-tonk succumbed to the Nashville sound. Though Young remained a chart success, it is his Capitol recordings that remain close to the hearts hard-core honky-tonk fans.
On December 10, Young, who had been suffering from emphysema, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He was 64. Along with Hank, Webb, Lefty and others, his music will be remembered long after carefully laundered pop-country fluff is forgotten. Which is not to say Young received due recognition. At the news of his death, more than one person responded, “Oh, I didn’t know he was still alive.” The country establishment has a shameful habit of covering its tracks, of prematurely burying its history.
Nevertheless, Young will be remembered in the repertoires of countless country bands. His relaxed vocal phrasing will be honored daily in the voices of country singers, though they’re often unaware of the legacy they inherited. His credo, “Live Fast… Love Hard…”, will be followed by the faithful when they’ve “…got five dollars and it’s Saturday night.” Faron Young, true to his wish, leaves a beautiful memory.