At my previous blog, I was one of a group who participated in what we called a “Saturday music blog crawl”. This post is partly a repeat, partly new. Think I may bring that tradition over here on Saturdays. 🙂
I’ve trumpeted ad nauseum that of all the great honky-tonk singers who emerged after Ol’ Hank died, my favorite is and will forever be Faron Young (1932-1996). Born and raised on a dairy farm outside Shreveport, Louisiana, Faron was singing on the famed Louisiana Hayride (like Knoxville’s Midday Merry-Go-Round and the Renfro Valley Barn Dance practically a springboard to the Opry) in his late teens, as a band member and protege of Webb Pierce. After military service during the Korean War, he returned to music and, for nearly thirty years, was a consistent hitmaker.
Faron was, in a way, a caricature: mouthy, brash, an unabashed racist (one of whose best friends was, nonetheless, Charley Pride), intemperate, funny as hell. One friend remarked of him, “The only thing about Faron bigger than his mouth is his heart.” That heart showed itself in many acts of kindness. He was a great friend to songwriters, particularly the generation coming up in the late fifties and early sixties; he took songs by Don Gibson, Bill Anderson, Mel Tillis, Kris Kristofferson, and above all Willie Nelson and made huge hits of them. And never once, unlike his mentor Webb Pierce, did he demand half a songwriter’s credit for recording their work–possibly the greatest kindness of all.
I have a little family story of one such kindness, too, if you’ll indulge me a bit. This one makes me smile, always:
My brother Paul (aka the Human Jukebox), was involved in a number of bands in the late eighties and early nineties, some of which made the trek to Nashville and actually did some recordings. On one of those trips, the current band stopped by the office of an agent named Billy Deason, Faron Young’s longtime manager, just to drop off a copy of their record and say hello. On this occasion Faron happened to be in the office. Paul says he was sitting there reading a magazine about bass fishing and trying to look inconspicuous; Paul recognized him, though, and sat down and engaged him in conversation. Paul can be very persuasive; he told Faron that our dad was a great fan of Faron’s from all the way back in the old days, and then, talked Faron (and Billy Deason’s office staff) into letting him use their phone to call home so Faron could talk to Dad.
At the time Dad had been ill for several years following a series of mild strokes; he was unable to work and was by then suffering from depression and the early stages of the congestive heart failure that would eventually kill him. He was home alone that day; Mom and I were at work. So it surprised him no end when Paul called and told him, “Dad, I’m in Nashville and I got somebody here who wants to talk to you.”
He handed the phone to Faron, who said, “Hello, George. This is Faron Young.”
I gather they talked for a few minutes, but Paul says he still doesn’t believe Dad believed he actually was talking to Faron Young.
Dad died in 1992. Faron, long past his prime as a star and suffering from emphysema and depression, all but forgotten save by a few (like George Strait, who had a number one hit with Faron’s “If You Ain’t Lovin'” in the late eighties), took his own life two weeks before Christmas in 1996. He was finally inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000, along with his friend Charley Pride.
These are a few of my favorites of Faron’s prodigious output:
“If You Ain’t Lovin’ (Then You Ain’t Livin’)”, written by the great Tommy Collins, was a number two hit for Faron in 1954; George Strait took it to number one in 1988, but Her Majesty Queen DinoSnob still prefers Faron’s recording. 😉
Don Gibson wrote and recorded “Sweet Dreams” in 1956, his version topping out at number nine; the same year it was a number two hit for Faron. A posthumous number five hit for Patsy Cline, “Sweet Dreams” was a number one hit for Emmylou Harris in 1976.
“Hello Walls” was the first number one song penned by the legendary Willie Nelson. The story goes that, the day Faron recorded it, the studio musicians were poking fun at its “hook”, and Faron told them to laugh all they wanted “but this damn song is gonna go to number one” and so it did.
Faron recorded “Riverboat”, written by Bill Anderson, and released it on a 45 RPM with three other songs in 1962; apparently, it didn’t chart.
CORRECTION: That’ll teach me to check multiple sources; “Riverboat” was a number four hit for Faron in 1959.
“Wine Me Up”, my number two favorite drinkin’ song (number one is Jim Ed Brown’s 1967 recording of “Pop a Top”), was a number four hit for Faron in 1969.
Faron’s last number one hit was this gorgeous sad waltz, written by Jerry Chesnut, in 1971. Recorded during Faron’s first studio session after his recovery from a near fatal car crash in which he had nearly bitten his tongue off, Faron, so the story goes, had asked Chesnut to
write him a song with as few “s” sounds as possible, as he was still having trouble pronouncing that letter.
Rest in peace, Faron. Miss you. ❤