JESSE COLIN YOUNG:|
SINGER-SONGWRITER REMAINS FOREVER YOUNG
By Paul Freeman [2007 Interview]
Jesse Colin Young may not perform as often as he once did, but his voice is as glorious as ever and his songs still touch a responsive chord. Audiences still warm to the positive glow of Young's music.
"We might only do 20 shows a year now," Young says. "So that keeps each show really special to me."
The Bay Area has always been special to Young. He lived for many years in Marin County, until a forest fire razed his Point Reyes property in 1995. He and his family moved into their second home, in Hawaii. Last year, they relocated to South Carolina, his wife's home state.
However, Young maintains an organic Kona coffee farm in the islands and expects a bumper crop. "Last year, we had to do a severe pruning, because I let the trees get too big. I'm from Queens, New York, where there's only one tree on the sidewalk, with a little fence around it," he said. "To keep the dogs from..."
Young's mother was a violinist and, in Queens, the family used to gather around the piano in the evening and sing.
After being ejected from prep school in his teens, Young discovered the lure of the blues. He admired the earthy songs of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters.
At 20, Young, accompanying himself on guitar, recorded his first album, "Soul of a City Boy." On his second record, "Young Blood," supporting musicians included John Sebastian.
Later hooking up with guitarist Jerry Corbitt, keyboardist/guitarist Lowell "Banana" Levinger and drummer Joe Bauer, Young formed the Youngbloods. In 1969, the band vaulted to the top of the charts with their anthem of peace and brotherhood, "Get Together." Young's compositions "Sunlight" and "Darkness, Darkness" also earned hit status.
In the '70s, Young released a series of acclaimed, highly successful solo albums.
After the fire, Young took time off from performing. Then, in Hawaii, he became fascinated with the slack key guitar and toured with his grown sons, one a drummer, the other a bass player.
His current band includes Young's wife Connie, a classically trained violinist. "It works beautifully," he says. "Something new for me, to have a violin. And new for her, to not be reading music, to just be pouring it out of her head and her heart."
The band has an identity all its own. "That's why I call it Celtic Mambo. The violin takes it in a Celtic direction. When you hear 'Darkness, Darkness' with a fiddle, it sounds like it could have been written in Scotland in 1800. Then Louis [Pinault], our drummer, plays congas, which can take it in a real mambo direction.
"There is that mambo/samba influence in my music, from when I was young," he said.
Young was also influenced by the movie "Black Orpheus," and its soundtrack composed by Luiz Bonfa, as well as the quintessential samba record, "Getz/Gilberto."
"I wonder how many tens of thousands of musicians are still in love with the samba, from hearing that one album," Young said. "I'm certainly one of them."
Young's set includes several new songs, as well as such timeless classics as "Song for Juli" and "Light Shine."
Even hits, in the new band setting, sound fresh. "We have to keep the old man interested. If you're open to it, things happen. Connie and I have been together 20 years and we're just now exploring playing music together professionally."
Young grew to prominence in the '60s, when an entire generation was exploring new musical forms, as well as new social and political ideas. "That was a special, unusual time when millions of people around the world were dreaming the same dream."
Always one to give back to the community, Young has been involved in many worthy causes, including The Dream Foundation and No Nukes. His "The Peace Song" is included on "Take Me Home -- A Sampler of American Artists for Peace."
Though his music is ageless, Young says his activism isn't as active as it used to be. "I've slowed down. When I meet young people, I say, 'I'm fading in the energy department. Y'all have to look at what's going on in the world, get excited about something and raise hell about it, because you've got the energy to burn.' ... I did," he said.
Fans are thankful that Young continues to occasionally muster the energy to perform. "It's just something I need to do once in a while. I don't need to do it a lot. But it's one of the ways I contribute to the world at large. You certainly wouldn't want me to fix your car, if you were stranded," he chuckled.