ROCK & REPRISE.NET
Wickham wanted me to sign with Reprise, but I went with A&M. I
liked the energy of A&M, even if they didn't understand me.
Herb Alpert was a nice guy and there was that West Coast sixties
fresh energy or mindset, if you will.”
Chapter Two: Welcome To L.A.
Going from the Deep South to the West Coast was like stepping onto a different planet for Young. For one thing, he no longer had to worry about two-by-four wielding rednecks when he passed dark alleys. Add to that the fact that music was everywhere and he knew that he had found a home of sorts.
It was business first, of course. Richard & Jim had gone to California for a reason and there was recording to be done. When the people at Capitol Records found out that Young was not union, they sent him down for ratification. Then, it was into the studio--- first with Richard & Jim, then a few other one-off projects. He remembers Richard & Jim's producer wanting to do a project with him, but “I was just too uncontrollable,” he admitted. “I would come in in one state or another. Looking back, it could have been great and he did have me play on some sessions and things and I was making what for me was good money, but he finally got tired of trying to deal with me.”
His work on Richard & Jim's Folk Songs & Country Sounds did get him noticed and he did pick up an occasional studio gig, but he preferred plying his trade on the streets.
“Everybody was out in those days,” he remembered. “On the Strip, throngs of people were out walking and moving around and going in and out of clubs. It was going on, you know?”
Van Dyke Parks knew. He saw something in Young that he liked and they soon became friends.
“Steve came to this coffeehouse melange with two other favorite Sons of Alabama, Richard & Jim,” he wrote. “He was the heat behind their beat. Audiences were nailed to the floor with Steve's incredible voice, incendiary guitar virtuosity, birthright to the blues and vise-like grip of Scotch/Irish traditions. He'd come to Los Angeles informed by a life rich in adversity, balancing conflicted faiths. In him is the blood of the Native American and the Welsh--- the triumph of a European conqueror and the perspective of the vanquished native. Spiritual discovery is written all over him. It is in his lyrics and in the epic American poetry he has elevated with his music.
“I identified with Steve Young,” he continued. “He lived on Mariposa in Hollywood with several other exiles from Alabama. They called it Tobacco Road. There was a picture of the infamous Alabama Governor George Wallace hanging in the living room. Somebody had penciled in a moustache and he looked like a dead-ringer for Adolf Hitler.”
Upon finding one another, Young and Parks immediately set about trying music.
“I started hanging out with Parks a lot,” Young said. “He lived this madcap life. People would come in and out of this place where he lived, different bands and the like. And there I was, living this very destructive kind of life--- doing drugs and drinking. It was like I didn't want success. I just wanted to be around the fringes and play.
“In the L.A. of the sixties, on the streets, everybody was doing a little drinking but mostly drugs. Drinking became not a cool thing to do. Sometimes people would act like I was a redneck and all I liked was to drink, so I would try to suppress my urge to drink. Finally, I said to hell with it and began mixing the booze and drugs.”
He signed on for a short time as lead guitarist for the Skip Battin Band. Though they were not a big ticket item, Battin--- long an L.A. rock/Byrds/Burritos luminary--- got his share of gigs.
“I used to have a great time watching people dance while I played,” Young said. “Skip would get these gigs and sometimes famous people would show up. I remember once Sal Mineo was in the audience. I'll never forget that.”
He hooked up again with Van Dyke Parks for a short time and formed a group called The Gas Company, a very young Stephen Stills playing rhythm guitar to Steve's lead.
“We were approached repeatedly by the record companies,” Parks said, “either singly or as a group, to sign on the dotted line; but in each case there was the specter of 'selling out' and Steve was wary.”
“The thing is, Van Dyke would always blow the record deals,” Young countered. “The labels wanted him but he didn't really want to sign for what they offered. We were starving and I wanted some money. Once, a record label gave us a check, but if we cashed it we were signing the contract. I wanted to cash it and worry about the contract later, but somehow Van Dyke talked me out of it.”
Young tried to get some other things going, but nothing seemed to work. He met and eventually married Terrye Newkirk, a singer/songwriter (who appeared with Roger Tillison as Gypsy Trips) and took a job as a mailman in Silver Lake to keep things going. Finally, he was approached by the manager of a group which would be called Stone Country which would also include his friend from Richard & Jim, Richard Lockmiller.
“Stone Country had been sort of manufactured,” Young explained. “They were a group of very diverse people with very diverse attitudes and tastes in music. It was always this big ego battle royal going on. But we wound up getting a record deal and recorded one album for RCA. It is a strange, strange record. Some of us were clicking together and some of us were in different worlds. But we recorded the album and played some gigs around L.A.
“Eventually, I sort of won the big ego battle. Some producers started to say, we like this guy Young. We think he can sing. But we don't like this group. Consequently, I got a couple of recording offers and left. The guys saw me as this ruthless guy who was looking out only for himself, you know, but to me it was all about leaving the hassles. And it did allow me to do my own thing.
“Andy Wickham wanted me to sign with Reprise, but I went with A&M. I liked the energy of A&M, even if they didn't understand me. Herb Alpert was a nice guy and there was that West Coast sixties fresh energy or mindset, if you will.”
Tommy LiPuma, assigned by A&M to head the project, set about organizing things.
“At the time,” according to Young, “LiPuma and I were butting heads a lot, but LiPuma heard it. He appreciated what I did and really got in there and worked with me and let me express my ideas. Except, ironically, he didn't want me to write. He wanted to hear me sing and wanted to hear the way I saw things and heard things, but he didn't want to use my songs.
“Of course, at the time, I didn't really trust him. I didn't trust any producer. I didn't want anybody screwing up the music and I was afraid they were going to do just that. Still, LiPuma worked with me and helped to dig things out. For instance, one day in the studio, James Burton and a bass player were there and we ran out of songs. I said, okay, let's try this and I started playing Seven Bridges Road. Burton said, hey, this sounds good and LiPuma had to admit it. That's how that song made it to tape. There wound up being maybe three originals on the record.
“I wanted Rock Salt & Nails on the record. Rosalie Sorrels had showed me the song and I heard Flatt & Scruggs do it. Rosalie and I talked about it. When I recorded it, I didn't go back to check out the Flatt & Scruggs version or the accuracy of my lyrics on it. I subconsciously changed it around a bit. My imagination came into play and in the end I think I did the best version of it. I think it is a great song, even though Utah Phillips, who wrote it, said it wasn't. I have no idea who decided to title the album after that song, but I was okay with it.”
A handful of people stopped by for guest appearances. Gene Clark played harmonica on My Sweet Love Ain't Around; Gram Parsons, who was then working on Flying Burrito Brothers material, played organ at the end of That's How Strong My Love Is. Richard Greene, between sessions and appearances with Sea Train, added fiddle (credited to Myer Sniffin) on Rock Salt & Nails and Johnny Horton's I'm a One Woman Man.
The resulting album, Rock Salt & Nails, was released in 1969 to resounding public indifference and promptly tanked.
“There was no promotion. A&M just did not know what to do with it,” lamented Young, “and LiPuma was upset. He wanted them to put up a billboard on Sunset and really promote it and work it. He thought they would be jazzed by it. He was blown away that they didn't know what to make of it. It was one of many reasons he left A&M and went on to do different things (among them, produce Miles Davis and Anita Baker).
“A few people heard the album and liked it. Like Jim Rooney at the Newport Folk Festival in 1969--- he wanted me to come and play. But on the whole, there wasn't much reaction. The world was not impressed.”
One could tell by the tone of voice that the failure of Rock Salt & Nails rankled, even after four decades. Critical if not financial success followed many of Young's contemporaries in that L.A. scene.
“It was the beginning of that whole thing,” Young pointed out. “That was the period when Gram Parsons had just finished his record with The Flying Burrito Brothers (Gilded Palace of Sin) and Dillard & Clark were going on. And me. That was the beginning, I think, of the real outlaw country, country progressive, country rock or whatever you want to call it.”
Whatever you do want to call it, one cannot deny that it was a huge opportunity missed. In retrospect Young will occasionally even admit it, but it has never been in his character to dwell on such things. Not realizing it, he had much more music to write and record and more history to write. His next step: Reprise Records. And more excellent music which struggled to find an ear.
Chapter One: The
Long Way to Hollywood