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“I think some day I would like to go back to a very simple group, sort of like the Sun Records' approach or an early Elvis kind of thing. Maybe a trio with a good acoustic bass and a brush drummer or something.” --- Steve Young
Chapter Eight: A Return to the Roots
“Appleseed is run by a lawyer, Jim Musselman, who has a kind of social-political approach. I think he may have at one time worked for Ralph Nader. He liked the fact that I had recorded this Dick Gaughan song, Worker's Song, from Gaughan's Handful of Earth album. (Note: Though Gaughan recorded it, the song was written by one Ed Pickford) I think that's why he wanted to work with me.
“What was to become the Primal Young album was sponsored, oddly enough, by an Australian label, Shock. They were just fans who decided it needed to be done. There was this one guy in Australia, Keith Glass, who is a musician and a journalist. He talked a lot about me and was a bit of a wheeler-dealer and I think he was responsible for the deal, to some extent. I guess he liked what I did so much that he kind of naturally promoted the idea.
“A friend of mine who lives in Topanga Canyon in L.A. produced it: J.C. Crowley. I think he did a great job. He is a very talented musician in his own right and I think we did the best we could with what we had to work with.”
Released in 1999, it made its way to a handful of loyal fans, but no further. Appleseed's distribution was weak and the music business was already feeling the impact of the digital revolution, though many think that it was not digitization which prevented sales but the weakening of all distribution networks. For reasons unknown (though highly speculated), the industry was too busy shooting itself in the foot to see what the future held. His frustration at a peak, Young at that point did not much care. He just wanted to play and record what music was left in his veins.
The next year, 2000, someone in BMG's UK office decided that Young's two RCA releases, Renegade Picker and No Place To Fall deserved re-release and ordered them packaged together in a two-disc set. BMG in the States hardly noticed.
“Whatever they did on that,” Young commented, “they did a good job. Now, mind you, those tapes were handled extremely well. They were recorded on old analog gear in RCA's Studio B in Nashville, a famous studio for good reason. They had great gear in there, I am certain. You see, in those days, I didn't really pay attention. I don't know what they used because I didn't care. There is no telling what they had. I wish I could go back and see, if only to say, boy, look at that! I know they got a good sound to begin with. They recorded on a two-inch analog tape and mixed it down to, what? A quarter-inch? A half-inch? Regardless, however they handled the digital mastering of the reissue, somebody did it right.”
GROWING YOUR OWN.....
The whole digital revolution planted a seed of an idea in Young's mind. After years of approaching labels to purchase his own tapes (which the labels steadfastly refused to re-release) and having it come to nothing, he began toying with the idea of building his own studio. He had his house in Nashville and the price of recording equipment had been dropping with the technological advances, so the more he thought about it, the more possible it seemed. He began researching the possibility and making small purchases here and there and before long, had the basics of a working studio put together.
The idea was to be able to record and experiment with music, but while he was heading in that direction, his past kept tugging at him. All of his songs, his musical past, tied up by the major labels..... It was an obstacle in his path. Finally he came to a conclusion. If they would not release them or sell them to him so that he could, he would simply re-record them.
“Some of the songs I ended up recording for Songlines were unavailable, so I thought it was time. My albums have always gone in and out of print and I had always wanted to own my own masters, so I created some.”
“I was not at a stage with my home studio where I could work with other musicians all that easily,” Young explained, “so we went to a small local studio. I did take a few pieces of my gear and used some of it. We had Pat McInerney on drums, Thomm Jutz on guitar, and David Roe on bass. Roe played with Johnny Cash for about ten years. He's really good at slap bass. We did a version of Lonesome, Orn'ry & Mean that had a bit of the Sun Records sound, with that slap bass.
“I personally think it is interesting to do different recordings of the same songs. Sometimes, maybe it gets overdone, but there are lots of ways to do songs. Different feels, different approaches. Jazz guys used to do it and the fans seemed to dig it. Outside of jazz, though, people seem to be critical of it.
“I think the best cut on Songlines is Alabama Highway, which needed to be redone. I have always thought it could be better and now, I think it is better. Better in every way--- the track, the vocal, just the feel of it. It just captures better the way I wanted that song to be.
“I think some day I would like to go back to a very simple group--- say, a good acoustic bass--- sort of like the Sun Records approach or an early Elvis kind of thing. Maybe a trio with a good brush drummer or something. I think that would sound great.”
When the album was released, it wasn't. Young printed up enough copies to take on the road with him for point-of-purchase sales and that was it. It took him a year or so to ready it for public consumption. Such is Steve Young's introverted view of the marketplace these days. The if-you-build-it-they-will-come approach will not make Young a rich man, but it fits in better with his philosophy.
That philosophy will be the subject of the last chapter on our story. I have always maintained that to understand the music, you have to understand the musician and understanding Steve Young takes some serious thought. I talked with Young numerous times over an eighteen year period and always walked away thinking I finally got him only to find that after a short period of time, I had more questions. Every time.
Young today spends as much time in his studio as anywhere. He gets out to the occasional guitar workshop or folk festival and plays the one-off gigs that certain people talk him into, but he is hardly the wandering troubadour he once was. Music is still central to his life, though, and his many fans are thankful for that.
“What I have going on now,” he said, “is, well, confused. I have acquired a certain amount of recording equipment, which is a bad thing to get into because it costs a lot of money. If you like the good stuff like I do, anyway. I'm trying to learn to use it, which is very difficult for me. My dream would be to move into a home more suitable for a home studio and do recordings I can control more--- simple but high quality recordings.
“I'm learning. There are guys out there putting out CDs of blind tests and they'll say, okay, was this mixed on ProTools on the computer or was it mixed on an old Neve board. Tell us. And some people can tell and some people can't. There may not even be a real answer and yet some people say that even if they can't hear the difference, they can feel the difference. It's not easy.
“There is really no end to the discussion about sound. The fact is that the great old studios had the gear they had for a reason. Because you never know what this singer--- which mic and which preamp he might sound better on. There is no set formula, really. A good engineer knows which piece to go to and which piece to put with which. That's part of the art of it and the old engineers had a lot to choose from. It's like having different paints to paint with.”
Chapter One: The
Long Way to Hollywood