How social media tipped me to the passing of Steve Young.
April 22, 2016
I still get most of my news from a daily paper and magazines. But if I’d relied solely on those endangered media, the death of Steve Young might have stayed off my radar for days or weeks. Not that the brilliant singer-songwriter’s passing wasn’t significant enough to warrant pretty-quick coverage by RollingStone.com, CMT.com, and a few other outlets. But I might not have checked for those obituaries had I not been given a heads-up on social media.
I don’t check my Twitter account every few minutes for headlines and links to feature stories, not that Young’s demise flooded the digital streams the way Prince’s did, but I do occasionally find surprising, all-too-frequently sad, news in my Facebook feed. And it was on March 18 that a pair of posts by the singer Tracy Nelson alerted me to the fact that Young had died the day before. Nelson—known to many as the lead singer of the eclectic blues-folk-country-rock band Mother Earth in the late ’60s and early ’70s, and as the composer of “Down So Low”—linked to two YouTube audio tracks, one of Young singing his gorgeous “Montgomery in the Rain” (famously covered by Hank Williams, Jr.), and another of Nelson herself, with Mother Earth, singing what was probably Young’s most famous song, “Seven Bridges Road.” Nelson wrote: “Steve passed yesterday. I’m not ready to really talk about him yet but I wanted to honor him by sharing two of my favorite collaborations. What an amazing, brilliant soulful guy.”
The essentials: Young was born in Georgia, on July 12, 1942, started writing songs in high school, was part of the country-folk-rock scene in Los Angeles for a while in the late 1960s (working with Stephen Stills, Gene Clark, and Gram Parsons), became associated with the outlaw country scene that connected Texas and Tennessee, and was one of the performing songwriters, along with Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, and others, captured in director James Szalapski’s documentary Heartworn Highways. (He told much of his story to No Depression magazine last year.) Among the most prominent renditions of his songs were the Eagles’ live cover of “Seven Bridges Road” (which did not improve upon the brilliant 1973 recording of it by Iain Matthews) and the Waylon Jennings hit version of “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean.”
His own catalog of recordings extends from his 1969 debut, Rock Salt & Nails, through 1991’s Solo/Live, 1993’s Switchblades of Love, to 1999’s Primal Young. While Young achieved neither the renown nor the commercial success of some of his peers, his finely crafted songs and his rich, soulful singing make those albums deeply rewarding listening.
Young had fallen and incurred a debilitating brain injury last fall. His health declined in the ensuing months, and he entered hospice care in Nashville shortly before his death at the age of 73. If he was somehow not on your radar, check out the videos below, and perhaps they’ll set you off your own journey of discovery.
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