Though Reggie Young was born in Missouri, history has confirmed that he is as Memphis as they come. Having begun his career in Eddie “Rockin' Daddy” Bond's band in the 50s, his guitar acumen helped him to advance quickly. After a spell with Johnny Horton, he became an integral part of Bill Black's Combo, who worked out of Hi Records' Royal Studios to produce scores of instrumental hits.
From Hi, he moved to American Studios and once again was part of a hit making machine, this time known as the Memphis Boys, American's in house band. That's him on Elvis' hits of the time, and many others from the late 60s and 70s, including the distinctive electric sitar on B.J. Thomas' “Hooked on a Feeling.” In the decades beyond, he was associated more with the Highwaymen and Waylon Jennings.
It's worth recalling his storied history in Memphis now, after the summer release of his album Forever Young
. Incredibly, this marks Young's first album under his own name, as a band leader. Recorded in several studios in Tennessee and Alabama, but primarily at La La Land Studio in Muscle Shoals, it captures the elegant, shimmering fretwork that Young is known for. The result may not set the world on fire. Perhaps it's polished to a fault, but fans of smooth soul/jazz will enjoy it immensely. To these ears, and aside from its sheer dexterity, it's chiefly significant as a landmark in a career that has mostly been in the service of other artists.
But the album also drives home a point that is easily forgotten in the revolving door of musical trends: giants still walk among us. Those who have survived this long, after the white hot decades of the 50s-70s, deserve recognition. To this end, it's significant that Young has received honors from the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Memphis chapter of The Recording Academy in just the past decade. Recognition can be a long time coming.
His role in history is doubly important because, as he lived it, he painstakingly notated every session he participated in from 1964 on. These neatly hand-penned notebooks are a music historian's dream. And it's now being made available to the general public
, thanks to his collaboration with the Soul Detective
website. One can get lost in the hundreds of sessions and releases documented on this site. An ongoing labor of love, it is a work in progress as information for each new year is added. Check it out and take a stroll through one giant's role in American music.
Young will appear in the panel discussion,
Forever Young: An Oral History with Reggie Young, at the Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference in New Orleans, Oct. 5-6.