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Faron Young: Honky-Tonker & Hellraiser

Friday, 28 June 2013 06:23 AM Written by 

They called him the Young Sheriff, then the Singing Sheriff, and finally just "Sheriff." There was only one Faron Young, a true original even in the often-quirky field of classic country.   A powerful vocalist and masterful interpreter of country's twin-fiddle honky tonk style, he was one of Nashville's true wild men, not unlike his friends, George Jones and Hank Williams Sr. Known for boozing, brawling and a foul mouth, he was also known as compassionate, especially with musicians down on their luck.

A native of Shreveport, Louisiana, born there in 1932, he grew up on a dairy farm not far from town and first idolized pop singers until he got into a country band led by the football coach in his local high school. The KWKH Louisiana Hayride stage and radio show was starting in 1948, and Young wound up working for one of the show's first big stars, Webb Pierce, for the next few years.  Other future stars starting at the Hayride were Hank Williams, Pierce, Jim Reeves, Johnny Cash, Floyd Cramer, Kitty Wells, Slim Whitman, George Jones and Elvis Presley.

1952:

By 1952 Young recorded for Capitol Records and made it to theGrand Ole Opry. His first national hit was "Goin' Steady." The original single is here.

I don't like to repeat tunes, but I'm making an exception. This late 50's "Goin' Steady" came from the LA (actually Compton) TV show Town Hall Party. Between his explosive performance and the hot band (Faron's own), it's a blockbuster.   Odell Martin is the guitarist.  Future Neil Young sideman Ben Keith does the phenomenal pedal steel work.

By the time "Goin' Steady"  hit in 1953, Young had been drafted. He wound up assigned as an Army entertainer singing with an all-soldier country band until his 1954 discharge.

1956:

One of his first big hits as a civilian: "If You Ain't Lovin' (You Ain't Livin') in 1955. This version was filmed about a year later. He's not lip-synching. This was filmed with him and the band playing live.

"Sweet Dreams," the Don Gibson ballad made famous by Patsy Cline, was around long before she recorded it. Gibson recorded it. So did Faron who had a # 2 single with it in 1956. This is from a filmed Opry program that year. He's introduced by Opry great Ernest Tubb.

1961:

The "Young Sheriff" nickname stuck after a fan suggested it and was reinforced after he did two B-westerns in 1956-57, playing a Deputy in one and a Marshal in another. Even wife Hilda called him that. He had more hits through the 50's than we can deal with here, but this next one mattered beyond Faron himself. In 1961, he got this song from a struggling Nashville songwriter from Texas and took it to # 1. The songwriter: Willie Nelson. The song: "Hello Walls."  Its success, and the success of Patsy Cline's "Crazy," another Willie tune, made him the hottest young songwriter in town.

Faron, by then a well-established star, joined Mercury Records in late 1962 and ran up a steady stream of hits but really came into his own from 1969 to 1974. He toured with his Country Deputies.

1969:

This performance of his 1969 # 2 hit "Wine Me Up," comes from the syndicated Porter Wagoner Show TV show and it's a hot one. The brown-haired fiddler is the great Vassar Clements, who worked with Faron's Deputies. The other fiddler is Mack McGaha from Porter's band the Wagonmasters. Was Faron drunk? Probably.

1973:

His final big single was his 1971 # 1 "It's Four In The Morning." From a later Hee-Haw performance.

Despite his wildness, he had solid business instincts In 1963, he founded the long-lived Nashville fan magazine Music City News and installed it in a commercial building he built downtown. 

The wilder side, however, was better known. Arrested numerous times for DUI or brawling, he nearly severed his tongue in a car crash. Following surgery, he needed therapy to re-use it. There were incidents at concerts, onstage and backstage, that would get him thrown in jail today. He punctuated interviews with obscenities that had to be edited out.  No racial progressive, he nonetheless became one of Charley Pride's best friends. Pride's talents and traditional country sound trumped Faron's well-known prejudices.

1990:

Some of his last good moments were guesting on Ralph Emery's TNN (Nashville Network) prime-time talk show Nashville Now. Faron and Ralph had a great rapport, and he was one of the few who could pull this on Faron and not get decked.

The end wasn't particularly crazed, but extremely sad.  His long-troubled marriage to Hilda, which resulted in a previous separation, ended in a 1987 divorce. She cited numerous violent episodes at home.  After the 80's he didn't record and as bookings grew fewer, depression set in. He endured pain from prostate trouble and talked openly of suicide. Given his flair for extreme comments few took him seriously, even when he began giving away treasured items.

A friend who went to check on him in December 1996 found him alive, but with a gunshot wound to the head. He died a day later.   After cremation, the family spread his ashes along Old Hickory Lake at longtime buddy Johnny Cash's estate outside Nashville.  

If he's forgotten today, the wildness—and the music—make him worth remembering.

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