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Jesse Colin Young

For a period in the mid-70s (until punk/new wave took its cull), the name of singer-songwriter JESSE COLIN YOUNG was on the lips of Americans: from his East Coast roots to his adopted West Coast residence. Almost horizontally cool, this dude was his nation’s answer to VAN MORRISON or GRAHAM NASH, and an artist that was painfully easy-listening on occasion, despite having a CV that was entrenched in 60s psychedelia and folk-rock courtesy of his leadership of “Get Together” outfit, The YOUNGBLOODS.
Born Perry Miller, November 22, 1941, Queens, NY, “Jesse” was a prodigy of-sorts, a teenager subsequently expelled from the prestigious Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, when honing-in a Greenwich Village coffeehouse-to-bars lifestyle. Not particularly inspirational by any stretch of the imagination, YOUNG’s THE SOUL OF A CITY BOY (1964) {*5} debut was highlighted by `Rye Whiskey’ and Robin Remaily’s `Four In The Morning’, two nice’n’easy country-folk smoothies. Switching from Capitol to Mercury Records for his sophomore YOUNG BLOOD (1965) {*5} disc, YOUNG delivered original songs, alongside MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT’s `Nobody’s Dirty Business’, the traditional `Cotton Eyed Joe’ and jazz-blues staple `Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?’.
Formed in and around the Boston area, although they duly relocated to the sunnier climes of California, The YOUNGBLOODS were a typical 60s flower-power unit; Jesse taking elements from The LOVIN’ SPOONFUL and The BYRDS, with his likeminded compadres, Joe Bauer, Lowell “Banana” Levinger and Jerry Corbitt, complementing gracefully on a handful of compulsive single and LPs.
As The YOUNGBLOODS were about to sign off for good on 1972’s “High On A Ridge Top”, JESSE COLIN YOUNG was already into his third solo release, TOGETHER (also 1972) {*6}, a record taking in a hotch-potch of styles ranging from country-blues to 50s rock’n’roll. Dipping at least one foot in the past, the singer displayed versatility on cuts once the property of CHUCK BERRY (`Sweet Little Sixteen’), WOODY GUTHRIE (`Pastures Of Plenty’), The BUTTERFIELD BLUES BAND (`Born In Chicago’), MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT (`Creole Belle’), et al.
Marking his first fully-fledged solo outing, SONG FOR JULI (1973) {*7} brought about a change in YOUNG’s fortunes, its soft-rock philosophy matching his sentimentality (Juli’s his daughter), becoming, in the process, a deserved near-Top 50 breaker. Recorded from his “Ridgetop” hideaway in Marin County, California, the album’s graceful grooves reminded one of summer days listening to VAN MORRISON, albeit with a celebratory twist, via renditions of the bluesy `T-Bone Shuffle’, the Cajun `Lafayette Waltz’ and the country-infused `Jambalaya (On The Bayou)’.
Delivered only a matter of months after his “comeback” fourth set, the Top 40 LIGHT SHINE (1974) {*8} was a tightly-knit record, displaying the jazzy backing-band talents of Scott Lawrence (keyboards), Jeffrey Myer (drums) and, as always, reed-player extraordinaire, Jim Rothermel. Conveying mood swings as changeable as the weather, the 3-minute sunshine song, `Barbados’, was almost eaten up by the prog-ish twist and turns of the 2-part/11-minute, `Grey Day’ – part of the opening `California Suite’. One can almost imagine Old Grey Whistle Test presenter Bob Harris getting all misty-eyed at this piece of beauty, while one’ll never hear another re-imagining of trad-folkie, `The Cuckoo’, as funky as Jesse’s re-vamp.
Finding an audience through his support on CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG’s summer 1974 reunion tour, this YOUNG man peaked commercially (Top 30) with the deliciously romantic SONGBIRD (1975) {*7}. Taking the plight of Native Americans in `Before You Came’, and re-treading old footsteps (`Sugar Babe’ and `Josiane’) from his Youngbloods halcyon days, Jesse maintained a mainstream sound equivalent to that of SEALS & CROFT.
Armed with usual suspects, including wife Suzi (on harmonies) and bassist David Hayes, ON THE ROAD (1976) {*6} cherry-picked some of his best tunes, although self-indulgence was the keyword as much of the live grooves were taken up by a 13-minute rendition of `Ridgetop’, and covers of MARVIN GAYE’s `What’s Going On – Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’ and RANDY NEWMAN’s `Have You Seen My Baby?’.
Working again with Youngbloods producer Felix Pappalardi, YOUNG was the antithesis of the emerging punk movement in Britain, but that mattered not to his disciples who bought the countri-fied LOVE ON THE WING (1977) {*5}. From his searching reading of Blue Hazelhurst’s title track to his ill-advised cover of another HANK WILLIAMS dirge, `Hey, Good Lookin’’, decreasing sales meant that YOUNG was transferred to Elektra Records.
Singing from the safe and heavenly Hawaiian State (Maui, one imagines), AMERICAN DREAMS (1978) {*4} was Jesse’s slide into sophisti-disco, although political history was at the heart and soul of his autobiographical 17-minute/side-long title track suite; one should avoid embarrassing covers of BUDDY HOLLY’s `Rave On’ and EDDIE FLOYD’s `Knock On Wood’.
When folk dinosaurs had been hit by the big bang that was new wave, YOUNG found it hard to deliver the needed oomph and character needed to separate him from the ageing pack of singer-songwriters; 1982’s THE PERFECT STRANGER {*3} was a run-of-the-mill, session-friendly work, while AOR collaborations with Wendy Waldman and others (plus a weak cover of The BAND’s `Ophelia’), had little to say in an ever-evolving modern market.
Returning from a brief YOUNGBLOODS reunion tour, 1987’s THE HIGHWAY IS FOR HEROES {*5} (for the short-lived Cypress imprint) showed signs of an improvement, albeit one that reprised patchwork oldies such as `When You Dance’, `T-Bone Shuffle’ and `Before You Came’. Almost cast out from former backers and the likes, Jesse founded his own record company, Ridgetop; the 50-something artist clawing back some respect on subsequent sets, MAKIN’ IT REAL (1993) {*5} and SWEPT AWAY (1994) {*6}. His live SWEET WATER (1996) {*6} revisited some of his finest tunes in an “unplugged” style, turning back time and upping the amps for a gospel-grunge take of `Get Together’ (“Nevermind” that NIRVANA had ripped lines for their “Territorial Pissings” in ‘91). Post-millennium, YOUNG pleased his loyal fanbase with the release of a couple of nice-and-easy sets: WALK THE TALK (2003) {*5}, LIVING IN PARADISE (2004) {*4} and the live STANDING ROOM ONLY (2007) {*5}; the latter featuring his backing band Celtic Mambo.
Recovering from a long and nasty bout of Lyme Disease in which he had to give up drinking while on antibiotics, the 77 year-old JESSE COLIN YOUNG was back in shape for his Colin Linden-produced/BMG-endorsed studio set, DREAMERS (2019) {*7} – named after the current unconstitutional banning of immigrants. The record was helped along by bassist son Tristan (part of an 8-piece combo touring the East Coast), but the real story was how eclectic and political it all sounded. From a Celtic-rock perspective about the Boston bombing, `Cast A Stone’ (penned with wife Connie), to roots-y rock’n’roller `Walk The Talk’ (very NILS LOFGREN), to the soft-shoe shuffle of `For My Sisters’ (dedicated to the Me Too movement), the peace-loving Jesse deserved better rewards for his efforts. The album’s other political missives, of course, came under the spotlight: `Shape Shifters’ being pitted against certain celebs that lie on TV, and `For Orlando’, aimed strictly at that city’s mindless sniper massacre.
© MC Strong 1997-2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Oct2013-Jun2019

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  1. Donna Miorandi

    I saw Jesse in Boston in late 70’s . Where did he perform? Forget name of theater

    1. Martin Strong

      I’m sorry, Donna, I wasn’t there. I was (and still am) residing in bonnie Scotland. If you wish, I can look up theatres in Boston. I’d be happy to jog your memory. The only gig that blew my mind was The Stranglers; funnily enough around the late 70s. Now where was that gig again…?

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