Born 25 February 1932, Shreveport, Louisiana
Faron Young, also known as the Singing Sheriff, is one of the great singers of country music and also one of the most successful. He knew how to keep up with current trends in music and from 1953 until 1976, not a single year went by that he didn't have a Top Twenty country hit (79 Top 40 hits altogether, 1953-78). With a voice that easily crossed from country to pop and an outgoing personality, he was a natural in front of live audiences, which helped preserve his career for more than four decades.
Raised on a farm outside of Shreveport, Faron got his first guitar in grade school and spent hours figuring out how to play it. Originally he was more interested in pop music than in country, but that changed after Webb Pierce took Young under his wing and began paying him to warm up his shows. Pierce got Faron on the Louisiana Hayride and landed him his first recording contract, with Pacemaker, a label he co-owned. Six sides were recorded on October 10, 1951, and leased to Philadelphia's Gotham label. However, the first Gotham single (412), "Hi-Tone Poppa"/"Hot Rod Shotgun Boogie No. 2", came out under the name of Tillman Franks and his Rainbow Boys, though Faron was the vocalist. But the next two Gotham singles appeared under Young's own name.
By February 1952, Faron had been signed to Capitol Records, for which he would record for the next ten years, always under the supervision of producer Ken Nelson. He moved to Nashville and got a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry. His fourth Capitol single, "Goin' Steady", brought him his first hit (# 2 country, early 1953), but then his career got side- tracked when he was drafted. While in the service, he performed on army recruitment programs and continued to record. He was discharged in November 1954, just as "If You Ain't Lovin'" was hitting the charts (# 2). This honky tonk song would define his style for the next four years. Classics from this period are "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young" (1955, # 1), "It's A Great Life (If You Don't Weaken)" (1955, # 5), "I've Got Five Dollars And It's Saturday Night" (1956, # 4) and "Sweet Dreams" (1956, # 2). Not only was he a honky tonk man in sound, but he also lived the lifestyle.
Like many other country stars, Faron dabbled with rockabilly / rock 'n' roll in songs like "Honey Stop", "I Can't Dance" and "Rosalie's Gonna Get Married" (1957-58) and while these tracks are enjoyable for the superb instrumental backing by the Nashville A-Team, you can tell from Faron's vocal that his heart was not in it. "Alone With You" was more up his alley and gave him his second number one (1958). The next year this was followed by another chart-topper, "Country Girl", which also had a strong B-side in the shape of "I Hear You Talking". At the turn of the decade Faron had softened his honky tonk style and adapted to the so-called Nashville Sound that was so popular in the late fifties and early sixties : smooth backing vocals and lush orchestration replaced fiddles and steel guitars. This style reached its pinnacle with "Hello Walls" (1961), the biggest hit of Young's career (# 1 country for nine weeks, also # 12 pop). That song, blessed with exceptionally poignant lyrics, was written by Willie Nelson.
Faron also branched out into films and publishing. He appeared in five feature films between 1956 and 1967 and in 1963 he founded the long-running country music periodical Music City News. In late 1962 Young switched to Mercury, where he was produced by Jerry Kennedy or Shelby Singleton on most sessions. Though he still scored hits, many of the 1960s recordings were rather bland compared to the Capitol period. By the end of the sixties he had recaptured much of his hard country fire with hits such as "Wine Me Up" (# 2, 1969). Released in 1971, the waltz-time ballad "It's Four In the Morning" was Faron's last # 1 hit and also his only UK chart entry (# 3, with a 23-week run).
By the mid-1970s his records were becoming overshadowed by his salty persona. For example, he made headlines in 1972 when he was charged with assault for spanking a girl in the audience at a concert in Clarksburg, Virginia, who he claimed spat on him. After sixteen years at Mercury, Young switched to MCA in 1979, but the association lasted only two years and there were no significant hits in the 1980s. In 1988 he was picked up by the Nashville independent Step One, for which he recorded prolifically during the next three years (mostly re-recordings of his old hits), but again without commercial success. Young apparently felt that the industry had turned his back on him. That and despondency over his deteriorating health were cited as possible reasons why Young shot himself in the head at his home on December 9, 1996. He was taken to a Nashville hospital where he died the following day. In 2000 he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame.
As Deke Dickerson concludes in his excellent liner notes for the CD "Hi-Tone Poppa", Faron Young was not a musical innovator. His desire to be on top of the charts, his craving for attention made him a follower, not a leader. But this does not diminish the importance of his musical legacy.
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Biography : Diane Diekman, Live Fast, Love Hard : The Faron Young Story. Urbana : University of Illinois Press, 2007. 296 pages.
Acknowledgements : Deke Dickerson, Daniel Cooper, Wayne Jancik, Joel Whitburn.
Discography / sessionography :
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