Saturday, December 8, 2012


Yet another of the crazy assumptions made by rock critics is that most 1960s country music productions fell victim to the production style known as "countrypolitan", in which strings (not fiddles) and choruses (chorii?) were added to straight country music to make it more "palatable" to an "uptown" audience. These same critics also say that countrypolitan was a BAD thing. I'd have to disagree on all counts; sometimes the countrypolitan style really worked - like on records by Patsy Cline and Connie Smith, among others.

Sometimes, however, a record was made to be straight country - no strings, no sweeteners, no Anita Kerr Singers. Like "Unmitigated Gall" by Faron Young.

Faron Young (1932-1996) was one of the GREAT honky-tonk singers of all time. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, Faron had the advantage of being in close proximity to the #2 country radio show in the nation, "The Louisiana Hayride". For a time, the "Hayride" gave serious competition to The Grand Ole Opry as the top country music show on the radio, discovering and signing stars such as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves, Kitty Wells, Hank Snow, Johnny Horton, and some kid named Elvis Presley. Many of these stars were later snatched up by the Opry, but it was the Hayride that gave them their start. Faron got his foot in the door as a member of Pierce's band, but his playing and singing (and his Hollywood-style good looks) were too good to keep under wraps. By age 19 he had cut his first record, released by Gotham Records of Philadelphia (!!) and by age 20 he was signed to Capitol Records, having a #2 country hit with "Goin' Steady" in late 1952. Unfortunately, Faron was drafted shortly afterwards. Despite being unable to promote his records through concert appearances, Faron still managed a trio of Top Ten country hits - "I Can't Wait" in 1953 and "A Place For Girls Like You" and "If You Ain't Lovin'" in 1954.

But once Faron got out of the Army, he was unstoppable - during 1955-1956, every record Faron released hit the country Top Ten. He also began appearing in films such as Hidden Guns, Daniel Boone: Trailblazer and Raiders Of Old California, which was where Faron got his nickname, "The Sheriff". He became Capitol Records' biggest-selling country artist. He even cut some rockabilly sides during the late 1950s (check out "I Can't Dance", if you can find a copy), and continued to have Top Ten country hits through 1962, including his biggest hit, "Hello Walls", which was #1 for 9 weeks (and was written by one of Faron's buddies, Willie Nelson).

Then, in a shocking move, after 10 years with Capitol, Faron left the label and signed with Mercury at the end of 1962. But, as they say, the hits just kept on comin', with records like "The Yellow Bandana" and "Walk Tall" hitting the Top Ten.

But behind that Hollywood-handsome smile lurked a wild man. It was common knowledge that Faron liked to drink (hell, it was common knowledge that everyone in country music liked to drink), but Faron liked to play with guns while he drank - he used to like to come home drunk and shoot holes in his kitchen ceiling when he wasn't pointing the gun at his wife and threatening her. He also had a couple of drinking buddies in his band in 1960 - Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck, two of country's most notable loonys. Faron was once famously quoted as saying, "I'm not an alcoholic, I'm a drunk!"

The above record, from 1966, is, in my opinion, one of Faron's best. Great fast-strumming acoustic guitar (sort of like a country Bo Diddley) which perfectly frames a great Mel Tillis lyric about an ex-lover who's come back (sample lyric: "Well how can you have the unmitigated gall / to come back now, expecting me to fall / right down on my knees and kiss your feet / feet that one day went-a-walkin' / out on me with a fast talkin' slob / you hardly knew his name / your mind is DERANGED").

Faron continued to have big country hits all the way into the mid-1970s, but he didn't really need singing to pay the bills anymore, due to wide-ranging investments and his founding and publishing of The Music City News, which for years was sort of the C&W version of "Rolling Stone" magazine. The strange behavior also continued - in 1972 Young was fined for spanking a six-year-old girl onstage at one of his concerts (he claimed she spat in his face). After the hits dried up, Mercury dropped Faron in 1978 and he signed with MCA the next year. After a couple of years there, Young basically dropped out of sight for a few years, resurfacing with a few records on the independent Step One label, but only one of them, "Stop And Take The Time", managed to chart - at #100.

Faron's health took a turn for the worse, and by 1991 he was no longer recording. Years of smoking had left him with emphysema and prostate cancer. The emphysema got so bad that Faron couldn't even sing a line without running out of breath or coughing. That depressing fact, combined with a poor mental state in which he was convinced that Nashville had turned its back on him (not surprising, considering how they've turned their backs on ALL the classic country artists in favor of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and some Justin Beiber-wannabe named Hunter Hayes) caused Faron to load up his gun one last time on December 9, 1996. But instead of pointing it at his kitchen ceiling, Faron Young pointed it at his own head and pulled the trigger. He died the next day, and Nashville had the unmitigated gall to suddenly recognize him again, putting his face up on a video screen for a few seconds on awards shows - a tawdry tribute to one of the greatest country and western singers of all time.

Faron Young - Unmitigated Gall (Mercury 72617) - 1966


  1. Think Bobby Bare said it best about Nashville and how they turn their back on the living:

    Rough on the Living Lyrics

    (Shel Silverstein)

    I wanna sing this song for a friend of ours
    His picture was in all the papers
    They said that a legend had passed
    The late evenin' news did a special report
    And swore that his mem'ry would last
    They're playin' his records all weekend
    Praisin' the life that he lived
    Nashville is rough on the livin'
    But she really speaks well of the dead.

    The wife that they interviewed cried
    Is the same one who left him last fall
    And the record producer who called him a hero
    Is the one who wouldn't answer his calls
    The ladies they sit over coffee
    Braggin' bout sharin' his bed
    They didn't want him around when he's livin'
    But he's sure a good friend when he's dead.

    They observed twenty seconds of silence
    At the Opry on Saturday night
    And they're searchin' the bars and the basements
    For some souvenir of his life.

    They're plannin' a book for September
    Showin' his plain country roots
    Any they're sellin' the rights to the movie
    And the Hall of Fame's gettin' his boots
    At the funeral somebody recited a poem
    That told how he suffered and bled
    Nashville is rough on the livin'
    But she really speaks well of the dead.

    Yeah, Nashville is rough on the livin'
    But she really speaks well of the dead...

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