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Faron Young Home

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Faron Young

He was a honky-tonker, he was a crooner. He was hillbilly, he was pop. He could belt out a drinking song or he could melt a heart with a tender love ballad, each with equal authority. He was known as the Hillbilly Heartthrob and with his own combination of "grit and polish," he put his personal stamp on every song he ever sang and everything he ever did.

Faron Young was a product of Shreveport, Louisiana in more ways than one. He was born there on February 25, 1932. He learned to play guitar as a youngster while living there on his fatherís dairy farm. He honed his skills by singing in a country band there while he was in high school. And, after a brief exposure to college, he joined Shreveportís famous Louisiana Hayride which, at the time, rivaled the Grand Ole Opry in its importance as a country music radio show. The Hayride was the launching pad for many great careers, such as Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and even Elvis Presley.

Faron teamed up with Pierce and his band and they toured extensively throughout the South, singing together in the honky tonks. He cut a couple of sides for the independent Gotham label in 1951 Ė "Have I Waited Too Long" and "Tattle Tale Tears" and they caught the ear of the powers at Capitol Records who bought out his Gotham contract in 1952.

1952 was also the year he was first invited to appear on the Grand Ole Opry at the age of 20. On that first trip to the Opry stage, he took along his girlfriend, Billie Jean Jones. Backstage, somebody introduced her to Hank Williams and, by the end of the night, she was no longer Faronís but was Hankís soon-to-be bride. Legend has it that Hank pulled a gun on Faron just to let him know he was serious. Guns seem to have had a way of popping up throughout his life. Hilda, the woman Faron would eventually marry and then, after 40 years, divorce, is said to have accused him of threatening her with a gun and, on several occasions, shooting holes in the kitchen ceiling. These were all, reportedly, alcohol-related incidents. Faron was once quoted as saying, most likely with a note of pride in his voice, "Iím not an alcoholic. Iím a drunk!"

During the Korean War, Faron was drafted and went into the Special Service Division, singing for the troops and doing recruitment shows. He recorded his first Capitol release, "Goiní Steady," while on leave from the service. It was released in early 1953 and went to number two on the country charts. Later that summer, "I Canít Wait (For The Sun To Go Down)" placed at number five. Faron was discharged from the army in 1954 and released "If You Ainít Lovin," his biggest hit yet. The song was successfully revived in 1988 by George Strait. Next followed " Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young," his first number one hit.

He was cranking out singles at a furious pace and was consistently ranking in the top ten. He also began branching out into movies and it was while making his first in 1955, "Hidden Guns," that he was given the nickname the "Young Sheriff." It just sort of stuck but, after a while, it became the "Singing Sheriff." His band was appropriately called "The Deputies." Among the latter-day notables who played in that band were names like Roger Miller and Johnny Paycheck. Faron was also well known for giving a leg up to several new and starving songwriters. Among them was Don Gibson with the first of many versions of "Sweet Dreams" to reach the top ten. The most notable of these, of course, was the rendition done by Patsy Cline. Faron also helped out a young Bill Anderson and was one of the first to record a song by Willie Nelson. That song was of course the chart topping "Hello, Walls," which Faron had heard Willie singing at Tootsieís one night. He told Willie he liked the song and would like to record it. Willie, being short on cash, offered to sell him the rights to it, lock, stock and barrel. Faron refused to take away Nelsonís rights but loaned him $400.00 which, in later, less lean years, Willie tried to pay back. Again Faron refused. He wouldnít take the money. He figured the song had made them both enough money to call it even. Another up-and-comer, Kris Kristofferson was reportedly working as a carpenter, installing paneling in Faronís office at the time he made his famous helicopter landing on the lawn of Johnny Cash to pitch him a song.

In 1962, Faron left Capitol and signed with Mercury where his sound took on a more produced, polished and pop flavor. Some say this might have been a conscious effort due to the crossover success of "Hello, Walls" having reached an impressive number twelve on the pop charts. But his fans were loyal and they stayed with him. Others had not been able to make such a seamless transition. Notably, Ray Priceís "desertion" of country music for pop raised a pretty big stink with his traditional fans.

He remained strong well into the 60's and, in 1965, quit the Opry because of the restrictions they put on members. As a member of the Opry, he was contractually bound to give them a percentage of all his earnings from his solo touring. He decided he didnít need to do that and would rather keep the money. Eddy Arnold had left the Opry for the exact same reason. With all that extra money, Faron decided to go into some other business ventures, some good, some not, including a Nashville racetrack and becoming the co-founder (with Preston Temple) of the now defunct Music City News. I remember reading every word of MCN when it was in newspaper format the size of those shoppers that mysteriously appear on our lawns every week. There was good, inside, music business information to be had by reading that paper. Then it evolved into the slick, magazine format and eventually became more of a fan rag than an insiderís journal. Faron eventually divested himself of the publication and shortly before its demise, it went online. (Oh, for the good old days of newsprint)

In 1972, Faron popped up with another big hit, his first in a while, with "Four In The Morning" but, as the decade wore on, his star began to fade and he was dropped from Mercury in 1979. He went to MCA but none of the output of that deal did much. He made a few more recordings on the One Step label and had some brief success there but gradually backed away from recording, only making occasional concert appearances. I remember Faron being booked into a local country "night club" during the early eighties and thinking what a shame it was that an icon like Faron Young had been reduced to again playing the honky tonks. This place was a dive Ė a BIG dive but, nonetheless, a dive.

He did have a good friend in Ralph Emery and made many appearances on the TNN show, Nashville Now, being ever the gentleman and the country music elder statesman. Faron also had more than a few people in Nashville who were not his friends. He was a rather noted bridge burner, his fiery temper coming to the surface on many an occasion. For this reason, it was viewed with surprise by some and with delight by others when he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2000.

Faron Young charted 88 songs between 1953 and 1988. Forty-one of them were in the top ten and five went all the way to the top spot. But in 1996, he went all the way to the bottom. Being stricken with emphysema and recovering from surgery for prostate cancer, a gun once again came into play and he put a .38 revolver to his head on December 9, 1996. He was found on his bed in his Nashville home by a former band member, Ray Emmett. He was still alive but, the next day, with his four children; Robyn, Damion, Alana and Kevin, at his side, he passed away. He, to paraphrase his song, lived fast, loved hard, died at the age of 64 and left a beautiful memory.

Cal Adams

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