It seems impossible.
Forever Young, freshly out on the British Ace label, is legendary session guitarist Reggie Young’s debut album under his own name. You read right: the brilliant fretsman whose liquid licks graced classics by Eddie Bond, the Bill Black Combo, James Carr, Joe Tex, King Curtis, Neil Diamond, Dusty Springfield, Elvis Presley, B.J. Thomas, Dobie Gray, and Billy Swan— that’s just for starters–never released an album of his own before. The closest he came was in 2008, when Reggie and his cellist wife Jenny Lynn issued the inspirational CD Be Still. But as far as secular material goes, Forever Young represents his very first.
“When I was doing sessions all the time, sometimes in tuning up, I’d get in tune and I’d play these little riffs and things to make sure I’m in tune,” says Reggie, who appears at the Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference on Friday at 2:25 p.m. to speak about his amazing career with moderator Red Kelly. “People would ask me, ‘What is that you’re playing?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I’m just tuning up.’ ‘Oh, man, you ought to record that!’ Anyway, that’s sort of how it came about.”
The album’s seven instrumental selections underscore what an inventive and immaculate guitarist Young is and has always been. The basic tracks were recorded in Alabama with a band that included bassist David Hood, keyboardist Clayton Ivey, and saxist Jim Horn.
“I went down to Muscle Shoals, and had a band with me,” says the Caruthersville, Missouri native. “I went down there and cut the tracks, and when I got home to listen to them, I didn’t like them at all. I didn’t like what I did. So I’ve got a little studio here at the house, and I shelved the CD of what I cut. I bet it sat up there six or eight months, and I was thinking one day, ‘Well, maybe I’ll get that out and listen to it.’
“I thought, ‘I can replace all the guitar parts. I love what everybody else played.’ I just didn’t like what I played. It’s hard to produce and play at the same time, at least for me. So I got an engineer out here, and we redid all the guitar parts and put horns on it, and a few more little old dubs, and that’s the way it is. It turned out very good. I was very pleased with it. I had fun doing it.”
None of Reggie’s studio peers, no matter how accomplished, could ever match Young’s astonishing versatility. From country to rockabilly to R&B to rock and roll to soul to pop, he could handle any genre like he was born to it. Maybe that was partly because Reggie got started so young. “I grew up in a little town called Osceola, Arkansas,” says Young. “My dad played Hawaiian guitar, like the old ‘Sweet Leilani’ and the old Hawaiian stuff. And he also played chords on the guitar, and when we moved to Memphis, he showed me the chords he knew. I couldn’t play Hawaiian guitar, but he showed me the chords that he played. And I was really showing some interest in learning how to play guitar, so that Christmas I got a guitar. Santa Claus brought it!”
That was in the Yuletide season of 1950, when Young was 14 years old. Although he was largely self-taught, country guitarists Chet Atkins and Sammy Pruett caught his ear in particular. “Chet used to have a radio program on WSM,” Reggie remembers “It was a live show. It was in the afternoon. If I ran home from school and the weather permitted, I could pick up WSM in Memphis and I would learn Chet’s new licks and things. I really enjoyed doing that.”
By late 1954, Reggie was accomplished enough to make his initial recording session for Republic Records, soloing on Tommy Smith’s “Magic Girl.” “Tommy Smith was a local singer around Memphis. We came over to Nashville,” he says. “That was the first record I played on.” Shortly after that, Young returned to Nashville and booked a room at the Clarkston Hotel. “I came over here with another act, and I thought I could play,” he chuckles. “We sat all night, and I put my amp in the window and I was playing my Chet Atkins songs, hoping somebody would hear me and take me on the road. But that didn’t work out.”
So it was back to Memphis, where Reggie backed another obscure vocalist named Barney Burcham on his ‘55 single “Much Too Young For Love” for Lester Bihari’s Meteor label. His first real break came when he joined local singer Eddie Bond’s band. “Eddie had just got out of the Navy, and I was in a band in Memphis,” says Young. “We needed a singer for the band the first time I saw him. Then he started his own. He called it Eddie Bond and the Stompers, and we played local clubs and stuff around town.
“There was a disc jockey named Sleepy-Eyed John that told Eddie, ‘Why don’t you record some of this stuff?’ So we did. That’s where we got ‘Rockin’ Daddy.’ We recorded at a radio station, and got a deal with Mercury Records. Scale back then was $41.25 for three hours. So we had this record out, and this guy named Bob Neal on Memphis that booked local acts on, he called them package tours. There was Eddie, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, and there was a guy named Warren Smith,” he says “We toured all over the United States. So I was in the bigtime then, I thought. We had fun.”
Even if Bond wasn’t pacted to Sun like Cash, Perkins, Smith, and Orbison, Reggie’s blistering solos on his regional seller “Rockin’ Daddy” (a cover of Sonny Fisher’s Starday single that had Joey Long on lead guitar) as well as his encores “Boppin’ Bonnie,” “Flip, Flop Mama,” and “Slip, Slip, Slippin’-In” helped catapult Eddie into the major leagues of rockabilly quality-wise, if not in the sales department. Young’s next stop as a sideman was another country-bred singer who was enjoying some rockabilly success, Johnny Horton.
“Horton’s guitar player had gotten sick or something. Marshall Grant, who worked with Johnny Cash, his bass player, said something to me about there was an opening to join Johnny Horton’s band, which was only three people. He said something to Horton about it, and Horton asked me would I like to do that. So I said yeah. And I wasn’t working with Eddie then. So I went down to Shreveport and joined Horton. We were playing the Louisiana Hayride and traveled all over the United States. He was very good. A very nice man too.”
The success of Sun Records had spawned the launch of quite a few more Memphis labels, including Hi Records. One of Hi’s early recruits was Elvis Presley’s former bass player, Bill Black, who had quit Presley over low pay. Unlike Elvis’ longtime guitarist Scotty Moore, Black never went back on Elvis’ payroll.
“When I was working with Horton, my draft board called me. They had the draft back then,” says Reggie. “She called and said, ‘Looks like you’re going to be in the next draft.’ I said, ‘Oh, okay.’ I remember playing a New Year’s show in Shreveport when it turned 1959. So I came back to Memphis. Well, I didn’t get on that draft. A lot of people joined, and they kept pushing me in the back.
“I had known Bill fairly well, him and Scotty. Bill asked me, he was working at Hi’s studio. He said, ‘Would you like to join us at Hi? We’re backing up some people.’ They’d written some stuff for Hi’s studio, and this guy come to town once a month. Ed Kissack was his name, and he would come down to listen to what we recorded. If it was something that he liked, then they would release it on London Records. Hi Records was distributed by London Records. And I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be glad to do that!’ Because I was just waiting around to get drafted.
“I remember we never did get anything that was earth-shattering. The engineer said, ‘We’re not getting anything done. I don’t know what we’re going to do.’ I said, ‘Well, we could cut this instrumental.’ I had tuned my guitar down two steps. Back then, one of the things they did, the jazz people, the bass player would be playing a drum solo, and he’d lean over and play a solo on upright bass with his sticks. So I thought, ‘Well, I’ll play my guitar with a piece of pencil, with my guitar turned down with an old shuffle beat: tum-ta-tum-ta-tum…’
“We cut this instrumental called ‘Smokie – Part 1’ and ‘Part 2.’ Back then they had two parts sometimes in instrumentals. Anyway, Ed Kissack from London Records came in, and he heard that. He said, ‘What is this?’ So I said, ‘It’s something we’re just doing.’ He liked it, and he took it back to New York and they released it. It became a hit.
“When it went Top Ten, then I got drafted. So I went to Ethiopia for almost two years. I remember when I got out, I went back with Bill Black. And we did that for maybe a year or so. Then I went back to Hi Records. I went back as a studio musician with Hi Records and Bill Black, Willie Mitchell, Ace Cannon, a whole bunch of people going on back then. Anyway, we did that for quite a while, and that was good.” Reggie missed out being on Black’s immediate followup hit “White Silver Sands” during his nearly two year-stint in Ethiopia (where he became a top-level cryptographer), but he played extensively in the studio with all three of those Memphis bandleaders at Hi upon his return as the label became known for its hit instrumentals.
“With Willie Mitchell, with Ace Cannon, we all sort of intermingled, the three bands,” he says. “We would be Ace one day, we’d be Willie, or we’d be Bill Black. The basic musicians they used, but we still intermingled.”
Although his name still adorned his longtime combo, Black exited his Combo shortly before they embarked on a gala tour as one of the opening acts on the Beatles’ 1964 jaunt across America (Black would die of a brain tumor the next year). Young was the only original member still in the Combo when they hit the road in the company of not only the Fab Four, but the Righteous Brothers, the Exciters, Jackie DeShannon, and New Orleans’ own Clarence “Frogman” Henry.
“We got a call. They were requesting that we would be their opening act for the 1964 tour that they were doing of America,” says Young. “Beatlemania was incredible, and it was insane. We went on first, and we backed up other artists. But when we first started, the disc jockeys would come out onstage and say, ‘Are you all here to see Ringo?’ And the crowd would just go nuts.
“‘What about Paul McCartney?’
“They’d go through all the Beatles, and then they’d say, ‘Okay—now here’s the Bill Black Combo!’
“So we had to play for an hour before the Beatles came on. We played, and then we backed up the others. We got them to stop it after a couple of days. We told them, ‘You’re gonna get us killed out there onstage!’ So they quit doing it. But when the Beatles were onstage, all you could hear was screaming, and you couldn’t hardly hear the music at all. Then we went to Europe for 30 days. The headliner over there was Billy J. Kramer. Eric Clapton and the Yardbirds were on that tour, so I got to meet Eric and we became (friends) because he was a blues player, and I was too.”
Although Hi boss Joe Cuoghi never gave the guitarist a chance to wax a whole album the way he did organist Bobby Emmons, Young did cut a couple of intriguing instrumental 45s in 1964 for Hi’s M.O.C. subsidiary. The first, billed to Jerry and Reggie, coupled “Shoo Shoo,” sounding quite a bit like a hot rod workout, and a pulverizing takeoff on Roy Orbison’s hit “Dream Baby” where Young really cut loose. “That was Jerry Arnold,” notes Reggie of his playing partner on the single. “He was the drummer with Bill Black, and he also sang.”
The other M.O.C. platter hit the shelves eight months later under Reggie’s own moniker. He dished up an atmospheric piece of exotica via the vintage Roy Hamilton ballad “Ebb Tide” and cooked up the Asian-flavored original “Mr. Chann” for the other side. “That was the record label’s idea, so we did that,” says Young. “Seems like that was in the middle of the Beatles tour. I came back home to Memphis and cut that and then went back and joined the tour again.”
Don Bryant, who’s performing at this year’s Stomp with the Bo-Keys, was Willie Mitchell’s mid-‘60s front man, so Reggie played on quite a few of his Hi singles. “I can’t wait to see Donald. He’s a very nice man,” says Young. “He’s very good, very talented, a good songwriter. I really like him.”
Hi wasn’t the only Memphis label Young worked for during that era. There was also Quinton Claunch and Doc Russell’s Goldwax Records, where James Carr, possibly the most intense soul singer of all, waxed his immortal 1967 hit “The Dark End Of The Street” (written by Dan Penn and Chips Moman) with Reggie’s guitar reverberating in stunning sympathy behind him. “That was a great record, ‘Dark End Of The Street,’” says Reggie. “He really was a good singer. I enjoyed working on stuff with him.”
Young’s incredible versatility was serving him well. “It’s kind of funny—when I first started playing, learning how to play, I had my dad’s ideas in my head, then Chet Atkins. And then here’s other players,” he says. “Then Memphis has its own thing. It’s so soulful in Memphis—or it was then and still is, I guess. So it’s a mixture of all of them. There wasn’t any one particular style that I played. I didn’t think about it. It’s just what you did, you know?”
When Chips Moman invited Reggie to join the fun at his American Sound Studio, Young was open to the prospect. “I think Chips took my place in the Bill Black Combo when I was in the service, so I’d always known him as a guitar player. After I came back and worked at Hi Records, Chips had a studio up in North Memphis. They weren’t really paying that great at Hi Records at the time,” says Young. “He wanted me to come over there and go to work with him, and we’d start a band together. I thought, ‘Yeah, I will. I’ll do that.’ So that’s how we got together.”
It didn’t take long for Reggie to play on his first hit at American. It came on the Gentrys’ frat rock recasting of a soul single by the Avantis called “Keep On Dancing,” the Gentrys’ version becoming a pop smash on the MGM logo in the autumn of 1965. Soon American’s killer studio band was in place; Tommy Cogbill was as tough a bassist as existed in Memphis. “He was the monster! I don’t know of anybody even today that’s any better than Tommy,” says Reggie. “Bobby Emmons and I worked together over at Hi Records, and when I quit and got with Moman, I talked him into quitting too. He came over to Chips. The first band was me and Tommy and Bobby Emmons and (drummer) Gene Chrisman.
“Reggie actually called me and he said, ‘Chips has got a new board going in, and he’s been doing some work out of town and just wants to kind of stay off the road if he can. What do you think about kind of putting together a house band for Chips over at American?’” said the late Emmons. “It was always called American, since ‘62 or so, I guess. So I said, ‘Well, sounds good to me!’”
“We cut a lot of records with just us,” says Reggie. “Then we added (pianist) Bobby Wood and Mike Leech, who could play bass when Tommy started producing, and he also was a good string arranger. So that was the band for the whole time we were in Memphis.”
Moman, one of the earliest employees at Stax Records prior to his falling out with label owner Jim Stewart, was a strong presence at American’s production helm. “He was very good,” says Young. “He said that instead of him being a producer, he was a ‘waiter’—he’d wait around, and if he heard something going on that we were doing, he would stop and say, ‘Okay, that’s it! That’s it. That’s what I’m gonna do.’ He called himself a ‘waiter’ instead of a producer!”
Located at 827 Thomas Street, American was situated in a rat-infested structure that was anything but glamorous. Emmons thought it might have been a grocery store in a previous incarnation. “It was in a little strip mall right on Thomas Street. It was a fairly low ceiling. Flat roof, low ceiling,” said Emmons. “It wasn’t huge. We didn’t have any trouble getting a few horns in there and a rhythm section when we needed to. It was a reasonable size. You had room to get the speakers wide enough apart.”
Thanks to Moman and his resident groovemakers, known informally as the Memphis Boys, blockbuster pop and R&B hits flew out of the place at a pace that not even Stax or Hi could match. “We worked together as a group, instead of individual egomaniacs,” says Reggie. “We felt like we were the artists’ band, instead of the artists being our singer. It worked out real good, because I think we did 120-something hits as a group in about a five-year period. A lot of records were cut there.”
That’s a supreme understatement. Early on, American was especially strong in the soul department. Pensacola, Florida producer Papa Don Schroeder brought two of his top acts into American: Oscar Toney, Jr., who remade the Impressions’ “For Your Precious Love,” and James & Bobby Purify, who revived the Five Du-Tones’ “Shake A Tail Feather.” Both American-cut singles were hits on the Bell imprint during the spring of ‘67.
“I was bringing Chips Moman down (to Muscle Shoals) to play guitar on my sessions, from Memphis,” recalled Papa Don. “Chips pulls me over—we’re having a cigarette together–and he says, ‘Papa Don, I’m building this incredible studio in Memphis, and I want you to be the first record producer there. I mean it, man–I need you.’ ‘Because I had a lot of respect for Chips Moman. He’s a talented guy. He said, ‘I’m telling you, Papa Don, the best musicians I’ve ever worked with–I have found the best musicians in the world in Memphis. Just try it. If you don’t like it, you ain’t gotta pay for it!’”
The dazzling break lick on Joe Tex’s delightfully funky ‘67 smash “Skinny Legs And All” on Buddy Killen’s Dial label, another American-cut smash, was one of Young’s most memorable creations. “My best friend back then was a steel guitar played John Hughey. John worked with Conway Twitty. He and I used to play together a lot. That’s sort of a lick that John played,” says Reggie. “We were doing Joe, and we broke in the middle of the song. I thought of that lick when we did the breakdown. I just went ahead and played like that, and Joe got so tickled, he just fell out on the floor laughing so hard!”
Unlike the studio bands at Stax and Hi, whose efforts were largely limited to one label, American strictly relied on outside clients traveling into Memphis to utilize the studio, its producer, and its band (Moman eventually launched his own Amy-Mala-Bell-distributed logo, AGP, which had limited success despite fine releases by the Masqueraders, Sam Hutchins, Merrilee Rush, Roy Hamilton, and NFL defensive tackle Roosevelt Grier). Atlantic Records was one of American’s loyal customers, sending Wilson Pickett to the studio in 1967 to cut a batch of splendid masters that included his stunning rendition of Bobby Womack’s “I’m In Love.”
“Jerry Wexler with Atlantic Records in New York brought him down,” says Young. “It just fit so good with our band. Bobby Womack was the guitar player. He came down also. It was some really funky music.” Young and Womack found immediate common ground on their axes behind the Wicked Pickett.
“They’re both just playing all the time. I don’t even know that you can separate them, like Siamese twins,” said Emmons. “It’s so hard to tell between that guitar that Bobby had and the Super 400 that Reggie–it belonged to Chips, and it was at the studio all the time. So Reggie would pick up that Super 400 on a lot of stuff. So the big solid body archtop, it’s hard to tell which one is which. But they used to sit there like a mirror image. And Bobby being left-handed, it was just like looking in a mirror–except his guitar was upside-down!”
Another notable 1967 visitor from Atlantic’s voluminous roster was New York sax blaster King Curtis. “He’s the best one I’ve ever worked with. He was really, really good,” says Young of Curtis’ diamond-hard blowing. “He was from Texas. He could play sax in a lot of hillbilly chords, like in the key of E and the key of A, instead of all the hard flat chords and stuff.” Inspiration for King’s ‘67 smash “Memphis Soul Stew” arrived in a flash.
“Next to the studio, there was a restaurant, the Ranch House. We were recording King, and we all went over there, took a break and went over there to eat lunch. We were sitting around the table, and King picked up a menu. And as a joke, he was just reading. He said, ‘Hmmm—today’s special is Memphis Soul Stew!’ He said, ‘We make so much of this stuff, we’re gonna tell you what we put in it. We got fatback drums, a pound-and-a-half of organ.’ He was just making it up. When he got to me, then we sort of looked at each other. All of us did. We just got up, we didn’t even order lunch. We just got up and went in the studio and cut ‘Memphis Soul Stew’ that quick!
“He said, ‘What key do you want to do this in?’ We said, ‘Well, it’s your record!’ And he said, ‘What’s easy for y’all to play in?’ Whatever key that’s in, it was our idea. But he played in all keys.”
The following year, it was British chanteuse Dusty Springfield’s turn to hunker down at American to cut her classic Atlantic set Dusty in Memphis, featuring her breathtaking treatment of John Hurley and Ronnie Wilkins’ “Son-Of-A Preacher Man.” “I was listening to that the other day, and it still sounds good,” says Reggie. “Dusty Springfield was really good. She really sang.
“She was a little nervous when she came in because it was an old funky studio, and she was used to having the tracks finished and someone sing the song, and she’d just learn the song and come in and do her vocals. It was kind of different for her, because when we did her, she became part of our group. I know if I played too much, I said, ‘Well, Dusty, you like that?’ And she didn’t know what to say. She’d say ‘Yeah,’ or ‘No.’ She’d never participated in her own music. Anyway, ‘Son-Of-A Preacher Man’ still sounds good today.”
Texas singer B.J. Thomas did some of his best work for Florence Greenberg’s Scepter Records at American. “We did a lot of stuff with him,” says Reggie. “Jerry Wexler sent this old electric sitar down from New York. It kind of hung around the studio for awhile. I was playing that intro to ‘Hooked On A Feeling,’ and Chips or somebody said, ‘Hey, why don’t you pick that old sitar up and play it on there? It’d be different.’ So I picked it up and I started playing like Middle East music or something. It turned out to be the intro and the solo and the ending and all that stuff. Yeah, that was a good song.” The Moman production was a 1968 smash for Thomas.
That sitar had already played a large role on another smash earlier that year. “Cry Like A Baby” was the Memphis-based Box Tops’ second mammoth seller for Mala Records, and Reggie’s mastery of the exotic instrument rang through that one too. “They were a good group,” says Young. “They were still in high school when they cut their first record. They cut ‘The Letter,’ and then we cut the next record after that. They had a deadline to meet and they hadn’t quite got their album finished. In came the studio players—us—and we finished it for them. But yeah, that was a good group. They sold a lot of records.” Before long, Reggie became known for his sitar work. “A lot of people wanted it, because it was something that was different,” he says. “So yeah, that became pretty good.”
1969 was a big year for superstars to drop by American in search of their next hit. Brooklyn-born Neil Diamond turned out to be a good fit with the Memphis Boys. “Neil came in, and we did about three songs with him,” says Reggie. “So we started putting our equipment up. Tommy Cogbill produced it. Tommy said, ‘You got anything else?’ He said, ‘I’ve got this one song I’m working on. It’s not finished yet.’ He started playing ‘Sweet Caroline.’ Well, I took my guitar back out of the case, because I knew we were going to cut that. And then we did. Right after he sang it, it was finished. But that was a big record. Still is.
“I like Neil. The songs he wrote were not complicated,” says Young. “You could just go away from the studio humming the songs that he’d written. You’d say, ‘Oh, what am I humming? That’s something Neil did, yeah.’ But it was good. It was all good.”
Then there was the King of Rock and Roll, who hadn’t had a real hit in years when he rolled into American for the historic sessions that put Elvis back on top with “In The Ghetto,” “Suspicious Minds,” and “Don’t Cry Daddy.” “That was a trip. We had two or three people working in Moman’s studio that were in that Rat Pack of Elvis’s. I know Elvis had some time booked in L.A., but the drummer had gotten a cold or the flu or something, and he had to cancel. So one of the guys that worked in our studio said, ‘Well, don’t cancel the session. Why don’t you record at American today? They’ve got hit after hit after hit.’ And Elvis said, ‘Okay, I’ll try it.’ He hadn’t been back to Memphis (to record) since his early Sun records. So he said, ‘I’ll give ‘em a try.’
“So he came in, but they had all of his songs picked from Hill and Range Publishing in Nashville. He was playing the little acetates, the little records of the songs he was going to do. And the first one he played, he looked at me and he said, ‘You like that?’ And I said, ‘No, not really.’ He asked Bobby Wood, the piano player, ‘What do you think? You like it?’ And Bobby said, ‘Man, that is awful!’ It was mostly movie songs, you know. I forget who played it, I think Moman played ‘Suspicious Minds.’ We had cut that on Mark James, the writer, and it was out on Scepter Records. So Elvis, he liked that. He really liked that. And he hadn’t had a hit in eight years, I think, and he was really looking forward to getting a hit. He heard that song, and he wanted to cut it.
“Right after that, the guy (from Hill and Range) came into the control room and told Moman, ‘Hey, if he cuts any outside material other than what we brought, we’re gonna have to have publishing on it.’ That didn’t set too well with Moman. So Moman said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what. We have a reputation for cutting these records. If you don’t want to do that, get Elvis and all this entourage he came with, and get out of here!’ Anyway, that got back to Elvis. Elvis made all of them leave so it was just us, the band, five of us, and Elvis and Moman and Felton Jarvis. And we cut thirty-something sides, I think. What we cut was nothing that he brought in.
“He was great. He really wanted to get a hit record himself,” continues Young. “He had about seven or eight people that came in with him. He’d put one of those cigarillos in his mouth, there’d be about five or six lighters. Everybody was trying to light it for him. That was all his people that hung around him. Anyway, after they left, he turned into a human being. And we talked about old things around Memphis—different clubs and different singers. He was just one of the regular guys. We had a good time.”
The vibe wasn’t quite as positive at the other Presley session that Reggie worked in 1973. “We cut over at Stax Records, and it wasn’t the same,” he says. “It was totally different. He had all his entourage with him over there, and I don’t think any of us said hello to him, or vice versa. To me, it wasn’t the same thing. It was real personal at American. But it wasn’t that way when we went to Stax.”
In 1971, Reggie had another single of his own on the streets, this one on New York-based Scepter. For the first time on vinyl, “Pencil” showcased Young’s singing ability. “I didn’t do many,” he says. “A friend of mine, Red Williams, when I wasn’t doing sessions, we were writing a lot. He was my writing partner. And we wrote that. So I sang it as a demo, and Moman liked it. So he put it out. I said, ‘Oh, man, don’t make an artist out of me! I’m no artist!’ But he thought it was good.” Reggie and Red also penned the flip, “Don’t Say No.”
Just as quickly as American rocketed to the top in 1967 and remained in orbit for the next five years, the studio fell to earth in a hurry over the course of 1972. Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got The Blues” was the last significant American-cut hit that autumn. By then Moman and his house band had already resettled in Atlanta.
“We were sitting around talking a few evenings, and it’d kind of slowed down a little bit. Moman thought we weren’t getting the credit that we deserved in Memphis. They were promoting everything else but American, because we weren’t just an R&B studio. We were pop music, and R&B. We did it all,” says Young. “He said, ‘What we ought to do is move to Atlanta, move our whole organization to Atlanta.’ ‘Oh, yeah!’ we all said. I wasn’t thinking he was serious, but he was. So we packed up and went to Atlanta. We didn’t do much in Atlanta. I lasted for about a month or so, and I quit. And I came back here to Nashville, and I’ve been here ever since.” That fall, Moman also relocated to Music City.
One of the Nashville studios where Reggie regularly free-lanced was Quadrafonic, owned by established local sessioneers Norbert Putnam and David Briggs (formerly part of Rick Hall’s first Muscle Shoals session band at FAME Studios). That’s where Young dreamed up the guitar lines that elevated Dobie Gray’s haunting “Drift Away,” a 1973 million-seller written and produced by Mentor Williams, to profound heights.
“I had written a song, Red Williams and I, that sort of had an intro similar to that,” notes Reggie. “If you heard it, you’d say, ‘How did you get “Drift Away” out of that?’ It was a little bit like it, and that’s where it came from. And Dobie was such a great artist. We just had so much fun cutting that, especially that first album.”
Gray felt exactly the same way. “I think what made all the difference in the world was coming to Nashville and Reggie Young putting his signature on that thing that nobody seems to be able to duplicate,” said the late singer. “He was the guy to play on all that stuff.” As did Williams—the late brother of pop singer/composer Paul Williams—who called Reggie “one of my favorite guitar players ever.”
In 1974, Young reunited with bassist Leech at co-producer Chip Young’s recording studio in Murfreesboro, Tennessee to wax “I Can Help” by its composer Billy Swan. The singer had previously written “Lover Please” when he was in a Missouri band called Mirt Mirly and the Rhythm Steppers (it was cut by Dennis Turner for Bill Black’s Louis label and covered by R&B singer Clyde McPhatter, whose ‘62 rendition was a smash on Mercury). Reggie’s cascading solo on “I Can Help” was a major factor in its pop chart-topping status.
Young spent countless hours in various Nashville studios making countless singers sound their best, his creativity somehow never flagging. “I didn’t really think anything about it,” he says. “You try not to repeat yourself. The song dictates a lot of what you play. So I was very lucky all these years.” But in 1990, Reggie hit the road for the first time in ages as a special presence in the band of the Highwaymen, a country supergroup that was like a living, breathing Mount Rushmore with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, and Kris Kristofferson. .
“Oh, I loved that as much as I did anything,” says Reggie. “We were all old friends, and I did that for five years—touring with them, and then also doing session work when I’d get back in town. I’d go out for 30 days in the spring and 30 days in the fall. And the rest of the time, it was studio time. But we had a great time. When we were in buses, each of them had a bus. Willie had his bus, Kris had his bus. And Waylon, Cash, they all each had a bus. The crew had a bus, and then the band had a bus. When we were going down the Interstate, we looked like the Ringling Brothers Circus!
“The main thing we had to do was be in a certain city at a certain time, and sometimes we rehearsed. Not much. But it was a lot of fun. We flew a lot of places and went to Europe a bunch of times. We also went to Hawaii,” he says. “You didn’t want to quit your studio gig because that was your main income, but after we did the first tour, my work had slowed in the studio, so I said, ‘Yeah, I’d be glad to do this all the time!’”
Young joined Waylon’s Waymore Blues Band in 1999, staying with Jennings’ outfit until his 2002 passing. “The phone rang one day, and it was Waylon,” he says. “He said, ‘How would you like to do two or three road gigs with me?’ He said he was putting a band together. I said, ‘Yeah, why not? I’d love to do that!’ So he did, of his favorite players, his old friends. He even hired a cellist out of Phoenix. She played with him the whole time, up until he passed away. We’d go out. Anyway, I married her! We had a great time. We’re still friends with Jessi Colter.”
Reggie’s studio days are behind him now. “I’ve kind of taken myself out of that loop,” he says. “I do things here at home, but as far as getting up, getting out of bed and going to the studio up in Nashville and lugging all my junk around, I don’t do that anymore.” What he will be doing is talking about his spectacular career at the Stomp.
Come hear what this legendary guitar wizard has to say!