Band: Red Young • Date: Sunday, June 26, at 7 p.m.
Venue: Callaghan’s Irish Social Club, 916 Charleston St., www.callaghansirishsocialclub.com
Tickets: $7 at the door
A true master of the keyboard returns to the Oakleigh Garden District on Sunday, June 26. At age 3, Red Young became obsessed with the ivories. In the years that followed he capitalized on endless opportunities to display his keyboard prowess, playing in a variety of styles.
From Dolly Parton to Eric Burdon, Young’s resume includes collaborations with a long list of notable artists. During the late ‘90s big band revival, Young even helped bands such as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Royal Crown Revue with arrangements.
Young could have many musical surprises in store for the Callaghan’s audience. As described in his conversation with Lagniappe, Young has a legacy reaching into multiple genres.
Stephen Centanni: I read a lot of artist bios, and many of them say the same thing about starting music “at an early age.” Your bio is pretty specific. It says you started at the age of 3. How did that happen?
Red Young: Actually, what happened is that we went over to my grandmother’s house every once in a while on Sunday, and she had a piano. She was a singer in church. She would do solos at various churches across the country in Chicago and Oklahoma City. While my parents were talking, I would go over there and start playing on the piano.
She noticed my fingers moving and not banging on the piano, just moving. So, she used to teach me these little songs. One of them was “Possum up a Simmon Tree.” That’s what started it. My sister also had piano lessons early, but when I was 5, I started formal lessons.
Centanni: Your first venture out on the road was with jazz trumpeter Clyde McCoy. How did you get involved with him?
Young: Once I got out of high school, I went about half a semester to North Texas (University). I said, “I can’t assimilate all what I’ve learned up to now.” I’d been playing Chopin and classical and all kinds of stuff. The Beatles had come out, so I was playing a lot of different things.
The union president in Fort Worth was a friend of Clyde. Clyde’s wife had sisters, and they were The Bennett Sisters. They were from Fort Worth, so they knew the union president there. When Clyde needed a musician, he would call the Musicians Union in Fort Worth and say, “Do you have anybody who would like to tour?”
I had just gotten out of North Texas and dropped out at Thanksgiving. They gave me a call and said, “There’s this guy Clyde McCoy. Would you like to go on the road with him?” He was 64 years old and I was 18. I said, “Sure!” The first gig was in Florida. The trombone player was from Arlington, Texas. He picked me up in Volkswagen, and we drove 24 hours to Winter Haven, Florida. That was my first gig. That’s what started it.
Centanni: One thing I’ve noticed about your career is you’ve gone through musical phases. You’ve gone from big band to country to pop to jazz. Were these conscious phases, or was it just the nature of the business for you?
Young: It was just opportunities. Fort Worth was an interesting city. Van Cliburn was there, so there was this real heavy classical thing. So I studied classical growing up. I also studied chorus, because my grandmother was a singer. So, I knew how to accompany people.
In 1967, I auditioned for the Air Force Band rather than be drafted and go to Vietnam and be a solider. That got me into working with big bands. I had never experienced that. I’ve got perfect pitch, so I got a really good ear. All the time I was growing up, I could listen to a big band and know what every one of the instruments was playing.
When Eric Clapton was in Cream, the guitar player that I worked with had me figure out what Clapton was playing on guitar, figure it out on the guitar and show him, just by using my ear.
One thing would lead to another. After the Air Force, I came back to Fort Worth, and I got into a jazz fusion group. The guy that was the guitar player in the fusion group was also the guitar player with Sonny and Cher. So, I got a gig with Sonny and Cher, which started another phase in my career. That got me out to L.A. I did a television special with Cher.
Before then, I did a lot of recording in Houston. One of the big artists was Freddie Fender. That got me branded as a country piano player. I played with folks like Freddie Fender and Kinky Friedman. I even did an album with Noel Redding, who was Jimmy Hendrix’s bass player. I could play all this kind of music by using my ear. I’d just listen to the style that somebody would play and just mimic it.
Once I got to L.A., the season was wide open with TV shows and movies. I’d play jazz gigs or write for strings or whatever. Cher had a TV special, and Dolly Parton was a guest on the TV special, so I met Dolly through them. She called me up when she went to Vegas and wanted me to play in the Vegas band with her.
Centanni: So pretty much, your career has been a load of great first impressions with the right people.
Young [laughing]: Exactly! I just love all types of music. I got involved with Eric Burdon, so that was rock ‘n’ roll. I had grown up listening to The Animals. I quit Eric’s band after a year, because the band was so loud. I started working with a vocal group in Hollywood. Linda Ronstadt heard what we were doing, and she asked us to join her tour. There again, there was another phase.
Eventually, somebody asked, “If you put a band together, what would you do?” I didn’t know, because I could play anything and liked everything. Over the years, I’ve had to categorize certain things.
I had a band for about 20 years that was vocals harmonies and based on the stuff that I did with Linda Ronstadt, but it was a lot of work. There were a lot of horns and vocals and everything. It just occupied all my time. Toward the end of that in 2002, I wanted to move down to Austin. So, I became a jazz organ player and enjoyed that.
A couple of years ago, some people heard me sing. So, I put another band together based on Ray Charles stuff. I’ve written for everything from orchestras to big bands.
Centanni: I know you’re friends with Rick Hirsch, who is one of our locals, and you have a lot of talented friends. So, what do you have in store for the Callaghan’s crowd?
Young: It’ll be organ, saxophone and drums. I’m still deciding on the drummer. The sax player is a guy that I was in the Air Force Band with. I asked a drummer friend of mine down there if he knew any sax players. I’m not really bringing anybody with me. What I like to do is hire the local guys and see how they play and develop.
It’ll probably be a lot of Ray Charles and jazz instrumentals. Ricky just told me that Jabo Starks lives in Mobile. I said, “Oh man!” If we get Jabo on that gig, we’ll do some James Brown stuff.