October 14, 2017 Interview – Jesse Colin Young
In life, opinions, lifestyles, and cultures differ, but in spite of it all, music has the ability to brings us together. A universal language, music can convey a message, heal wounds, and unify. In times when the gap between people is as far as ever, American Singer-Songwriter Jesse Colin Young still believes in the mystical power of song.
Famously known as the lead vocalist of The Youngbloods, during the ’60s and ’70s Young celebrated success as a Folk Rock artist at the hands of his thoughtful songwriting. In more recent years stepping away from the road, Young finds new inspiration to get out and tour once again as he teams up with a talented new band to visit cities across the country. Recently we caught up with the engaging musician to talk the Folk Rock movement of the ’60s, the undeniable powerful hit “Get Together,” writing new music, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in the music profession for over five decades now. As a founding member of The Youngbloods, you and the band would go on to major success that would lead into a long solo career. First tell us, what has this musical journey been like?
Jesse Colin Young – (Laughs) It’s been a lot of work! I always wondered – kind of in the ’60s when everybody was stoned except for me – these guys seemed to be having a lot more fun than I am. That was, I guess, just my own fault. (Laughs) I was a very serious young man and I wanted to go wherever the music was gonna take me; and I wanted to go there fast. I started out as a Folk singer and then that’s how I met Jerry Corbitt, and he started showing up at my gigs and playing, singing with me. I thought, “Wow, this is a lot more fun!” I had already done three years of solo and I thought, “Boy, this is a lot more fun!” So that’s how The Youngbloods got started.
Same thing happened with “Get Together;” I was in the Village on a Sunday and I went into the Cafe-a-Go-Go thinking it might be dark, and we were playing there for a whole year opening for whoever was headlining. That was the main reason we played there so that we could rehearse on-stage. They had great monitors – Bill Handley did the monitors and the PA there. There was an open mic going on and I walked in as Buzz Linhardt was singing “Get Together” on stage. I had never heard it and I fell in love with it! I ran backstage and said, “Can you write the lyrics out for me, man? Who wrote that song?” I took it to Valenti, who had been a famous Village Folk singer, had already left for the West Coast and left that song behind him in the Village. I took it into rehearsal with the Youngbloods the very next day, and that love affair of a song – nobody ever treated like it would be a single.
We approached it like we did most of our music: just try to make it beautiful. The lyrics, if you’ve ever looked at them, they’re really powerful, cosmic, and (laughs) earthy; so we made a very pure record out of it. Because of one man really – the head of RCA’s promotion, Augie Bloom – it was released twice: once in ’67 when it was a hit just in San Franciso. What a way for us to find San Francisco in the summer of love with our record on the radio, which was not happening in the rest of The States, so we moved there.
Then, in 1969, when he felt that the country was kind of ready for it, that’s when it was a big, national hit. He had to put his job on-the-line to get RCA to release it the second time. They told him, “We don’t re-release singles.” He said, “Well, you’re gonna re-release this or I’m gonna leave the company,” and Augie Bloom was the best promo man in the world so they let him do it. The rest is history!
CrypticRock.com – That is a really interesting story. The Youngbloods were an intricate part of the music movement during the ’60s. Coming together during a time of conflict in the country, what was the atmosphere like and do you feel music sincerely helped in healing?
Jesse Colin Young – Absolutely! “Get Together” is still doing it today. Right now it’s on twenty stations in rotation on Classic Rock. Every time I hear it, even on the Walmart commercial which was released right after Charlottesville, about one table – all these people from different walks of life bringing chairs to this table in a field. It’s powerful; it touches people. It moves them in the same way it moved me; I just fell in love with it, and for good reason. It’s a beautiful, masterfully created song and a perfect song for the times. My God, I’m sad to say that, once again, this is another perfect time for a get together. So I’m out here singing it again!
CrypticRock.com – It certainly does fit the time again. It’s sad that, as human beings, we unfortunately always seem to find conflict and, in modern times, we are facing a great deal of division among people. Hopefully music can serve as a unifying force once again, do you agree?
Jesse Colin Young – Yes! Jason Aldean – the Country singer who was closing the show when the gunfire began [in Las Vegas] – he Tweeted or he said, “People, we have got to come together: stop the hate!” I think that was quite a moment! So I’m hearing that from a lot of people who care about that. He said, “This country is turning into a place I’m afraid to raise my children in. We can’t let that happen.” My children are raised but my grandchildren aren’t: we need a safe place, a loving place for them to grow into people who will contribute to their world with whatever gifts they have.
CrypticRock.com – We do have to unify: there is too much division going on right now and there is no dialogue any more. It is pure insanity! Having been through the conflicts of the 1960s, was it like this back then as well?
Jesse Colin Young – Well, I’m not sure that I saw it. I saw the love and I saw the peace, but we moved to the center of that when we moved to San Francisco. Once we saw how it was – and of course our record was on the air – that whole summer of love and what led up to it, music was a deep, integral part of that. I saw a lot of that; since we moved to the country outside of San Francisco, I was not exposed so much to the different demonstrations; I mean, pro-war demonstrations. We had this kind of idyllic life in the country and then there was playing in ballrooms where people were ecstatic; it was an idyllic kind of life. Yes, we were wanting the war to end, but we were living as a culture that would never have started that war in the first place.
I’ve just been watching Ken Burn’s Vietnam, and, from the beginning, Harry Truman knew, had serious doubts that there was ever any winning. Kennedy being a Naval commander, or whatever he was in the second World War, he knew that there was no winning; and yet it became politically expedient to. That went on and on, and 58,000 of my brothers and sisters died in that war because it was never politically expedient to say, “Wait a minute, we’re in over out heads. We can’t win this. Get out: we’ve got to get our boys and gals out!”
A nurse called into one of the shows and she said, “I can’t believe it! I can’t believe after watching Ken Burns that they knew from the very beginning, every president – Truman, Kennedy, Nixon, Johnson. I watched young boys die and that’s not fair.” So another hard look at our political ambitions with the precious human life of our young people. I was one of them then, it’s sad.
CrypticRock.com – It is sad. Hopefully we learn from our mistakes as a culture, as a people. We can only hope! I think music is something everyone can find a common ground on. As mentioned, after The Youngbloods, you launched a solo career to which you have released 15 acclaimed albums. As a songwriter, does your inspiration shift over time?
Jesse Colin Young – It comes and goes, writing in waves. I had quit the road seven years ago and I did not think I would be back, and then in the spring of 2016 I started writing some songs with my wife. This was new, though we had done this 15-20 years before, it was new again for us. When you’re writing songs, you’re wondering, “Well, what am I going to do with them?” So, all of a sudden, I went to see my son Tristan, who was graduating from Berklee College of Music, and this band he had put together of young people just blew me away. They were playing fusion and playing it beautifully, and I thought there was so much feeling and energy. I thought, “My God, I want to do this again.” So I asked my son to help me: we put a band together of his friends and co-graduates; all the young people, seven of them are all in their twenties and they are all Berklee graduates.
I’m writing songs! I’m working on… I wrote a song after the Orlando massacre, and I think we’re going to release it on Facebook in the wake of this massacre because it’s time: it’s a song once again about healing. How do we heal after these things? We’re still, we’re right back: we need to learn to love each other and get along. Yes, have a dialogue and agree to disagree.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly! Now you said that you were inspired to go back on the road. You have toured the world over, and yet, for the first time in a while, you are actually heading out on some tour dates. What led to the decision to hit the road again and what can those coming out to the show expect?
Jesse Colin Young – Oh, everything from my first Folk record to all The Youngbloods’ hits like “Get Together,” “Darkness, Darkness,” and then songs like “Ridge Top,” “Songbird,” through the heart of my solo career after the Youngbloods. Then probably six songs they have never heard before; some of them written recently.
It’s a nicely balanced show. I guess I open the show: that’s where I started out and I love to play solo. It gives people who are fond of that part of my career a chance to get close to the music that way. The band is powerful and once we get started, some of those songs that I sing in the front, they’re too gentle (laughs). It’s kind of a Rock band. It’s my music. It’s still about family and caring for the earth, but it’s really the strongest band I ever had; once it gets growing, I don’t want to stop it.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds very exciting. Rock-n-Roll has gifted us many sub-genres and one, of course, is Folk Rock. From the storytelling lyrics to the natural progression of the instrumentation, what do you think makes Folk Rock as striking as it is?
Jesse Colin Young – Well, I don’t know. It all started with “The Sound of Silence:” the drums that they put on an acoustic performance of Paul and Artie’s playing. So Folk Rock maintains, I think, the focus on the lyrics which was always the strength of Folk music. It pulls the exciting part of the Rock band – the electric rhythm section, the drums – so it has both sides and that’s pretty much where my music is at. It’s about the songs: it’s not about making a bunch of loud noises together. It’s about heart: heartfelt things and hope. I think that’s the strength of what people call Folk Rock.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. Since you are thinking of releasing more songs on Facebook, is there a possibility of a physical record being released as well?
Jesse Colin Young – Absolutely. This March we’re going to go to Nashville and we’ll see how many songs I’ve got by then. I’ve already got six, seven, maybe eight, but we will make a record of them; maybe it will be an EP because we don’t have ten or twelve. I don’t know. I want to record this band! We did attempt that in San Francisco in my old studio which is still standing; my house burned down but the studio escaped the fire. My godson is still there and kept the studio going, and enhanced it tremendously. So this recording of what is called “For Orlando” was made there in August or July.
CrypticRock.com – Excellent. It will be exciting to hear the music when it comes out. My last question for you is pertaining to movies, because CrypticRock.com covers music as well as films, especially Horror and Science Fiction films. Are you a fan of either of those genres, and if not, what are some of your favorite films?
Jesse Colin Young – Well I’m not crazy about Horror films. Having your house burn-up in a forest fire (laughs); I’ve had enough scary things happen to me. Riding motorcycles all my life since I was 18, hanging off the cliffs of California; all that stuff’s been scary enough. I love some of the Science-Fiction films.
I read Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot when I was ten. I was a Science-Fiction nut: I read everything I could find and it was just kind of appearing then during the ’50s.
CrypticRock.com – What is so very interesting about the Science-Fiction genre is that a lot of the things that are written in Science-Fiction sometimes, in some way, become a reality.
Jesse Colin Young – Yeah, look at 1984! If we don’t watch out, here it comes! It’s funny; it is Science-Fiction. Even I, Robot, who would have thought that in 1950, that there would be cars on the road that were driving themselves? I don’t want to call them ‘who’ because somebody might pass a law that robots have the same rights as citizens (laughs). The way they’ve allowed corporations to assume rights that should only belong to citizens.
CrypticRock.com – There is definitely a lot of craziness in the world. Hopefully we can come together and talk to one another with an open mind!
Jesse Colin Young – Absolutely! I find that, in music, I’m able to make a point as beautifully and as powerfully as I can. I can tell by the way people receive it whether I have communicated clearly or not. That’s my job, really: I report about what my generation is going through and, in doing that, there are echoes and similarities to what every generation goes through; no matter when or what it’s called.