To Otis Redding obsessives – among which I ought to include myself – Billy Young is famous as the artist who initiated the Big O’s own label Jotis that he set up with Atlantic promotion man Joe Galkin. But he was so much more than that – a hugely prolific artist running several labels, a community activist and social reformer whose work is celebrated annually in his adopted home town of Macon, GA.
Young was born in Daingerfield, TX in 1941 moving, like so many from that state, to the West Coast. His early recordings were possibly for Crest as a member of the Classics, but the first 45 under his own name was for Original Sound in 1963. On this rather lightweight poppish disc which Northern soul fans seem to enjoy, Billy sings in a high register with a lot of falsetto phrases but when he moved to Macon he fell under the spell of Otis R who had a huge impact on the way he sang – in my view all to the good. Check out his rasping growl on the fine midtempo Same Thing All Over which was cut under Redding’s supervision at Fame.
Rick Hall took over the production duties for Young’s only Chess release which coupled arguably the best ever version of the Fame evergreen “You Left The Water Running” with the outstanding deep soul of Tommy Roe’s Have Pity On Me. I think this side may just be Billy’s finest hour, so compelling is his pleading. I love the modulations in the arrangement and the big fat horn section as well.
Otis continued to produce Young in Muscle Shoals and, after Jotis closed it’s doors, leased the results out to Mercury. All four sides from these sessions are fantastic southern soul. Naturally I prefer the deep ballads and in Nothing’s Too Much and the old warhorse “Let Them Talk” you get a couple of wonderful examples of the genre. The former is so good in fact it could almost be Redding himself doing the vocals – and praise doesn’t come much higher than that. Otis was a horn section fanatic and this shows on the excellent arrangement here, and the the organ playing is subtly intelligent.
Young’s last release from the Golden Age was another scorcher. The self penned I’m Available is a wonderfully delicate country soul ballad with very fine guitar fills and a gently cooing female chorus. The bridge is beautifully judged – a side to listen to time and again. The mid paced flip is mighty fine too.
Early in the 70s Young took control of his recording career in Macon starting his own Joyja concern and adding others, notably Grotto, as well, releasing over 20 singles over the next two decades. His production values were of course lower, no doubt to keep costs down, and the quality of the music was variable but throughout this high output one thing remained constant and that was Billy’s wonderful vocal ability. The funk crowd are interested in the rhythmic “Suffering With A Hangover” and in truth it probably is the pick of the tunes he produced in that idiom. Among the most interesting of the 45s were the two hymns to his home state “Get A Taste Of Georgia” and “All Of Georgia’s Children (Get Homesick)”. The biggest seller was undoubtedly “Country Boy” from 1976 and afterwards he often styled himself Billy “Country Boy” Young.
Several of the 45s were ballads of which the pick were “He Can Never Love You (Like I Do)”, Don’t Hang Your Head and the melodic “Still My Life Through”. By the late 70s Young had become heavily involved in his local community, doing volunteer work at a children’s centre for example, and his music began to reflect his new concerns. “Sickle Cell Anemia” (sic) warned of the dangers of this terrible disease, and “Keep His Dream Alive” was issued at the 10th anniversary of Dr Martin Luther King’s assassination. While Young’s Redee 45 was straight forward gospel, the Rane-Bow 45 was overtly political as it was released to help Rev Jesse Jackson’s unsuccessful bid for the Presidency in 1984.
Billy Young sadly passed away on 19th August 1999 but his memory lives on not only in the excellent music he left us but also via the annual Billy Young Memorial Tribute held at the Rosa Jackson Community Centre in Macon where he did such fine work for the children of the area.
UPDATE ~ Dave Turner has been in touch about an issue of "Nothings Too Much" on the Kensie label (shown on the right above). Is this the first issue of this great 45 or is it a bootleg - possibly from Holland. Can anybody help?
NEW UPDATE ~ Pete Nickols adds "Billy cut the first unissued-at-the-time version of Dan Penn’s “Feed The Flame” at the same 1966 Fame session that produced Young’s version of “You Left The Water Running”. It’s available on the UK Kent 3-CD set “Fame Studios Story 1961-1973” (Kentbox 12)." Pete has kindly reviewd this Kent CD set here.
Are you for me / Glendora ~ ORIGINAL SOUND 29 (1963)
The sloopy / Same thing all over ~ JOTIS 469 (1965)
You left the water running / Have pity on me ~ CHESS 1961 (1966)
Too much / Nothing's too much (nothing's too good) ~ MERCURY 72693 (1966)
Let them talk / A year a month and a day ~ MERCURY 72769 (1967)
I'm available / A sweet woman ~ SHOUT 236 (1969)
Still my life through / What is Christmas ~ JOYJA 001
Tell me you'll hold on / I wonder what she's doing ~ JOYJA 002
What is Christmas / All of Georgia's children (get homesick) ~ JOYJA 003
I done got over / This time ~ JOYJA 0004
Suffering with a hangover / Pt2 ~ JOYJA 005
Still my life through / Last year this time ~ JOYJA 006
I'll find a way / Inst ~ JOYJA 007
Get a taste of Georgia / Pt2 ~ JOYJA 009
A lot of lonely people in this world / Pt 2 ~ JOYJA 010
What is Christmas / Love clause ~ JOYJA 012
Come on down to Georgia / Pt 2 ~ JOYJA 016
He can never love you (like I do) / Pt2 ~ JOYJA 244
I'm gonna get it tonight / Don't hang your head (in shame) ~ JOYJA 245
A big Christmas / Martin Luther ~ JOYJA 246
Ain't no place like America / Inst ~ JOYJA 247
I'm in love / Pt 2 ~ JOYJA 248 (1978)
Burning up / Inst ~ JOYJA 110 / 011
Just cause I was talking / Pt 2 ~ JOYJA 4176
Sickle cell anemia / Same ~ JOYJA
Dr Martin Luther King / Baseball (will always be the same) ~ JOYJA
Love on (don't be afraid to fall in love) / Pt2 ~ GROTTO 0001
Country boy / Life sho' is something ~ GROTTO (1976)
What are little girls made of / Inst ~ GROTTO 003
How much longer (can you hold out) / Pt2 ~ GROTTO 004
I'm gonna do God's will / Pt 2 ~ REDEE 001 (1987)
Keep his dream alive / Pt2 ~ S-CEE 0001 (1978)
Disco music (sho is boss) / Same ~ S-CEE 002
When I really wanna get off / Pt 2 ~ S-CEE 002
Jesse Jackson for President / Same ~ RANE-BOW 001 (1984)
There was a boy (a Georgia boy) / Inst ~ KLIM 002 (1982)
Note - Dating of most of Billy's own productions is impossible apart from the odd 45 with a year printed on it. So releases are shown in label order.
Note ~ "Nothing's too much" can be found on the first volume of the Kent UK series of Dave Godin's Deep Soul Treasures.
Acknowledgements to Brian Poust (see Links). And thanks to Peter Hoogers, Dave Porter and Naoya Yamauchi for additions to the discography.