Obituary: Faron Young

Faron Young was one of country music's greatest vocalists, if perhaps an occasionally underrated one.

His appealing, expressive tenor was equally at home with both ballads and up-tempo numbers; and whilst he could croon effortlessly, the more dramatic and emotive approach that he favoured on many of his 1950s recordings confirms him as an important link between Hank Williams and many of the country stars who have followed.

Over a nearly 50-year career Young enjoyed a string of hits, some 42 of them making it into the country Top Ten. During that time he championed many of the genre's most important songwriters, "discovered" the likes of Roger Miller and Kris Kristofferson and became one of Nashville's most memorable characters.

If he also appeared somewhat reckless, it seemed only to endear him to his fans even more. Over the years he weathered alcoholism, marital problems and several brushes with the law - he was famously convicted of assaulting a minor in 1972 - yet few could have anticipated his suicide.

Young was born, the son of a dairy farmer, at Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1932. He began performing whilst still in his teens and was inevitably drawn to the area's most important radio show, the KWKH Louisiana Hayride. This, the so-called "Cradle of the Stars" was, from 1948, a springboard to national celebrity for many of the country's leading performers, including Hank Williams, Jim Reeves, Jim Horton and even Elvis Presley. Having built up a local following Young was asked to join the show's cast and found himself working as a featured vocalist with the honky-tonk star Webb Pierce.

In 1952 however, and in common with many others at the Hayride, he was lured to Nashville's prestigious WSM Grand Ole Opry. Capitol Records signed him to a contract and his future looked assured until the Korean War intervened. Drafted, he was assigned to performing for the troops, working with a young actor and announcer named Leonard Nimoy.

Whilst on leave, Young went into the recording studio and cut "Goin' Steady", a No 2 hit in 1953. Following his discharge a year later he returned to Nashville and rapidly established himself as one of the major hitmakers of the era, scoring with, among others: "If You Ain't Lovin' (You Ain't Livin')" (1954), "Live Fast, Love Hard and Die Young" (1955), "I Miss You Already" (1957), "Alone With You" (1958) and "Backtrack" (1961).

Young had a fine ear for quality songwriting and, in addition to recording numbers by veterans like Ted Daffan ("I've Got Five Dollars and It's Saturday Night"), was among the first to cut songs by the likes of Roy Drusky ("Country Girl"), Bill Anderson ("Riverboat"), Don Gibson and Willie Nelson. Gibson's classic "Sweet Dreams" charted for Young in 1956, and five years later he took Nelson's "Hello Walls" all the way to No 1. Young and Nelson remained friends and in 1985 cut a fine duet album together, Funny How Time Slips Away.

Others who benefited from Young's encouragement included the country star Johnny Paycheck, whom he employed as a bass guitarist, the singer, songwriter and actor Kris Kristofferson, and Roger Miller, who had been working as a Nashville bell-hop until Young took him on as a drummer.

All the while, Young had been enjoying a parallel career in films, though the results, including the western Hidden Guns (1956), in which he appeared opposite Angie Dickinson, and Country Music Holiday (1958) are largely and justifiably forgotten. It was, however, his work in the former that was to give him his nickname: "The Singing Sheriff".

In 1962 Young left Capitol and signed to Mercury Records. The hits continued with "You'll Drive Me Back (Into Her Arms Again)" (1963), "Walk Tall" (1965) and the Kristofferson song, "Your Time's Coming" (1969). In 1972 Young enjoyed an international crossover success with Jerry Chesnut's waltz "It's Four in the Morning", a record that made it into the British Top Ten.

As the hits began to dry up, Young concentrated increasingly upon his extensive business interests, including publishing houses, a talent agency and the Nashville country music magazine Music City News.

Three years ago, when Willie Nelson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, he made a plea for Faron Young to soon follow. That richly deserved honour cannot now be far off.

Paul Wadey

Faron Young, country singer, actor and songwriter: born Shreveport, Louisiana 25 February 1932; married (four children; marriage dissolved); died Nashville, Tennessee 10 December 1996.