Reggie Young: Session Player To The Stars.

There aren’t many musicians whose career spans seven decades and get to work with the great and good of music including Elvis Presley, JJ Cale, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Neil Diamond and Dusty Springfield. They’re just a few of the musicians that Reggie Young has worked with during his long and illustrious career. His story began in  1936. 

The Reggie Young story began in Caruthersville, Missouri on December ’12th’ 1936, but he spent the first for teen years of his life in Osceola, an hour from Memphis. In his early teenage years, Reggie got a job bagging groceries. Little did he know at the time, that this would be his only job in ‘civvy’ street. The rest of his life would be spent making music. 

Things changed for Reggie Young when his family moved to Memphis in 1950 when his father Reggie Sr, got a job as a bookkeeper. For his first Christmas in Memphis, fourteen year old Reggie got his very first guitar. Now there were two guitarists in the Young household.

Reggie’s father already played Hawaiian guitar, and was a talented player, who would influence Reggie. He had already taught himself how to play lead guitar, through a scratch built amplifier a neighbour had built, when he decided to take some lessons. After one lesson which Reggie spent playing Three Blind Mice, he decided guitar lessons weren’t for him. Instead, he continued to teach himself, and knew that he could always his father, who would in some ways, would influence his playing style.

By then, Chet Atkins was the main influence on Reggie as his playing style developed. Later, his father’s playing style would influence Reggie and he would incorporate some of the  Hawaiian legato phrasing he had watched his father use. This would become one of Reggie’s trademarks. That would come later.

Having left high school, where Reggie was a couple of years ahead of Steve Cropper and Donald “Duck” Dunn, he embarked upon a career as a session musician. His first session was accompanying singing hairdresser Tommy Smith. That day, Reggie laid down a memorable solo on Magic Girl. This opened doors for Reggie around town.

Soon, other musicians were talking about this eighteen your old kid who had laid down the lead guitar solo during the Tommy Smith session. Reggie started accompanying Eddie Boyd at a weekly gig at the Eagle’s Nest. For Reggie, this was valuable experience as he honed his chops

In 1955, Reggie featured on  a single by Barney Burcham that was released on the Rodeo label. By then, Reggie and Jack Clement had started playing a weekly gig at the Kennedy Veteran’s Hospital For Incurables. However, Jack Clement was also a partner in Fernwood Records, and recorded a session with Reggie. The single much to Reggie’s relief was never released.

Not long after this, Reggie who was then into rock ’n’ roll, cut his debut single Rockin’ Daddy, which opened with Reggie’s  oft-copied guitar lick. The single gave Reggie a regional hit, and Elvis’ first manager Bob Neal booked him to appear on a package tour. Reggie headed out on tour with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison and Johnny Horton. When the tour stopped off in Nashville, Eddie Boyd cut his sophomore single and Reggie played on his first union session. By then of the day, he was $41.25 richer. However, by the end of the tour, Reggie had a new job.

During the tour, Johnny Horton and his guitarist had a disagreement, and Reggie took over the role. At the end of the tour, Reggie moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, where Johnny Horton lived and was based. While Johnny Horton wasn’t the most successful musician that Reggie would ever work with, he gained a wealth of experience during his time with in his band. This came to an end in 1958 when Reggie was told he was about to be drafted.

After leaving Johnny Horton’s band, Reggie headed home to Memphis awaiting the letter every young man dreaded…the draft. It never arrived and Reggie joined Bill Black’s Combo. 

The new group headed to a new studio Royal Recording which was owned by Hi Records. On the Bill Black Combo’s first session, Reggie’s guitar played an important part in the sound and success of the instrumental that would become their first single, Smokie Pt. 1. When it was released, it reached number seventeen on the US Billboard 100 and number one on the US R&B charts. By then, Reggie had been drafted.

Still, he managed to join the rest of the Bill Black Combo when they made two appearances on the Dick Clark Show. With the permission of his company commander, Reggie played a thirty-one date tour with the Bill Black Combo. After that, he joined up with the rest of his unit to undergo basic training. 

Whilst his unit were doing their basic training in Ethiopia, the royalties for Smokie Pt. 1 were mounting up. Reggie had received a co-composer’s credit for his guitar part, instead of a session fee. This was a wise move for Reggie, and by the time his eighteen months service was over, he returned to the Bill Black Combo.

They continued to enjoy a string of hit singles right up until 1964. However, in 1964 Bill Black sold the name to the Bill Black Combo, and left the group. This meant that the founder wasn’t a member of the group that opened for The Beatles on their first American tour. By then, he was the only remaining member of the Bill Black Combo. The tour with The Beatles was an eye-opener, and Reggie met The Kinks and The Yarbirds. He hit it off with Eric Clapton, who shared Reggie’s love of the blues. However, as 1964 drew to a close, Reggie knew that the times they were a changing.

In 1965, Reggie’s tour of duty with the Bill Black Combo was over. Founder member Bill Black had been ill for eighteen months, and died on October ‘21st’ 1965, aged just thirty-nine. By then, music was changing and sadly, the Bill Black Combo were seen as part of music’s past.

Rock ’n’ roll was regarded as part of music’s past. The future was rock, which was seen as music’s future. Meanwhile, Reggie decided to return to working as a session musician.

After being part of a successful band for seven years, many musicians might have regarded this as a comedown. However, for Reggie Young it was the start of a new chapter. He started playing on Hi Records’ recording studio Royal Recording in 1965. For the next two years, Reggie’s guitar could be heard on singles bearing the Hi Records’ logo. However, in 1967 Reggie was on the move.

Next stop for Reggie Young was Chips Moman’s American Sound Studios, in Memphis. He started work at American Sound Studios in 1967, and one of his earliest sessions was on James Carr’s classic Dark End Of The Street. This was the first of many hit singles that Reggie would play on at American Sound Studios. 

Before long, Chips Moman decided to put together the American Sound Studios Band a.k.a. the Memphis Boys, who were one of the best studio bands of the late-sixties and early seventies. Reggie became the lead guitarist in the lead guitarist in, the Memphis Boys who were a truly prolific band. Over the next five years, the Memphis Boys worked with the great and good of music, and played on 120 hit singles. This includes Elvis Presley’s Suspicious Minds and In The Ghetto. However, by 1970 Chips Moman and Reggie had fallen out, and their relationship was never the same. Not long after this, things started to change at American Sound Studios.

Chips Moman made a decision to leave Memphis, and start over in Atlanta. Despite the fresh start, it was almost inevitable that Reggie would leave the Memphis Boys, and move on to pastures new. What surprised some people was that it took until 1972.

Having packed his bags, Reggie left Atlanta, en route to Memphis. For some reason, he decided to stop at Nashville and catchup with two old friends from Muscle Shoals, David Briggs and Norbert Putnam, who owned Quadraphonic Studio. They listened as Reggie recalled his departure from American Sound Studios. When he was finished, David Briggs asked Reggie: “you wanna work some?” When Reggie answer yes, a new chapter in his career began.

Nashville became his home, and he has lived and worked there ever since. One of the first sessions he played on in Nashville, was on Dobie Gray’s Drift Away. When it was released in 1972 it reached number five on the US Billboard 100, forty-two in the US R&B charts and was certified gold. The song rejuvenated Dobie Gray’s ailing career, and in the process, introduced Reggie to Nashville.

For the majority of the time, Reggie was playing country music, and this required him to change his playing style. Reggie was by then a versatile and talented guitarist, and seamlessly adjusted to country music. However, in 1973, Reggie returned to Memphis for one special session.

Reggie Young became part of the band that featured on Elvis Presley’s Stax sessions. By then, the King was no longer the singer he had encountered during the American Studio Sessions. He was surrounded by yes men and hangers-on, who hadn’t the courage to tell Elvis that the songs he was about to record weren’t good enough. Despite this, Reggie and his band gave their all, while Elvis phoned in some of the songs. As a result, it would be forty years before Elvis At Stax was released in 2013.

After working with Elvis at Stax, Reggie returned to Nashville, where he was one of the top session players. That was why Chips Moman came calling in 1977. By then, Chips Moman, had a studio in Nashville, and wanted Reggie to play on the session for Waylon Jennings’ 1977 single Luckenbach, Texas (Back To The Basics Of Love). Reggie agreed and seemed to have the Midas touch. When the single was released later in 1977, it gave Waylon Jennings the biggest hit of his career so far. For Reggie, it was yet another hit he had played on.

He continued to play on sessions until things changed in the late seventies. Many of the Outlaws, including Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson started to bring their touring bands to play on recording sessions. For many session musicians this meant a huge drop in income. However, Reggie decided that if you can’t beat them, join them. He joined Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s bands when they headed out on tour.

On his first tour with an Outlaw, Reggie lost was the only person who lost money. The session work he had turned down, came to more than he received for the tour. It was an expensive lesson, and one that Reggie never made again. After that, he divided his time between touring and session work.

One of the most memorable tours came in 1990, when Reggie headed out on tour with the country supergroup The Highwaymen. With a lineup that featured Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson it was one of the concert tours of 1990. So popular were The Highwaymen, that they released a studio album The Road Goes On Forever in 1994. Reggie played on the album, and five years later, became joined Waylon Jennings’ band.

Although Reggie would spent much of his time doing session work, he still found time to tour with Waylon Jennings. Reggie joined the band in 1999, and was with the band right until Waylon Jennings played his final concert in 2002. The last song they played that night, was Drift Away, which featured just Waylon Jennings and Reggie Young. Sadly, on February ’13th’ 2002, Waylon Jennings passed away aged just sixty-five. That day, Reggie lost a good friend, who he had known for a long time.

By then, Reggie was sixty-six and showing no sign of slowing down. Over the next few years, he played sessions on albums by some of the biggest names in country music. He joined Glen Campbell, Hank Williams, George Strait, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rodgers in the studio. Still, he continued to play on hit singles and successful albums. However, as the years went by, there was still one thing that Reggie Young had to do…record a debut album.

Eventually, Reggie decided the time was right to record his debut album. Reggie wrote seven new songs, and put together a band that features some top musicians. This includes his old friend from the Memphis Boys, David Hood. He played bass on four of the seven songs that were recorded in his home studio. One of the other musicians that played on Forever Young was cellist Jenny Lynn Hollowell, who Reggie Young married in 1999. They’ve lived in Leipers Fork, in mid-Tennessee, where Reggie has a home studio. That was where Forever Young was recorded. It showcases a truly talented and versatile veteran guitarist.

Somewhat belatedly, Reggie Young released his debut album Forever Young in 2017, and by then, he was eighty-one. By then, he had spent the last seven decades working as a professional musician. For most of his career, Reggie Young has been working with the great and good of music. That is no surprise, as he was one of the top guitarists in Memphis, Atlanta and for the last forty-five years, Nashville. Year after year was spent touring and recording, and as a result,  Reggie Young never found the time to record an album. Instead, Reggie Young, the guitarist’s guitarist, was content to be a sideman, the hired gun who helped make others sound good during a long and illustrious career, where he’s showcased his considerable talent and versatility on countless albums or on the road with some of the giants of country music..

Reggie Young: Session Player To The Stars.


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