Reggie Young

By Hammond, Shawn | Guitar Player, June 2008 | Go to article overview

Reggie Young


Hammond, Shawn, Guitar Player


SESSION GUITARISTS SUCH AS MICHAEL Landau, Steve Lukather, Paul Jackson Jr., and Brent Mason are legends in the guitar community, but there's another, lesser-known name that should probably be uttered in the same breath: Reggie Young. For the last 50 years, the Memphis, Tennessee native has played for the biggest acts out of the Memphis and Nashville scenes--including Elvis Presley, Dusty Springfield, Wilson Pickett, Nell Diamond, Dionne Warwick, Ray Charles, Willie Nelson, John Prine, Ronnie Milsap, Bobby Womack, Loudon Wainwright III, Waylon Jennings, Jimmy Buffet, and Kris Kristofferson.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Young's latest project, Soul Summit [Shanachie], is the brainchild of Grammy-winning keyboardist/producer Jason Miles. It chronicles Young's performance of soul classics such as "Son of a Preacher Man" and "Shotgun, at the famed 2007 Berks Jazz Festival with legendary studio cats such as bassist Bob Babbitt (Funk Brothers, Marvin Gaye), saxophonist Richard Elliot (Tower of Power), drummer Steve Ferrone (Average White Band, Duran Duran, Chaka Khan), and vocalists Maysa (Incognito) and Susan Tedeschi.

Young's storied career began rather unexpectedly when he was just 20 years old, playing guitar for Eddie Bond & the Stompers. Thanks to the intervention of a local DJ, the band recorded an album for Mercury Records, and it spawned the 1956 hit "Rockin' Daddy."

"When we quit touring, I guess I was sort of in demand, and I got calls for studio work," explains the guitarist.

In 1972, Young moved to Nashville, and over the next five years he cut 122 Top 40 R&B singles. With such a record, it's no wonder the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum inducted Young and his "Memphis Boys" rhythm-section cohorts last November.

As impressive as Young's resume is, contemplating how much history and change he has seen--not just in musical styles, but also in recording approaches, the industry, society, and guitar gear--is almost unfathomable. He's one of a handful of active ax slingers today who can chew the fat about cramming an A-list rhythm section onto one or two tracks, discuss the icebox-sized racks of the iridescent '80s, take a sip of coffee, and then opine about cutting an R&B ballad with an amp modeler.

"With the early R&B stuff in Memphis, you'd play a lick, and kind of slap around on your guitar--everything wasn't perfect," Young recalls. "All that blended together to make a little funk and soul thing happen. Then, we got a 4-track machine, and I thought, 'I'm on a track all by myself!' Boy, that changed my plan. I got very cautious, because I knew my track could be soloed and listened to--mistakes and all. Anyway, I got over that, and, of course, multitracking was better because you could fix mistakes. If there was a good take, everybody didn't have to redo it because of your mistake."

As for the '80s rack-obsessed era, Young laughs about a conversation with producer Jimmy Bowen. "He said, 'Reg, we need to stop using amplifiers. We need to go direct, because when chords fade out, you can hear amp hiss.' We built a refrigerator-sized rack full of stuff to make it sound like you were playing through an amp, but it wasn't as good. …

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