Today is the birthday of the old Youngbloods’ maestro Jesse Colin Young. I saw Jesse perform in Minneapolis in 2006 with the lineup he calls Celtic Mambo and wrote about it in “Elephant Mountain revisited.” In advance of the show I contacted Jesse through the agent listed on his site and requested a telephone interview. I was pleasantly surprised to hear back from him after the show:
We were too busy to attend to this and got it too late. How about email interview? I could use a few interesting questions.
I won’t say I rose to the challenge of coming up with interesting questions, but Jesse did kindly respond:
Power Line: Your show is so fan friendly. You play the old songs we want to hear with commitment and enthusiasm, no different than the newer songs you’ve worked into in the act. What keeps it new for you at this point in your career?
Jesse: I thought when we went to Hawaii 10 years ago I might retire and play golf, work on the farm etc. I realized I need to play…not a lot…but some. It’s a way I contribute to the world I live in…an important way.
Power Line: You obviously enjoy playing with your new group [violinst and wife Connie Young, bassist Vito Truglio and drummer Louis Pinault], and I loved the jazzy feel you generate with it. How does it compare to the other lineups you’ve worked with?
Jesse: These are 3 people that I love deeply. It’s not a show really, it’s 4 people who love and respect each other exploring the joy of playing music together.
Power Line: I was struck by the sheer melodicism of every one of the songs you played and of their arrangements. After playing “Sunlight” you referred to that chord as being your favorite. Can you say anything about the place of melody in your music? What is the music that you look to for melodic inspiration and enjoyment?
Jesse: Melody and a great voice, be it throat or sax, is what gets me. Can be Enrico Caruso or Hank Williams. And the lyrics have to say something that moves me. I don’t find a lot of modern music that moves me. I listen to mostly bluegrass, blues and jazz. It’s the roots of rock and roll that turn me on.
Power Line: I was also struck by your work on the guitar. You worked like a madman to keep the songs going melodically and took incredibly active solos as well. Can you say anything about your approach to the instrument in the show?
Jesse: After our house burned down in CA in ’95, I ended up in Hawaii with lots of time on my hands. I decided to get serious about the guitar.
My rhythm playing drives the band. Louie, our drummer, has one ear monitor that is just my guitar. Make the groove strong. And playing the only chordal instrument in the quartet is another challenge. It’s up to me to create the tone of the songs with my choice of chords and their voicings. My computer says this is the wrong spelling but u know what I mean.
Power Line: Do you keep up with any of your Youngbloods bandmates?
Jesse: We played a double bill with Banana [Lowell Levenger] last spring in Monterey. I stay in touch with Jerry Corbitt who lives in Texas. Joe Bauer died years ago of a brain tumor.
I snuck in one last question in a separate email that Jesse answered after my initial round:
Power Line: How did you happen to record “Get Together” in ’67? Was that your producer’s idea or the band’s?
Jesse: The Youngbloods were one of the house bands at the Cafe Au Go Go [in Greenwich Village] and I heard the song at an open mike there. Buzzy Linhart sang it and I fell in love with it and took it into rehearsal with the YBs the next day. There was no way we could not record it ’cause I was crazy about it.
You can watch Jesse talking about Linhart at Linhart’s site. Jesse says in the interview that’s posted there: “He taught me the song and I swallowed it whole.”
In the video above from the old Hollywood Palace show, Milton Berle introduces the Youngbloods. The band leads into Young’s lovely ballad “Sunlight” with a verse and chorus of “Get Together.”
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