Before leaving for Santa Fe we caught Jesse Colin Young playing at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis on June 26. I have no higher purpose here than to share an enthusiasm and post a few songs that might bring interested readers some small pleasure.
You may have heard of Jesse Colin Young as the founding member of the Youngbloods or as a solo artist. He founded the Youngbloods in 1967 with Jerry Corbitt on guitar, Lowell “Banana” Levinger on keyboards and Joe Bauer on drums. Jesse had come up through the folk scene and already had two solo albums to his credit by the time the he formed the group. Guitar is his first love. To make the group work, however, Jesse moved from guitar to bass.
The Youngbloods’ first (self-titled) album (produced by Felix Pappalardi) included the top 10 hit “Get Together,” written by Dino Valenti under the name Chet Powers (there’s another story there). As Jesse told me in 2006, “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.”
Released as a single in 1967, the song became a huge hit two years later. As I recall, the National Conference of Christians and Jews adopted it as the soundtrack to a public service advertisement promoting national unity in 1969. Mister, we could use a song like “Get Together” again.
The song had been recorded by others before it became a hit for the Youngbloods in 1969; it was Jesse’s passionate vocal that made this version of the song click. The NCCJ ad brought the recording to the attention of the country and struck a nerve. Jesse’s vocal grabbed your attention. He’s still playing the song 50 years later and still whispering “Listen!”
I first heard the Youngbloods playing on the college circuit in the spring of 1970, just after the Kent State shootings that May. By this time they had released Elephant Mountain (their third album, produced by Charlie Daniels!). It includes Jesse’s song “Sunlight,” one of my favorites of all time. I was grateful that Jesse played it at the Dakota.
Elephant Mountain represented the Youngbloods at their peak. They noodled around on a few cuts, but it is an almost perfect album. They recorded several more good records. It was nevertheless downhill (pun intended) from Elephant Mountain.
Jesse went on to a fruitful solo career, recording many albums backed by excellent musicians. My favorite of these is Song For Juli. The title track is for his daughter. How many beautiful melodies does he load into this one? I think he loved the girl.
Jesse is a bright guy. He attended Phillips Academy on scholarship. His love of the guitar brought him into conflict with the authorities at school, however, and he was expelled during his senior year. You can hear his intelligence, his love of wordplay and his love of rhyme at work in “Miss Hesitation,” adapting “Hesitation Blues” to his own uses.
When we saw Jesse last month he said that he had stopped touring a while back. He thought he had retired. Then he went to his son’s graduation from Berklee College and heard his son’s band of classmates play. He was inspired to team up and take them on the road. This is the aggregation we saw at the Dakota (Tristan Young on bass, Donnie Hogue on drums, JennHwan Wong on keyboard, Jack Sheehan on sax, Aleif Hamdan on electric guitar, and Virginia Garcia-Alves and Sally Rose backing Jesse on vocals). The video below shows them live at Daryl’s House last year playing Jesse’s medley of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” and “Mercy Mercy Me.”
The Dakota was packed with fans like me. Jesse last came through Minneapolis to play with his group Celtic Mambo at Rossi’s Blue Star 12 years ago. Yet Jesse was visibly nervous, thanking us for our warmth before he had played a note. The feeling must have been mutual. The show was an entirely crowd pleasing affair. Based on what I saw and heard, I thought to myself, he’ll be back. And so it will be. The Dakota announced this past Friday that Jesse returns on September 12.