"It's A Great Life (If You Don't Weaken) sang Faron Young in one of his early hits.
Forty-one years later, suffering from emphysema and prostate cancer, Young did weaken. He put a bullet in his head, and on Dec. 10, his great life ended. He may have been thinking back to his first Number One record, "Live Fast, Love Hard, DieYoung (And Leave A Beautiful Memory)."
Many of today's country fans don't know Faron Young from Mighty Joe Young. The last of his 41 Top Ten hits came in 1974, and he hadn't reached the Top Thirty since 1977. Even so, he was ranked (by Billboard chart archivist Joel Whitburn) as the 20th most successful country singles artist of all time, through the end of 1993.
Born on Feb. 25, 1932 near Shreveport, La., Young had a geographical advantage in his quest for country stardom. In the late '40's and early '50's, Shreveport was home to The Louisiana Hayride, a nationally broadcast show that rivalled Nashville's Grand Ole Opry in importance.
The Hayride helped launch the carrers of, among others, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, and perhaps most of all, Webb Pierce. Pierce, the top country artist of the '50's, gave Young a job with his band in 1951 and also helped get him onto the Hayride.
In an era when most artists struggled for years to get noticed, Youngwas only 20 when his first hit, "Goin' Steady," entered the charts on its way to Number Two. (In 1970, he reached Number Five with a new recording of the same song). His biggest hit, crossing over to Number Twelve on the pop charts, was the 1961 recording of Willie Nelson's "Hello Walls."
Others of Young's many hits included "If You Ain't Lovin'" (returned to the top of the charts in 1988 via George Strait), "I Miss You Already (And You're Not Even Gone)" which was successfully revived by Billy Joe Royal in 1986, and "Wine Me Up", which has become a honky-tonk standard and was recently covered by both Don Walser and Gary Allan. Young's 1956 cut of Don Gibson's "Sweet Dreams" became the first of five versions of that song to reach the country top ten through the years.
Young's life was active in other ways. He founded Music City News, one of the longest running publications in the industry and had numerous investments with varying success.
On his first trip to The Opry in 1952, he was accompanied by his girlfriend, a Shreveport lass named Billie Jean Jones. She was introduced to Hank Williams, and by the end of that night she was Faron's ex and Hank's bride-to-be. (Faron claimed that Hank pulled a gun on him to emphasize his interest in the lady).
His nickanme "The Sheriff", stemming from an early movie role, was ironic, for Young was a classic honky-tonker in every way. According to "The Guinness Who's Who of Country Music" Young's ex-wife accused him of threatening her with a gun and frequently shooting holes in the kitchen ceiling. The same source says Young was fined in 1972 for spanking a six-year old girl at one of his concerts (he claimed she spat in his face).
It's only fitting that in 1960, both Johnny Paycheck and Roger Miller, two future stars who knew their way around a barroom, were in Young's band "The Deputies." Guinness quotes Young as saying at one point "I'm not an alcoholic. I'm a drunk."
Yet in recent years he was virtually forgotten. Even those who rediscovered his contemporaries like Pierce and Lefty Frizzell seem to often be unfamilair with Faron Young's great body of work.
If Young's tragic end serves to open some eyes and ears to his musical legacy, then at least some good will have come of it.