Red Young’s Complete Musical Life and History
Throughout his very productive and busy career, Red Young has covered a great deal of musical ground. While he is often associated as a sideman with blues and jazz as an organist, pianist, arranger, and composer, Red has an extensive resume and album credits as a leader and vocalist as well with his 8 piece Red Young & His Hot Horns and Red and the Red Hots, and also Hammond organ trios and quartets, piano groups and solo performances. And no matter what music he plays – his own or others – his dedication to playing great music no matter what genre, Red always puts his own spin on the songs. Throughout the years, he has performed, recorded and toured with Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, Cher, Linda Ronstadt, Eric Burdon and many others however, in the past decade he has primarily worked with his own groups and friends around the world. When he is not traveling, he performs regularly in the clubs in Austin and Ft Worth, Texas and other places as well.
Music has been a major part of Red Young’s life from the beginning. He remembers, “My grandmother was a church singer who taught me some songs when I was three. I started taking classical piano lessons when I was five. My Dad was a trumpet player who stopped playing when he was in his twenties. He had a really great record collection of 78s and LPs so early on I heard Louis Armstrong, the Mills Brothers, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, the King Cole Trio and Count Basie which was certainly unusual for a kid my age in Fort Worth, Texas at that time.”
Red Young performed Chopin at his first classical recital when he was ten and had classical organ lessons but, by the time he was in junior high school, he was playing jazz. Blessed with perfect pitch, as a young teenager he could pick out whatever he heard on records. Red could play stride piano, was inspired by Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans, and worked for a period in a Benny Goodman style swing trio. He also occasionally sang and became known as a vocal accompanist. Red had backed his grandmother’s singing in church when he was nine. In junior high and high school he accompanied the chorus and wrote vocal and instrumental arrangements. After a brief period attending North Texas State, he dropped out of school to accompany singers on recordings and at clubs.
During 1967 Red Young had his first major musical job, playing piano with trumpeter Clyde McCoy’s band. McCoy was best known for his one hit from the 1920s, a version of “Sugar Blues.” Clyde’s group played Dixieland and swing and the young pianist was a perfect fit. “I had learned a lot of the Dixieland numbers from my father’s record collection, played stride piano well and knew the songs from the 1920s. Clyde was 64 and I was 18, playing that music while most others my age were into the Beatles and Rolling Stones. The band was good and we constantly traveled all over America.” Young appeared with the Clyde McCoy group on Johnny Carson’s Tonight show from New York. During a stay in New York, he had the opportunity to jam at the Gaslight in New York on several occasions with a group that featured veteran clarinetist Sol Yaged and the famous Duke Ellington cornetist-violinist Ray Nance. And the group also traded sets with the Supremes at Atlantic City’s Steel Pier.
While serving in the Air Force during 1968-72, Young played in service bands, learned how to write for horns, and performed at many concerts in Teas, Germany and New England. Based in Springfield, Massachusetts during his last period in the military, he traveled to New York once a month to see the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra, always being amazed and inspired by Jones’ writing.
After his discharge, Red spent time living and working in Texas where he performed and recorded with such artists as Lloyd Price, Freddy Fender, Kinky Friedman and Noel Redding (of the Jimi Hendrix Experience). In 1977 he moved to Los Angeles to play and arrange for Sonny & Cher, tour and record with Joan Armatrading, form a band with Lon Price & Lee Thornburg and follow many directions in the diverse Los Angeles music scene. During the next seven years Red also worked in the studios with all-stars from many various genres, TV Shows, Movies and played in Victor Feldman’s Generation Band, and during 1983-84 toured and recorded as an arranger-singer with Linda Ronstadt and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra. While he found all of this work challenging, he eventually felt the need to create and play his own music. In 1985 he moved back to Ft. Worth where he formed Red and The Red Hots.
Red and the Red Hots, a ten-piece swing band with two female singers, featured Red as pianist, lead vocalist, arranger-composer and musical director. The spirited group caught on, performing several hundred shows in Texas culminating in a show with the Ft Worth Symphony. Their success continued after Red’s return to Los Angeles in 1988. Red and The Red Hots preceded the Retro Swing movement of the 1990s. and Red worked with and wrote horn parts for many of the movement’s pacesetters including Royal Crown Revue and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. “I brought the influences of Dixieland, Neal Hefti and Duke Ellington into the music and could play like Count Basie.” Red also toured with Juice Newton, recorded with the legendary tenor-saxophonists Plas Johnson and Big Jay McNeely, led his organ trio Brother Red, and worked and recorded with Dan Hicks and such blues artists as Janiva Magness, Marcia Ball, Kid Ramos and Kirk Fletcher. His life was a whirlwind of activity with his playing, singing and writing abilities being in great demand.
In 2002, tired of the LA traffic, Red Young moved to Austin, to work with longtime friend Stephen Bruton then to Dallas, becoming part of a nightclub Django On The Parkway. While he loved the music end of it, the business side and the endless details of running a club began to wear him out. “I thought it would be great to have a nice club halfway between New York and the West Coast, but the work in taking care of the place never stopped.” In 2005 when Eric Burdon of the Animals asked him to tour and play keyboards with his band, he jumped at the chance. Red had first worked with Burdon in 1982 and his voice and style were always a major part of his music. “Eric had always done amazing shows no matter what challenges being on the road brings. Before he was with the Animals, Eric sang regularly with a big band in England and was influenced by Ray Charles and Jimmy Witherspoon; he’s from that era. I worked with Eric from 2006-2016.”
In addition to going out on regular tours with Burdon, Red became a major musical force in Austin, Texas, invigorating the local jazz scene with organ and piano skills and horn arranging thanks to his time in the 1980s working with Nelson Riddle. He formed a band with trumpeter Ephraim Owens and drummer Brannen Temple called Black Red Black which won awards as the best jazz band in Austin in 2011. When Red left L.A. in 2002, he wanted to concentrate on jazz organ and pass on his knowledge of the Hammond organ to a new generation. When he arrived n 2002, there was only one club with a Hammond organ and since that time now there are 7 venues – 3 of the Hammonds belonging to Red and many younger players learning the instrument while Red passes on tips to all of them. “The guys who I learned the organ from are now all gone. That is one of the reasons that I moved to Austin because of many clubs and live playing, I can encourage the younger players and help make an impact.” While there were few organists in Austin when Red Young arrived, there are now many performers who have been inspired by him.
In 2016 after leaving the touring life with Eric Burdon, he started Red Young & His Hot Horns with 5 horns and Red on vocals and keyboards with drums and bass and he continued his love of arranging for larger bands. They had a residency at Antone’s nightclub from 2016-2019 at which point he moved to Parker Jazz Club a few blocks away and he continued to expand his repertoire from Ray Charles, Percy Mayfield and Bobby Bland into Charles Mingus, Quincy Jones, Les McCann and original works. He recorded each week and put out two CDs and did festivals in Canada, USA and Australia not touring with the entire 8 piece band but utilizing local players he knew and met through mutual friends. He continues his shows at the Elephant Room using two tenor saxes, organ and drums and has a monthly residency as Red Young’s Tenor Madness. He also works an organ Trio with Brannen Temple and Michael Malone once a month at the Elephant Room and a weekly residency at the Continental Club Gallery with the Brannen & Red Show, which is the weekly musical extravaganza with his longtime musical co-creator Brannen Temple.
During his time in Austin, he has recorded albums with Stephen Bruton, Marcia Ball, James McMurtry, Uncle Lucius, Johnny Nicolas, the Texas Horns, Bruce Robison and recently the Black Pumas. And Red continues to do his own recordings and tours and records on others projects at his own studio.
Each year he does longtime friend Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches Cruise and has his own Happy Hour shows with the Hot Horns and a late night Piano Bar that all the artists on the cruise regularly sing or play with him. And he travels to several festivals each year – Merlefest in NC in April with The Waybacks and Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas in September with the Bender Brass as well as other spots around the country with bands and musicians he puts together.
Red Young’s enthusiasm for music has certainly not diminished through the years. “If someone called me for a classical gig or to play Scott Joplin’s music, I would do my best at that. Jazz, classical, orchestra music, the blues and many different styles flow through what I do. For the future, I want to keep on doing what I’m doing. I don’t see myself ever being retired; in fact I’m just getting started.”