Faron was a favorite

Published 9:40 pm Tuesday, February 23, 2016

By Frank Roberts

I am often asked, “Of all the people you’ve met, do you have a favorite?”

Faron Young

Faron Young

One of the best singer/songwriters in the field of country music was Faron Young, and he is top of the list.

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He appeared once or twice a year at a Virginia Beach nightclub called Michaels, which was owned by Mike Christian, who had been a prisoner of war in Vietnam.

Country music was Christian’s thing.

In those days I was reviewing the efforts of visiting stars in Hampton Roads, and Michael’s was a regular stop. He brought in some good people. Faron was a regular guest.

When I hear the old-timers of this genre talking about people in the business, Young’s name invariably comes up and, invariably, they will say something like, “I have a story about Faron, but I can’t talk about it in public.”

He was a “wild man” who got involved in more strange doings. For instance — oops, can’t talk about that in public.

I remember one time he was in Mike’s office fussing with an airline representative about a ticket problem. Boy, he gave her a lot of “what-for.” While he was fussing the representative out, he looked at me with a big ol’ grin.

In 2000, Young was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame for his line of hits in the ’60s and ’70s. He was categorized as a honky-tonk singer. By then, he also had achieved success as a businessman. He owned an office building and a music publishing company.

As far as singing is concerned, he was peerless. Minnie Pearl put it succinctly, saying that Faron could “take a show away from anybody he wants to, when he wants to. Few acts could touch him.”

Young was born in Shreveport, La., the youngest of six kids. Sister Dorothy recalled, “He sang all the time; he nearly drove us crazy.” But, she added, “He was good from Day One.”

Young Faron’s first audience were the family’s cows. He appreciated their attentiveness, saying that he would sing a Hank Williams Sr. song, “and they’d just sit there chewing their cuds and looking at me.”

His first human audiences came during high school, when he fronted Webb Pierce’s band. At 19, he signed a contract with Capitol Records. While his music was on Billboard’s charts, he was enjoying the rigors of basic training. When he received his draft notice, he recalled once, “I cried like a rat eating a red onion.”

At that time, Eddie Fisher was also in the Army, spending most of his time as a uniformed entertainer. When Fisher was discharged, Young stepped up.

Later he tried a new uniform as “The Singing Sheriff,” under which persona he starred in four western flicks.

Among his many hits were “If You Ain’t Lovin’ (You Ain’t Livin’),” “Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young” and, of course, “Hello Walls.”

He and his wife, Hilda Macon, daughter of an Army master sergeant, were wed 32 years before finally divorcing. They had four children.

He was noted for making hits of songs by unknown songwriters such as Willie Nelson, Don Gibson, and Bill Anderson. At one time, he had a great opening act: Elvis Presley.

In the ’90s the mod country crew was taking over, and he was bitter about the old-timers being put on the back burner. He retired in 1994 and then suffered many health problems.

He was an outspoken character and made a few enemies, but he was known for his generosity. His philosophy was, “It don’t hurt you to help someone.”

While he was helping others, he was not helping himself. Drinking was a major problem, and there were enough family problems to create alienation among the Young family.

On Dec. 9, 1996 he shot himself. He died the next day.

A note about Michaels. His Virginia Beach club was one of the most successful in Hampton Roads. After his death, his daughter, Debbie, took over, but the club went downhill and out of business. Mike later died in a fire.

During a 60-year career spanning newspapers, radio and television, Frank Roberts has been there and done that. Today, he’s doing it in retirement from North Carolina, but he continues to keep an eye set on Suffolk and an ear cocked on country music. Email him at froberts73@embarqmail.com.