I was playing steel guitar in Deemen's Den on Lower Broadway in Nashville the first time I saw Faron Young. It was the late 70's, and he was still a celebrity. He'd taken his band out to dinner and they came in to drink a few and to sit in with us. The last time I saw him was in a health food store in Old Hickory a year or so before he died. He was smaller and grayer and it took him a moment to respond to my tap on his shoulder.
In between those two sightings I played in his band, The Deputies, for ten years, and it was Adventures in Country Music riding around the USA with him in his Silver Eagle.
Like the time the band went to his house in the bus to pick him up for a gig in Houston the next day and he was holed up in the bedroom with a bottle and a gun. Said he didn't want to go, so we didn't. We went back to Gabe's and got drunk, and a couple of us woke up the next morning parked by the side of I-24 halfway to St. Louis.
Another time he wanted to play Prisoner Of War, and he lined his band up and marched back and forth doing his Hitler impersonation and waving a machine gun around. Turned out there was one round in the gun, and it even scared Faron when he pointed it up in the air and pulled the trigger and it went off.
In Austin he rammed the side of his own bus with a rental car, trying to get the driver to pull over so he could change his boots.
He passed out on the floor of the bus after a gig, blocking the cooler, and we had to keep stepping over him every time we wanted a beer until a fan dragged him to his room in the back.
Faron loved to go on search and annoy missions on the bus late at night, throwing empty whiskey bottles at the driver while we were going down some dark Interstate at 70 MPH or lighting a string of firecrackers and tossing them next to somebody's bunk.
He played a game called "Pick A Card" with us, and we'd sit for miles playing card games that he was making up as he went along, trying to guess what the rules were without getting him mad. When he got tired he'd give somebody his money to play with and go to bed.
Another game he liked to play was "Put Your Hand in This Vise." He'd grab your hand and squeeze until you surrendered or squirmed away. Didn't matter if you had to play guitar with that hand the next night.
By now you might be wondering how he ever got any musicians to work for him. But he had some great bands over the years, and a lot of the Deputies went on to fame as session players and as singers or instrumentalists who recorded under their own names. Faron was a great talent and he had some great songs that were a pleasure to play. "Hello Walls" is one fine country tune and I played it with him about 2,000 times and I never got tired of it.
There was never a problem with money with Faron. He always paid us, and if you needed a little more he was glad to give you an advance. If you needed a lot more he'd take you down to Commerce Union and fix you up, like the time I was all on fire to get a Harley and he loaned me the money. It was pretty cool, strolling into the bank with him. All the tellers were, like, whoa, Faron's here! Party time during business hours!
When he was in a good mood (two doubles or less) he could be a lot of fun to be around. He was a very witty guy, very funny, and he knew how to tell a joke and he could tell personal anecdotes about Elvis or Angie Dickenson or President Johnson. Everyone he met was prepared to like him, until the Crown Royale got in the way.
And he was a country music legend, and it's an honor to work with a legend, even if he makes fun of you because you can't smile and play at the same time, or pours beer all over you and your new guitar on stage, or fires you and tries to throw you off the bus at 3:00 am a thousand miles away from home. Faron had a lot of charm, and he loved people. He'd sign autographs until his Sharpie ran dry, and he'd take time at a restaurant or a motel to kibitz with fans.
But he loved to antagonize people, too. He thought nothing of telling racist jokes on his live shows or making fun of fat people in the audience, and the only time he didn't swear like a drunken sailor was when he was on TV. Hell, he called the bass player a precious cocksucker on a live radio broadcast from a club in Florida.
He'd walk into a bar, order a double, and find the biggest, meanest guy in the place and call him a sumbitch, and an ugly one at that. What was amazing was that five minutes later they'd be best buddies, buying each other drinks. We used to call him the luckiest guy in the world because somebody hadn't killed him yet.
How sad and ironic, but not surprising, that he took his own life.
Faron's biography is available here
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I wrote some books all by myself that you might be interested in if you like country music, steel guitar, the 60's and/or mysteries.
My latest book. A compilation of the blog of the same name. Buy now.
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A musician procedural. What it's like to be on tour through Texas with a murderous White Supremacist on your trail.
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Hot Rods, girls, music and murder from 1963. More at Chevy Summer.
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