Jesse Colin Young is a singer/songwriter who had a major hit song in the 60's that is synonymous with the "Flower Power" era. After starting out as a folk artist in the basket houses of Greenwich Village, and making a few solo records, Jesse formed the band "The Youngbloods" with some friends that he met while working the road. They wound up being the house band at the popular New York City club "Cafe au Go Go". The Youngbloods would alternate nights with The Blues Project, opening the shows for the headlining acts that came through the area. After honing their skills and paying their dues, they secured a record deal with RCA and released their 1st album titled "The Youngbloods". On the record was a song that Jesse had heard Buzzy Linhart play at "The Night Owl" across the street, one afternoon at an open mic jam. The song "Get Together" would eventually become an anthem for the 1960's peace culture. A San Francisco disc jockey began playing the song regularly, and it became a regional hit the bay area. The Youngbloods decided to pack up and relocate there, and they became a major part of the west coast music scene, playing concerts with The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, and so many others. Then RCA Records did something very unusual... they re-released the song in 1969, and it became a full-fledged National hit. The Youngbloods enjoyed their success and produced a lot of great music. After things ran their course, Jesse embarked on a solo career. During this time he would build his own studio in the mountains and produce many fine solo records. He toured nationally with Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, and appeared at the highly attended No Nukes concerts. Jesse Colin Young and Audio Fidelity have just announced a distribution agreement to release the 180g vinyl and DVD recordings from his catalog. The first release will be Jesse's wonderful debut solo album "Song for Juli". I recently talked with Jesse about the upcoming releases and his career.
R.V.B. - Hello Jesse... Robert von Bernewitz form Long Island New York... how are you today?
J.C.Y. - Good... how about you Robert?
R.V.B. - I'm doing pretty good. It's cold here, and I understand you're originally from Queens.
J.C.Y. - (Hahaha) It's 25 degrees down here in South Carolina.
R.V.B. - I thought you were on the west coast... I was wondering why you were up that early. (haha)
J.C.Y. - I'm here now... We've been out in Hawaii because we have a farm out there, but it's been a while since we were out in California. We're now in South Carolina by Augusta Georgia... on the border.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your career, and congratulations on your new distribution deal. I'm a vinyl collector, and I'm glad your music is coming out on high quality vinyl.
J.C.Y. - Yeah, it's amazing. It was an eye opener for me. I haven't owned a turntable in maybe 40 years. I found one place in the south where I could cut masters on the Neumann lathe, that I used during the 70's. We cut it up there in a studio called "Welcome to 1979". This guy refurbished this Neumann Lathe as a hobby and it turned into a full time business... as part of this recording studio. That's the first time I heard "Song for Juli" played on a turntable. It's amazing how much more visceral it is.
R.V.B. - Vinyl has a very warm sound, and you can actually hold it in your hand and stare at it, which many people did back in the day. Album art was a beautiful thing, and it kind of got lost with CD's.
J.C.Y. - Yeah, it really did. What moved me was how much more physically it affected my body. Having not done it in a long time, I realized in a flash why people collect vinyl. There's more for your body in the music. We were able to preserve it... we didn't squash it down. We kept all the original dynamics. It was a joy and an eye opener to hear it. That was the second album that I engineered in my own studio, that I built on the ridge top. As a boy from Queens, this was like flying to Mars. First of all, moving to San Francisco in 1967, in this dairy ranch country... not living in the city... but living in Port Reyes about 40 miles north of the city.
R.V.B. - You were definitely in happening spots in music when you were up and coming. Greenwich Village was such a vibrant scene and you were right in the thick of it. Do you have a lot of good memories from there?
J.C.Y. - Wonderful... I started out at NYU. I met... who would become my manager. He was in my literature class. After a couple of years at NYU, I spent most of my time playing the guitar and my grades began to descend. I was trying to write book reports in French and thinking "You know, maybe this is not what I need to be doing". In the meantime, I'm living on St Marks Place between 2nd and 3rd. I stayed there... I dropped out of school and began to play the basket houses.
R.V.B. - In that time in the village I gather you ran across a lot of people who were doing the same thing as you. It was just such a happening scene.
J.C.Y. - Obviously... Richie Havens was doing those houses... and of course, as it progressed, there became places where we could make a little bit of money... The Night Owl and The Cafe Au Go-Go. That's kind of fast forwarding from 1961 and 62.
R.V.B. - Did you hang out at Washington Square Park at all?
J.C.Y. - When I came out of my classes at NYU, there I was. Although I never played in the square. I don't know if there was a lot of busting going on at that time. I don't remember it. In the village there was street music, and a lot of guys playing bocce. At night, perhaps it belonged to the tourists, but in the day time it still belonged to the old Italian guys... sitting around in the park... and those of us that were mixed in with them.
R.V.B. - As you were mixing into the scene there... you were basically a solo artist playing the guitar?
J.C.Y. - Yeah, I was a solo artist playing the guitar. I had a brother in-law who was a CBS news man. I was working for the Rockefeller Foundation. (Hahaha) This is after I stopped going to school.
R.V.B. - You must have been loaded.
J.C.Y. - (Hahaha) Noooo. I think I was maybe making $110 a week. I was buying medical equipment, for which I had no expertise in. I learned how to do it for Latin American universities. I just wandered into this job... I needed a job. While I was doing that, my brother in-law introduced me to a guy named Walter Bishop... who did music for CBS news. His son... Walter Bishop Junior... was an established jazz player, and he did a lot of recording. I was just a kid... writing songs and playing folk songs... and he said "I know who would love you", and he sent me to Bobby Scott... he produced my first 2 albums.
J.C.Y. - That came out on Capitol. Bobby Scott was working for Darin. Bobby Darin had a music company called TM Music/Trio. Bobby Scott kept trying to get Darin to hear me. Bobby Scott was a jazz pianist and a writer. His most successful song was "A Taste of Honey". I think he wrote the melody... not the lyrics. So Darin is in the Brill building, and it's one of those offices with slots... there's a piano and enough room for 2 guys. I'm thinking " Wow, there's stalls". (Hahaha) Bobby Scott got tired of Darin blowing him off, so he took me into A&R Studios one night, and he brought along this guitar player named Jim McGuinn. We never got to play together. He was brought in as a backup... just in case. He was actually playing with Darin at that time. Darin was doing a folk part of his Vegas act... I think. He just sat me down in front of a mic and said "Play everything you know". I played for 4 hours and he took the best of it... that night... and the album was finished. He picked the songs and he programmed it, and I walked out of there with a record. He threw it on Darin's desk the next morning... and he paid for it himself. Darin took it to Capitol... they signed me... and the Beatles hit... so it was a year before the record came out.
R.V.B. - What sparked you into playing the guitar at first?
J.C.Y. - There were no guitarist's in my family. I took piano lessons... everybody did in those days. My dad was a good player and my mom had a beautiful voice. We spent a lot of time singing around the piano. My dad had changed jobs and we moved from Long Island to Pennsylvania. The schools public were not so good there and after a year he said "I think you should go away to school". My uncle who worked at Yale, may have helped me get into Phillips Andover. I was a smart kid, and I guess I did pretty well on my application test. So in 11th grade, I went off to Phillips Andover, which was a hell ride, but they offered classical guitar as an elective, so I took it. The rest was history. My roommate also took it and he was a singer. We started figuring out how to sing harmonies and we started singing Everly Brothers. For 6 hours of homework a night, that's all I did was play. We had these ridiculous Stella guitars, where the action was 3/4 of an inch off the fingerboard. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - That's one way to build up hand strength.
J.C.Y. - Good God... it was beastly.
R.V.B. - What was your first good guitar that you owned?
J.C.Y. - I think it was a Harmony. It was a copy of Chuck Berry's guitar. This one was a blonde hollow body electric. It could have been an Epiphone.
R.V.B. - You recorded the album and it sat for a while. I guess while it was sitting, you were still out practicing your craft and honing your skills.
J.C.Y. - Yeah, but mostly at home. I had quit playing in the basket houses because I couldn't support myself doing that. But that was a wonderful experience for me because that was the beginning. So I'm playing at home, and Bobby Scott, who produced my first 2 records saved me from ignominy. He said "As soon as the record comes out, you can go to work." That's how it was in the jazz field, and he figured it would be that way in folk. Son of a gun, the record comes out and the promo guy takes it to the Club 47, and I played my first professional gig as Jesse Colin Young... at the Club 47.
R.V.B. - Did the record company give you that name?
J.C.Y. - No, I chose it. After I made the record, I realized I would have to change it. Perry Como was a big singer in those days and here I was doing something very, very different. I didn't think Perry Miller was a folk singers name. I thought about it, and I was kind of a romantic fan of outlaws. So between Jesse James and Cole Younger, and my being a Grand Prix aficionado... there was a racer called Colin Chapman. I sat around for a couple of days and I came up with this name and thought "This is a good name for a folk singer".
R.V.B. - It actually is a good name. I mentioned to my wife "You know his real name is Perry Miller". She goes "What's wrong with that?".
J.C.Y. - (Hahaha) She didn't grow up with Perry Como.
R.V.B. - (Hahaha) How did your professional career go at the beginning?
J.C.Y. - You got to have all of these serendipitous things to happen... to slide into things this luckily. You have to have a brother in-law who works at the news, and has no idea about anything, but he knows somebody whose son is a musician, and a jazz player, and he knows Bobby Scott, and all of a sudden you're in his office... and he loves you. He called me "pigfoot" because he said "You're so ignorant... I just love it." Learning to play solo like that, without a drummer... I'm allowed to make one verse 13 1/2 bars and the next verse 15. I was just playing by ear, and by whatever sounded good to me, and whatever felt right emotionally. When I was putting a song across, it was all scattered like that. The "Soul of a City Boy" is completely like that. After the record came out, there was a disc jockey on AM radio WBZB in Boston, who started playing the 1st track "Four in the Morning". It was kind of a haunting song, written by a friend of mine. The folk scene was thriving there, and he was kind of introducing it. So there I was on the radio. It was a 50,000 watt station and that really launched my career.
R.V.B. - Like you said, New England was a folk hotbed.
J.C.Y. - That was the center. The "Village" was the other strong scene on the east coast, but there must have been about 30 or 40 folk clubs in the Boston area. There was no problem with a liquor license... nobody served liquor. That was the beginning of the $3 cup of coffee. (Hahaha)
R.V.B. - Now I know why you went into the coffee business. (Haha)
J.C.Y. - My wife was a farmer. (haha) Then I made another folk record with Bobby. Bobby moved over to Mercury, and Mercury was run by Quincy Jones at that time. Bobby had a lot of respect for Quincy, so he followed him over there, and he took me over there for my second record. I had jazz guys George Duvivier and Grady Tate playing bass and drums on this next record. I had to formalize the music a little, because I had guys playing with me. I had Peter Childs playing harmonica and John Sebastian, from the Lovin' Spoonful played harp. I had always loved Johns playing, and I wanted him on this record. He was already a studio pro by that time.
R.V.B. - So you brought in some ringers.
J.C.Y. - Yep, and the second album is called "Young Blood".
R.V.B. - How did you get the title for that?
J.C.Y. - It was just a play on my last name. We had kind of a strong James Deanish' picture. (Hahaha) We just thought Young blood... here it is. The next thing that happened was... Jerry Corbitt... who was a folk singer in Boston... it was a trail of serendipity... I'm singing at a club and I get this message "Don't go home to where ever you're staying... the cops are there... come to my house." I had met Corbitt a couple of times, so I took his advice and didn't go to where I had been staying. Jerry and I locked in, and started playing on his porch, back there in Cambridge. We were reminiscing about our bands back in high school, and that was the beginning of The Youngbloods. He snatched me from the jaws of a pot bust.
R.V.B. - Those were the times. So you guys got together, and he was a guitarist. Did you migrate to the bass because you were the best at it?
J.C.Y. - No, I migrated to the bass because I was the least fascil guitar player. I was a rhythm guitar player... both Corbitt and "Banana" had been playing lead for a long time. Corbitt brought that ragtime influence to The Youngbloods. I loved it, and he was a marvelous ragtime picker on the 12 string. He had that beautiful baritone voice that slid right under mine like velvet. Jerry's gone... he passed last year. We laid him to rest with his family... here in Georgia. That was a wonderful time of exploration. We thought "Maybe we should buy a couple of amplifiers. The Beatles were out and everybody was getting excited and thinking, "Well, it doesn't have to be all bullshit teen music. Look at them... look at what they're doing". I think everybody was thinking the same way. Jim McGuinn was over at The Cafe au Go Go, across the street from The Night Owl... doing Beatles impressions. He's obviously another great 12 string player... Like Jerry. I convinced Jerry to come to New York. We had The Night Owl... The Spoonful were playing at The Night Owl. Tim Hardin was playing at The Night Owl. We and The Blues Project would open for whoever was coming into headline. We had to fight over them. If we were lucky, we'd get $20 a piece for opening... but we had free rehearsal space. There was a marvelous PA in there... built by Bill Hanley. He was the father of festival sound... the guy from Massachusetts. This little PA in the "Go Go" was run by this one Macintosh tube amp... which was Hi Fi. It was the beginning of high fidelity. It was Shure columns from hell, before that.
R.V.B. - Macintosh is a very good quality amp.
J.C.Y. - It had around 250 watts, instead of 60 watts. Folk clubs like Gerde's Folk City had these Shure columns... with no power... no monitors.
R.V.B. - Were they like 4-10's or something?
J.C.Y. - Yeah (Hahaha) or 4-6's (Hahaha) We played there for almost a year and a half, and that's when I switched to bass. We wanted Felix Pappalardi, but he wouldn't join us. We tried to get Harvey Brooks. He was a studio guy, but he wouldn't join us either. So I said "Fuck it, McCartney does this... I ought to be able to do it".
R.V.B. - So did you go down to Manny's and buy yourself a bass?
J.C.Y. - I actually went to the Guild Factory, because I was a Guild artist at that point. My first and only folk guitar was a Guild F-50. Somebody had introduced to me that, because I had an album, I could go to a factory and get a deal... and that's what I did. I got a Guild "Starfire" with one great big fat pickup on it, in a beautiful cherry color.
R.V.B. - I saw it in the Dick Clark video. Who did you open for at the Cafe au Go Go?
J.C.Y. - Ian and Sylvia and Muddy Waters. Those are the two that stand out in my mind. I don't think Ian and Sylvia appreciated the folk rock intro but I loved them. I thought they were amazing... but Muddy!!! was one of my hero's from when I first started playing the guitar. Going into Andover, I was 15, but when I was 18, I went into Ohio State for a semester, I had read "On the road". I had dropped out of school after one semester... my poor father. I hitch-hiked my way to Florida with my guitar, in the middle of winter, and got a job at a hotel... and got bored. I bought a motor scooter and rode home. I had always wanted a motorcycle, but my mother wouldn't let me have one. She was so glad I was alive, and I had survived the 1,500 mile trip, at 35 miles per hour... in the winter, with no money for motels. I just had to kinda stay up in coffee shops. I think I took some diet pills and had some hallucinations all the way on my little Cushman motor scooter.
R.V.B. - What an adventure. I bet your glad that you did it.
J.C.Y. - I would not want one of my kids to do it. (Hahaha) I was hallucinating in Savanna Georgia that the CIA was after me. I had like seven layers of clothes on. I was wearing all the clothes that I owned. I had a parka but the rest of my clothes were summer clothes. I figured if I took some of those layers off and switched them around, they wouldn't recognize me.
R.V.B. - (Hahaha)
J.C.Y. - (Haha) I'm lucky to have made it home alive.
R.V.B. - Were you living in Manhattan at this time?
J.C.Y. - No, I was living in Bucks County Pennsylvania, with my parents. I had yet to transfer to NYU. There was a summer there where I asked my father "Dad, I want to study the blues. I don't want to get a job washing dishes. Please let me stay home and study the blues. I will spend 6... 7 hours a day". That's what I did. Trenton New Jersey had a good record store... a lot of blues music. That's where I discovered Muddy... and John Lee Hooker... and Lightnin' Hopkins (who I was later to meet and pal around with). That was a marvelous summer... and Baez... I had her first album. I worked on that mountain stuff that she drew in. Things like "Silver Dagger". I'm wondering "Where does this music come from?". I really believed that "Rock and Roll" is the collision of mountain music and the blues... and those of us that are coming at it from this folk attitude... The Spoons... and The Byrds... and The Youngbloods... and Buffalo Springfield... all were listening to both sides. The mountain music and beautiful blues music, which together, kind of laid behind Chuck, and Elvis, and all the stuff that we listened to as kids.
J.C.Y. - Yeah, once we had an act, our manager started bringing record companies around. We signed with RCA, and we made our first record.
R.V.B. - I have a record in front of me that I played this morning, that has a lot of rocks on it.
J.C.Y. - (Hahaha) That's "Rock Festival". That was a live album we made in our declining days. Charlie Daniels was our producer. Did you know Charlie Daniels produced "Elephant Mountain"?
R.V.B. - That's the other album that I have. I saw his name on it.
J.C.Y. - "This is the Youngbloods" has "Get Together" and some more obscure songs on it... "Grizzly Bear". Rock Festival was at a time when Corbitt had left to play with Charlie Daniels. Charlie's original band was The Corbitt Daniels band.
R.V.B. - When you went to record the first album, did you write new music for it, or did you already have it when you signed the deal?
J.C.Y. - I already had the music, but I didn't write "Get Together", I discovered it in the Village... more serendipity. I'm in the village... it's Sunday afternoon... I'm thinking "Wow, I wonder if the "Go Go" is open and empty... we could rehearse". I go in there, and there's an open mic going on. The guy on stage is Buzz Linhart. I had seen him playing vibes with Tim Hardin at The Night Owl, but I didn't know he was a singer and a guitar player. He had a little trio, and he was singing "Get Together". So I did something that I had never done in my life... I went right back stage and said "Buzz, Hey, Jesse Young... I'm in The Youngbloods... please give me the words to that song. I gotta have them". So he wrote them out for me. I think I may have asked him about one chord, because I think he played left handed. The guitar may have not been re-strung, so the guitar looked upside down to me. The chords aren't very complicated, but it was a little confusing, and he straightened me out on that. I had a good memory then. This was before LSD. I think I just memorized the melody... which is not terribly complicated. I took a picture of it with my mind, and there it was. The next day, I took it into rehearsal with The Youngbloods. We were playing "Get Together" when we did our shows. RCA... Electra... and there was one other label that was interested, but it really came down to those two. It's too bad that we didn't sign with Electra. There was a guy who was head of A&R over there and he wanted to produce us, and we wanted the choice of our own producer. RCA was the only company to allow us to do that. That was a big thing in those days. They were used to "Alright kid, come here. We're gonna make records, and you're gonna use this producer, and were gonna do this. Shut up and listen". We were coming out of that era. "We want you to comb your hair like this." A lot of that shit was going on. We chose Felix Pappalardi and it was a great choice... obviously. The first record had "Get Together" on it. "Grizzly Bear" was a Corbitt ragtime tune, and that got some airplay. We did it on the Dick Clark thing.
R.V.B. - I noticed the sound of The Youngbloods is varied. You can classify it a lot of different ways. I heard blues... I heard ragtime... almost a little classical... I don't know if it was my imagination, but I even heard a crossover of jazz fusion, before the genre existed.
J.C.Y. - Right, that was happening... especially in the trio. Those guys were both jazz fanatics. The drummer was a jazz drummer... not so great for rock and roll but when Corbitt left at the beginning of "Elephant Mountain", "Banana", Joe, and I kind of rushed into the middle. On that fucking record, I did some of my best songwriting with "Sunlight" and "Darkness". We kind of met each other, and Jamming in between takes. Some of those came out on "Elephant Mountain"... those little instrumentals in between. There were things that were more formally written by Banana like, "On Sir Francis Drake". That's a beautiful piece, and that sounds classical. That's right out of his classical training on piano, as a kid. All of this stuff came forward. In the beginning, Corbitt and I were the singers and the songwriters.
R.V.B. - I want to add that "Darkness, Darkness" is a beautifully written song. The chord structure is a deviation of some of the other music, but it's a strong opening track.
J.C.Y. - Yeah. It's the old haunting mountain music, like "Fiddler a Dram". I heard that modal change from the 1 to the 7... it's just a haunting sound. I had a very haunting experience with LSD... very, very freighting. Somehow, that got me thinking about the guys who were in Vietnam. I barely escaped being there myself. The tried to draft me when I was 25... I was in The Youngbloods already. That put me in touch with fear, in a serious way... and out came "Darkness, Darkness"... and all that mountain music I had listened to.
R.V.B. - It's a beautiful song.
J.C.Y. - Beautiful song.
R.V.B. - I know we jumped ahead a little bit... "Get Together"... when Dan Ingram started using it on commercials and it was re-issued... were you surprised at its popularity?
J.C.Y. - No, and once again, that was absolute serendipity. One man is responsible for that. His name is Augie Bloom. He is no longer with us in this world. He was the head of promotion at RCA. When "Get Together" was first released in 67, it was a huge hit in San Francisco... for obvious reasons. It's right down the middle of what was happening in the street. We went out there, having no idea what was going on, on the west coast. We were playing discotheques in New York and starving to death. We went out there and played The Avalon Ballroom, and oh my God, there were 500 people dancing and waving their arms... and the light shows. We realized that we could make it work there. So we went home and packed up, and finished a second album "Earth Music" on RCA, and moved. Then in 1969, when the country had turned against the war... Augie thought that it was "Get Together's" time. It was just a little regional hit in San Francisco, but it was enough to put us in the black as far as touring. He went to the head of RCA and said "I want this record again". They said "No, we don't do that Augie". He said "I want this record or I'm leaving the company". He put his job on the line and had enough power... they didn't want to lose him, because he was great at what he did. The rest is history. It was the right time... "Get Together" was the right song. The strength of that is still carrying me. When I want to play... I don't play much anymore. Only for very special things... and to raise money for certain things that are good for the world.
R.V.B. - That's very nice of you. You do a lot of good things, like getting involved in protecting the environment.
J.C.Y. - Absolutely, My sweetheart grew up in a town... 15 miles from the place where they made all the plutonium pucks, which are the ignition devices in ICBM's. Her father came here in 1957 to work in what they called Colloquially "The bomb plant". I was just in a meeting the other night, trying to turn the public tide.. "The bomb plant"... we have an amazing amount of nuclear waste from the mid 50's, when we created this mass of ICBM's. A lot of the waste from this production is still sitting there. My wife and I started a facebook page called "Don't waste Aiken". When Yukka mountain didn't happen... all the nuclear waste in the country was to eventually go there. The Savanna River site... which is the bomb plant I live near... they developed a way to glassify high level radioactive material and turn it into a solid... which can be stored without leakage. That would be wonderful, but it's very expensive and very difficult to do. They have managed to get some of the waste into that form, but then the glass was supposed to go to Yukka Mountain... inside of canisters and be protected. I was a part of the original No-Nukes movement in the 70's. Jackson Browne and I... Bonnie Raitt... and then more and more artists started to get into that. There's a "Get Together" on YouTube from Battery Park. This is during the No-Nukes movement in 1979. We did 5 nights at Madison Square Garden. Jackson and I... Springsteen took a night... The Doobie Brothers took a night... CSN took a night... the rest of us were kind of salted around in there. We played at Battery Park that Sunday in front of 200,000 people. It was the biggest anti-nuclear demonstration in the world. "Get Together" is part of the No-Nukes film from the park. Three Mile was in 79/80, and between that tremendous ground swell of popular support for No-Nukes... there wasn't another nuclear power built in this country for 30 years. Now we got 2 going up right across the river from me.
R.V.B. - They just don't stop. Getting back to California... when all of that popularity came around an you were living there, apparently you got teamed up with others and played some wonderful concerts out there?
J.C.Y. - Yeah, it was the perfect time. The Youngbloods moved there in 67, and we played a lot of free music. That was part of the way you built an audience in those days. Your roadies could go down to city hall and pull a permit for a park either over in the Haight, or several other parks in San Francisco. You could pull a permit for 100 bucks with no lawyers. That was one of the ways The Youngbloods built their popularity. We were a band in San Francisco with a hit record. Our song was ubiquitous, and always on the radio. We could draw a good crowd, and there's something about playing for free. We only did it once in Central Park, before we left New York. We would do this twice a month. We had our paying gigs and we had our free gigs. It's great playing for free... money gets in the way. You give what you have. This was a beautiful time. The musicians and the audience in San Francisco were two parts of a whole. There was not a lot of rock star bullshit and a lot of money in it. The Avalon, at that point, was 3 or 4 dollars to get in. I'm amazed when I see some of these old posters. That the promoters could actually pay us... and pay the security... and pay for the lights... and pay for the sound... out of a 3 to 5 dollar door charge. It was amazing.
R.V.B. - What is it now, $150?
J.C.Y. - (Hahaha) I guess.
R.V.B. - I see that you opened for Led Zeppelin.
J.C.Y. - Yes, we opened for Led Zeppelin. Seattle was our biggest town. We probably did our biggest show ever up there. We probably drew 10,000 people by ourselves. That was as big as The Youngbloods ever got. Bill Graham used to put a soft band with a hard band, and it just so happens that they decided it would be good for The Youngbloods to open for Led Zeppelin. We got to play with "The Dead" a bunch of times in San Francisco... "The Airplane"... all the San Francisco bands.
R.V.B. - Janis Joplin?
J.C.Y. - Janis... yeah... several times.
R.V.B. - How was the vibe in those concert halls? Everybody was all one... it was like a living organism?
J.C.Y. - Yeah, people were exploring their one-ness. (Haha) Music was the most powerful drug to bring that feeling into reality. The Youngbloods were just making a living, we were happily living in the country. A lot of those bands were not getting rich yet. There were no millionaires.
J.C.Y. - Well yes... me being the only song writer... it was time for me. I moved on to the ridge top and built my first house for $30,000. Then I built this little studio next door. I got 2 big checks. One for the B side of the single "Get Together". That was the only record I ever made that went gold. That gave me enough to build the house. Then Three Dog Night recorded "Sunlight", and the publishing on that built my studio. I decided, no more going to LA to record. I'm going to learn how to do this myself. I began to experiment, and the first release was "Song for Juli" on audio fidelity. It was over a year of experimentation in my brand new studio, with my 1" tape - 8 track recorder. It was the size of a small fridge. I did it with very little outboard gear, because money was not pouring in. You realize there were expensive mics that really sound good, and you save up and buy one. It was an amazing time for me. The Youngbloods had run its course and I was ready for something new. I had been listening to a lot of jazz. When I built the house up on the ridge top, the only FM station that came in was KJAZZ. It was a great jazz station from San Francisco. I guess I was lined up with their transmitter. I got into Miles and Cannonball Adderly...
R.V.B. - That was the experimental jazz time period.
J.C.Y. - The jazz influence kind of crept in there. You see it with Jim Rothermal's amazing playing on "Song for Juli". It's beautiful.
R.V.B. - So you went into your solo career and you built this nice house and studio in the mountains.
R.V.B. - I gather you had a beautiful view.
J.C.Y. - A beautiful view of the valley and the bay. The valley side was a bay called Tomales Bay because it looks like a tomale... long and skinny. Of course, all of that area was named by the Spanish when it was part of Mexico.
R.V.B. - What was your solo career plan? To write more songs and go out on tour to showcase them?
J.C.Y. - I started that in 1972. My son was just born, and my daughter was 4, and I wanted to stay home. When I wasn't touring, I didn't want to come home and sit in a motel in LA for three to four weeks making an album. I took the kids on the road with me in a motor home. (Hahaha) This was a brave new world. When I started recording with The Youngbloods, we were not allowed to touch the board. If you thought the guitar should be a little brighter... only the engineers were allowed to touch the board. That seemed ridiculous to me. I was part of that generation... I spent all that I had putting the studio together so I could have complete control of my music. I wanted to produce it... I wanted to engineer it... I wanted to learn those things... and I wanted to record live. So I built a studio with canvas walls... luckily, the fire inspector never came... so that it was very dead, and there was no reflection. I called up The Grateful Dead's engineers and said "What should I do?". They said "Get this book, and read this chapter about acoustics". So I read it, and it said "If you want to defeat standing waves, you can't create any 90 degree angles. This is what I did... between that, and the canvas walls, I was able to create a place where I could record... play... and sing... live. I could have my drummer over in the corner... a bass player across from me, and a keyboard player all covered up with blankets. That's how we did it for the next 5 or 6 years. All of the albums that I did on Warner Brothers were all done live... except for an occasional guitar solo, or an occasional sax/flute solo. Those were the only overdubs... maybe a harmony vocal. The whole body of the song was all live, because I owned the studio, and we could hammer at it until it was right.
R.V.B. - Until you were happy with it.
J.C.Y. - So all of those albums were basically live, and that was my dream. I'd start selling records and buying more equipment. "Juli" came out and was an FM hit. I remember the album took about a year to make. It kind of had a jazz flavor to it, I took the album to Geffen and to Warner Brothers. Geffen said "Well, there's no hits on here and you used cheap echo". He was right... I had this cheap spring echo unit. (Hahaha) So he didn't want it. Mo Ostin and Joe Smith ran Warner Brothers, and I really liked them. They were down home guys. I signed with Warner Brothers, and I made those records for them. "Juli" was a hit and the money came in... and I got lucky. David Crosby took a sailing cruise from Hawaii to Tahiti and took "Song for Juli" with him on his boat... he loved it. When they were gonna do CSNY, the next summer, and they signed me. They wanted me to open for them. I went on that tour that summer and played for 25... 50... 80,000 at a time. I came off that tour, and went right in to the great halls that I've always loved. Halls like Carnegie, and the 3 to 5,000 seat halls all over the country.
R.V.B. - When you look back on your career and your life... is there anything that you would have done differently?
J.C.Y. - No! Maybe I would have stayed in contact with people a little better. I was always kind of a loner. I didn't want to go to LA. I wanted to go to San Francisco. I wanted to live out in the country at the end of a little winding, dead end, dirt road. I wanted to be a little bit famous... enough to be able to support myself. I didn't want to be a big star.
R.V.B. - You're pretty much a household name. When you think of the 60's... you think of The Youngbloods.
J.C.Y. - It was wonderful. I did it without having to compromise my integrity. I did it my own way. I was able to take my time with The Youngbloods, and parley that into building my own studio, and becoming successful at it. That just became my way of doing things... being my own producer and my own engineer. I was also the guy who cleaned up the studio, and I was completely devoted. That's the way you learn something. After you spend 10.000 hours doing something, you start to get good at it.
R.V.B. - I gather it must have been very devastating to you when the fire came through. Everything you put into that was lost?
J.C.Y. - Oh man. The studio survived. The studio was in a little ravine. It was only 100ft away from the house, but it was 60 to 70 feet down. The fire burned down my 4 story house, and swept over the studio, and charred 3 boards on the deck. The rest of it was intact. My son had thrown all the masters into a truck. In the end, we put them all back. Those are the ones that I took to Nashville, just before Christmas, to cut the masters for this new release. The tape is from 1972, and there was no shedding problems. I happen to record on the right king of tape... that lasts. (Hahaha) There was all different kinds of tape at that time. The two tracks that we used turned out to be the best, in retrospect 53 years later. Some of the reels were too small and warped, so they had to put them on different reels. They would run some of the tape off on to the floor in a pile. (Hahaha) Then run it back on to a different reel. It kind of scared me but it worked out well.
R.V.B. - It's great that they survived because now we have the original music to cherish.
J.C.Y. - Yes.
R.V.B. - Thank you very much for taking this time with me. I enjoyed it... I hope you did also.
J.C.Y. - Alright... thanks.
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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