Session guitarist and producer Chip Young details his experiences of playing on sessions with Elvis Presley, his friendship with Country Music Hall of Fame member Jerry Reed, and the notable records he produced at his studio, Young’Un Sound. Young wraps the October 9, 2010, program—part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Nashville Cats series—with a thumb-picking performance.
Born Jerry Stembridge in Atlanta, Georgia, Young grew up with memories of the fiddle playing of his father, who died when the guitarist was nine years old. In Georgia, he became part of a cluster of fellow musicians including Jerry Reed and Ray Stevens. Young played his first session in the late 1950s for a Joe South record.
After enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1961, Young joined a hard country band, the Southern Drifters, that played on the military base in Seoul, Korea. Young often received funny letters from Reed while he was in the military. “Then one time he told me that as soon as I got out of the service, he wanted me to move to Nashville and work with him on the road,” Young recalls
Arriving in Nashville in 1964, Young toured as a second guitarist with Reed, himself a renowned guitar picker. A year later, Reed started enjoying success as a songwriter and studio musician, so he pulled off the road. To help Young, Reed began touting him to Nashville record producers. After sessions with Billy Sherrill, Young began getting studio work with producers Chet Atkins and Jerry Kennedy, too.
Young played guitar on pop sessions as well as with country stars; his distinctive work appears on the Vogues’ 1965 Top Five pop hit “Five O’Clock World,” for example. He also played bass with Charlie McCoy’s band, the Escorts, at clubs in Nashville’s Printers Alley, and recorded under his own name, starting with the single “Turn It Around in Your Mind,” produced and written by Reed and released on United Artists Records in 1967.
Young shares memories of working with Hall of Fame member Elvis Presley, confirming a famous incident from a June 1970 recording session that involves a karate kick, an unloaded pistol, and a Spanish acoustic model guitar. Young also tells comical stories of recording “Chantilly Lace” with Jerry Lee Lewis and “Old Dogs, Children and Watermelon Wine” with Tom T. Hall, and recording classic works by Joe Ely, Delbert McClinton, Mickey Newbury, Billy Swan, Tony Joe White, and many others.
Host Bill Lloyd points out that many of those albums sound like young artists trying to introduce a new direction to country music “There were no committees then to say you had to cut this song or that song,” Young says. “We just cut songs that we thought were right for the time.”
Near the end of the program, Young demonstrates the thumb-picking style that made him such an in-demand player, playing his bluesy, acoustic part from Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” A clip is shown from a Jerry Reed film, “What Comes Around,” in which Young played a producer named “Chipper.” After the clip, Young plays an intricate guitar part featured in a chase scene in the movie.
From there, Young discusses his albums “Havin’ Thumb Fun with My Friends,” which features Young with ten of his favorite guitarists, and “It’s All About You.” He also demonstrates the differences between his thumb-picking style and those of Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and Jerry Reed. The program concludes with a performance of Young’s original song “Run Buddy Run.”
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