Jeff Young, keyboardist with Jackson Browne, Steely Dan + others: Something Else! Interview
Jeff Young is a long-time collaborator with Donald Fagen and Steely Dan, adding keyboards and backing vocals to a series of tours after appearing on the New York Rock and Soul Revue. Along the way, he’s also worked with Sting, Bonnie Raitt, Peter Himmelman and Shawn Colvin, while holding a lengthy tenure with Jackson Browne. (Young, in fact, co-wrote much of the latter’s 1996 project Looking East.) During a recent Something Else! Sitdown, we discovered his intriguing musical story …
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us about your musical involvement with the New York Rock and Soul Revue.
JEFF YOUNG: Donald Fagen just hired me and my band [Jeff Young and the Youngsters] to be the rhythm section first, then I suggested two additional horn players and he and [Fagen’s wife] Libby Titus found the other musicians. The original band was me on keyboards and vocals, John Hagen on tenor and soprano sax and vocals, Drew Zingg on guitar and vocals, Lincoln Schleifer on bass and Denny McDermott on drums.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Talk about the musical Gospel at Colonus [an African-American version of Sophocles’ Oedipus at Colonus created in the ’80s by Lee Breuer]. Did that lead to you tenure with Steely Dan and the Donald Fagen solo tour?
JEFF YOUNG: Donald first heard me with the band of the Gospel of Colonus, and liked my organ playing and singing. That was the gig I had in New York, after Ithaca College.
PRESTON FRAZIER: You’ve also been a long-standing member of Jackson Browne’s band, replacing Scott Thurston. You, along with the band, co-wrote one album.
JEFF YOUNG: Jackson heard me play and sing on a Shawn Colvin tour about the time he and Scott were looking for one more musician to join their band. They choose me. I was in the band working from the Looking Eastalbum to the present Standing in the Breach album and tour.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Talk about how you define you role in his current band, and how you develop your parts.
JEFF YOUNG: As little keyboards as possible, and more backing vocals.
PRESTON FRAZIER: As for your solo career, Songs From a Red Wurlitzer in 2006 was my first Jeff Young CD, but you had a couple before that.
JEFF YOUNG: I wouldn’t call it a career, but just a desire to be true to the fact that my songs represent me more than other work for hire.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Your new album, Choose Your Own Unknown, is self-released and self-produced. How does it differ from Red Wurlitzer? How can our readers get a copy?
JEFF YOUNG: I’m in the process of making it available on CDBaby, in the U.S. only. Worldwide availability is TBA.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What was the primary instrument you used to write Choose Your Own Unknown? The album has an intimate and organic feel; was that the feel you wanted to invoke?
JEFF YOUNG: Wurlitzer piano and, lyrically, things that are important to me – blues and black history.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What are your plans for the rest of 2016?
JEFF YOUNG: A three-week tour of Germany is in the works for September, with a CD release show planned on January 28th at Molly Malone’s in L.A.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us about your musical upbringing. Where you were raised, and did you parents play music?
JEFF YOUNG: I was raised in Mount Vernon, New York. My mother could play “Mood Indigo” on piano, and my father was a natural blues singer who loved Bobby “Blue” Bland and to go to the Apollo Theatre in Harlem, where he would take us to hear James Brown, the Motown Revue, Joe Tex, etc. They came to New York after World War II, from Alabama.
PRESTON FRAZIER: What was your first instrument?
JEFF YOUNG: My brothers drums, until he kicked me off of them and suggested that I play piano.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Who are your musical influences?
JEFF YOUNG: I am a big fan of Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Miles Davis.
PRESTON FRAZIER: Finally, as usual, we’d like for you to tell us your Top 5 favorite albums.
JEFF YOUNG: Sam Cooke’s Night Beat, Traffic’s second Album, Tony Williams Lifetime’s Turn It Over, Joni Mitchell’s Hejira, Miles Davis’ Jack Johnson, and everything by Marvin Gaye.