Country rock pioneer Rusty Young dies aged 75

Rusty Young, founding member of the popular country-rock group Poco and a key figure in establishing the steel pedal guitar as an integral voice in West Coast rock of the late 1960s and 1970s, died Wednesday at his home in Davisville, Missouri. He was 75 years old.

Its publicist, Mike Farley, said the cause was a heart attack.

Mr. Young played steel guitar with Poco for over half a century. Along with other Los Angeles-based rock groups like the Byrds and the Flying Burrito Brothers, Poco was one of the architects of the country-rock movement of the late 1960s, which incorporated traditional country instrumentation into mostly rock arrangements. The Eagles and dozens of other groups will follow in their wake.

Formed in 1968, Poco originally included singer-guitarists Jim Messina and Richie Furay – both formerly of Buffalo Springfield, another pioneering Los Angeles country-rock band – with Mr. Young, drummer George Grantham and the bassist Randy Meisner, a future member of the Eagles. (Timothy B. Schmit, another future Eagle, replaced Mr. Meisner after leaving the group in 1969.)

Poco initially gathered for a high profile show at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, shortly after Mr. Furay invited Mr. Young to play pedal steel guitar on his composition. “A nice woman,” the last track from Buffalo Springfield’s farewell album, “Last Time Around”. Poco’s music was generally louder and more populist than that of Buffalo Springfield, a group that had at times turned to experimentation and obscuration.

Mr. Furay’s song “Pickin ‘Up the Pieces”, the title song from Poco’s debut album in 1969, served as a statement of intent:

Well there is just a little bit of magic
In country music we sing
So let’s get started.
We will take you home where the people are happy
Sittin ‘pickin’ and a-grinnin ‘
Casually, you and me
We’ll pick up the pieces, uh-huh.

Both thrilling and lyrical, Mr. Young’s steel pedal work imbued the band’s music with its characteristic rustic sound and helped create a prominent place for the steel guitar among California-conscious rock groups. their roots.

“I added color to Richie’s country-rock songs, and that was the whole idea, to use country-sounding instruments,” Young explained in a 2014 interview with Goldmine magazine, referring to the compositions of M. Furay.

But Mr. Young, who also played the banjo, dobro and mandolin, was not averse to musical experimentation. “I pushed the limits of the steel guitar, playing with a fuzz sound, because nobody was doing that,” he told Goldmine. He also played pedal steel through a Leslie speaker, much like a Hammond B3 organist would, which has led some listeners to assume he was indeed playing an organ.

Mr. Young was not one of Poco’s original singers or songwriters. But he became one of the backers of the group, along with newcomer Paul Cotton, after Mr. Messina left in 1971 and Mr. Furay in 1973. Mr. Young continued to write and sing the lead vocals on “Crazy Love,” The group’s biggest hit, which reached No.1 on the contemporary adult Billboard charts (and No.17 on the pop charts) in 1979.

He also wrote and sang on “Rose of Cimarron” another of Poco’s most enduring recordings of the ’70s, and orchestrated the 1989 reunion of the original band members for the “Legacy” album, which, like the “Legend”, sold in platinum in 1978, produced a pair of Top 40 singles.

Norman Russell Young was born on February 23, 1946 in Long Beach, California, the eldest of three children to Norman and Ruth (Stephenson) Young. His father, an electrician, and his mother, a typist, took him as a child to country music bars, where he was captivated by steel guitarists.

He grew up in Denver, where he started playing lap steel guitar at the age of 6. As a teenager, he worked with local psychedelic and country groups.

After moving to Los Angeles, but before joining Poco, he turned down an invitation to become a member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, which at the time included Gram Parsons and Chris Hillman, formerly of the Byrds.

After Mr. Cotton left Poco in 2010 due to a financial dispute, Mr. Young became the sole leader of the group. The band released their last album, “All Fired Up,” in 2013, the same year Mr. Young was inducted into the Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in St. Louis. He released his first solo album, “Waitin ‘for the Sun,” in 2017, and performed sporadically with the most recent version of Poco until the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.

Mr. Young is survived by his wife of 17 years, Mary Brennan Young; a daughter, Sara; one son, Will; one sister, Corine Pietrovich; and three grandsons. Her brother, Ron, died in 2002.

Mr. Young’s emergence as a singer and songwriter at Poco in the late 1970s, after nearly a decade as a supporting instrumentalist, was as timely as it was fortuitous.

“The band didn’t need another singer-songwriter when Richie and Jim were in the band,” he explained, referring to Mr. Furay and Mr. Messina, in his interview with Goldmine. in 2014. “My job was to play steel guitar and integrate the music. So when my job changed, it opened up a lot of opportunities to me. So I liked the way things turned out.

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