An exclusive chat with Jesse Colin Young
Jesse Colin Young is touring to support Dreamers, his first new album of original material in more than a decade. It’s one of his best efforts, full of timely political tunes and the heartfelt ballads he’s best known for. It includes country tunes, folk songs, Cajun rhythms and rockers that hark back to his beginnings.
The man best known as the lead singer and songwriter for The Youngbloods – and their worldwide hit “Get Together” – was sidelined a few years back by Lyme Disease. For a long time, he was unable to sing, play guitar or write songs. Even speaking was difficult, but with the help of his wife, Connie, and his son Tristan, he got back into the studio and back on the road. Young sat down to speak with The Globe about his new album, the current political situation and his timeless hit.
What got you back on the road again?
Why go out with a whimper, when you can go out with a splash? Lyme Disease powered my early retirement. I had to quit playing. But in 2016, my son Tristan, who was involved in making the new record, and putting the band together, graduated from the Berklee School of Music. I went to his senior recital. I loved the energy and how incredibly good the young people in the band were. The music spoke to me and, because it was all-instrumental, I was able to put myself into the experience. I could imagine myself singing with them. A few months earlier, I’d started writing songs again. Lyme Disease was not inspirational, as far as songwriting goes, especially in the early treatment, although I do tackle it on the new album.
When I got an invitation to appear at SXSW, I asked Tristan if he’d help me put a band together. At first he said, ‘Are you sure you want to do this, Dad?’ I said, ‘I’m not sure how strong I am, but I want to do it.’ He suggested a big band, with horns and backup singers. He put one together and we started playing. One of our early gigs was for Daryl’s House, a live radio show hosted by Daryl Hall (of Hall & Oates). They recorded our set and the engineer said, ‘That sounded just like a record.’ I immediately realized I wanted to record the new songs.
What was making this new album like?
We set a date and I wrote toward that deadline. We got together and rehearsed the new songs. In March of 2018, we recorded with Colin Linden, a wonderful guitar player, a fine human being and a great producer. He loved the band and the material. We’d rehearsed the songs and arrived at the studio where we wanted to be. We recorded mostly live, except the back up singers, at Nashville’s Sound Emporium. It was the perfect place, with enough isolation booths so we could see everyone. I could play acoustic and sing and I had the energy to do it. Working with a producer, I didn’t have to rush back into the control room to see if it’s wonky and how to fix it, like I do when I produce myself.
Your voice still has most of its range. Do you follow any disciplines?
About three years ago Steve Miller, (of the Steve Miller band), showed me some warming up exercises. I sang for 50 years with no warm ups, but now I don’t sing without doing the exercises, even if I’m just singing alone to write songs.
Why did you call the album Dreamers?
All musicians in the world are dreamers. I think we can bring things forth by consciously dreaming, if we want them to happen. That’s the whole snowball of experience. You roll it down the hill and watch what happens. I’d been carrying the dream of being well and being able to write and sing again. I realized my son had become a marvelous musician and he knew other kids who could just kill it. My original thought was SXSW would be it, but the snowball kept rolling. I have ancestors who came here 200 years ago, and 100 years ago, looking for a better life. And we have 800,000 young dreamers in limbo, hoping they can make a better life, if they’re given the chance. The dream of making a better life is the great strength at the heart of our nation.
Trump has the country more polarized than Nixon or the Vietnam War, but what he’s doing is different, almost more ugly. It was simple back then – peace and war. Now every strange character that’s been hiding under a rock is coming forward and breathing hate into the Internet. The ugly stuff is more complicated and divisive. That’s part of the reason I’m back out here. The message of ‘Get Together’ is still needed and people still love to sing it.
My favorite part of our show is hearing the audience sing along to it. Some audiences are timid, some are stronger, but it always builds everyone up a little. When they sing along, you feel like you’re getting across. You’ve moved them, and that’s a good feeling.