The Jesse Colin Young Interview
(2017)

For all the things that can waylay a rock star, one never considers Lyme disease halting the career of one of our best and brightest. But iconic singer, songwriter and guitarist Jesse Colin Young had been more or less taken out of the music-making game for the past decade because of this chronic disease. Fortunately, for us all, Young is back out there playing shows and preparing a new album.

Young, of course, was the leader of the seminal 60s group the Youngbloods. The band is best known for their Top 40 hit “Get Together.” The singer went on to become an acclaimed solo artist of albums like Song for Juli, Songbird and the live album On The Road. Young was also one of the stand-out artists at 1979’s No Nukes concert At Madison Square Garden, where he sang “Get Together.” After 50 years in the music business, he’s is back now in ways even he never expected.

~

It certainly is great to have you back. How does it feel to be out playing live again?

The response we have been getting every night is amazing. It seems people are hungry for music about family, trees, getting along. It seems we are especially needed right now with how crazy the world is.

Lyme disease more or less took you out of the limelight. How are you feeling presently?

I am doing better every day, really ever since I have been getting treated. It’s still a chronic infection, I had it for five years actually without even knowing it, but I am under a new protocol from my doctor who is foremost in the field. Really, if I wasn’t feeling this good, I wouldn’t be out there.

It’s been a while since you played live. How have things changed for you?

Well, first of all, I’m playing with a band of younger players, probably the best band I have ever had, in fact. How this all started was I went up to Boston to Berkley College to see my son graduate. He is a music major and had put a band together to play his recital, and the players were so into it, so strong and so passionate, these young guys playing jazz and fusion. I sat there thinking, I want to put a band together like this.

I had been getting offers to play over the past few years but I have always begged off because I was sick. But these young guys were so inspiring I thought I couldn’t resist. I asked my son to put a band together of young players he knew to go out and play my whole career’s worth of music.

You have sold-out shows all down the line. That must be terribly rewarding as well.

Well surely, it is hard making money on the road with a band this size, even when the shows are sold out. But I don’t care. What matters is that, yes, we are being received so well, but also how I am feeling playing with these guys, swept up in the moment with a bunch of players who play so beautifully. The other night when I came off stage, my-mother-in-law, who had come to see us with a bunch of my family, said to me, “Jesse, I don’t know what comes over you but when you were up there you looked like you were five years old!” I just wished that feeling lasted after I stepped off stage.

Having a music career that spans half a century, can you take a step back and even figure your place in the history of things, or is it too hard to do being in the middle of it all?

I think I can get a perspective, yes. With the audiences coming to hear “Sunlight,” “Get Together,” “Songbird” even, I give them just me solo for the first half of the show, just me and my acoustic solo playing the prettier stuff, just the way I used to do it back when I started out in the Village. Then we take a break and the band joins me for the next set and we come out. Like I say, this band really makes things so exciting, for me as well as the audience, they are killing it. We do stuff from the 70s, 80s, 90s, even songs I haven’t released yet. I even put a song in recently that I just wrote in the past few weeks.

About those new songs — when can we expect a new Jesse Colin Young record?

I’m hoping to go in and record in March, take this band in to record those new tunes. I’d like people to hear this band on record.

So, with that looming on the horizon, how are you thinking of releasing the record? The music business, what there is of one, is certainly not what it was the last time you released some music.

Yes, things have changed to be sure. But I have enough money saved from my royalties to make the record myself. Then we’ll see what we can do about distribution. I’m presently looking for a producer. I tend to look at every song like a spear, trying to put it right where it needs to be, but as the writer and singer I get too close, don’t recognize when some of the details I am paying attention to get in the way, so a producer helps me see things clearer. Actually, I am going down to Nashville pretty soon to talk to someone who I might want to have produce the record, then I have to see about the band’s schedule. These guys are young, in-demand players so I have to coordinate with their other gigs.

Might one paraphrase of ‘what a long strange trip it’s been?’ when you look at where you have been, what you have gone through, and now where you are?

Well I certainly didn’t plan the Summer of Love and I didn’t plan whatever is happening now, but I feel my country needs me in this way that I have always added to the help my world — by singing and writing songs. But here I am, in middle of it all, 50 years on as you say, lucky to still have my voice and being able to play music, it’s amazing really.

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