Reggie Young, whose guitar playing graced hundreds of rock, pop and country records by everyone from Bob Dylan and Elvis Presley to George Strait and Merle Haggard, died Thursday at his home in Leipers Fork, Tennessee, just outside Nashville. He was 82.
As lead guitarist for the Memphis Boys, the house band at American Studios, Young played on more than 100 of the most recognizable hits of late Sixties and early Seventies, including Presley’s “Suspicious Minds” and “In the Ghetto,” followed by a brief stint in Atlanta before relocating to Music City. The Box Tops’ “The Letter,” Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and “Drift Away” by Dobie Gray are just a mere sampling of songs he played on throughout his career. He also lent his skills to albums by Kenny Rogers (The Gambler), Waylon Jennings (Honky Tonk Heroes) and Guy Clark (Old No. 1).
Born in Caruthersville, Missouri, in December 1936, Young, whose father was a musician who played Hawaiian lap-steel guitar, moved to Memphis at age 13. Influenced by a WSM radio show called “Two Guitars,” which featured Chet Atkins, he joined his first band in 1955, a rockabilly outfit named Eddie Bond and the Stompers, who had a 1956 hit with “Rockin’ Daddy.” The group, signed to Mercury Records, toured with Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Johnny Horton, with whom he played the Louisiana Hayride.
In 1964, Young began working with the Bill Black Combo, who opened shows for the Beatles on their historic 1964 U.S. tour. At the same time, he played on sessions at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios, before assisting in the forming of the Memphis Boys at American Studios, where he worked tirelessly from 1967 to 1972. For months, Young would play up to 20 sessions a week.
Upon moving to Nashville, Young became even more in-demand as a session player, backing an array of artists that included Tanya Tucker, Eddie Rabbitt, Rodney Crowell, John Prine and Dolly Parton. In the early Nineties, he took a break from studio work to tour with supergroup the Highwaymen — Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson. In this clip of the band performing “Folsom Prison Blues,” Young plays the song’s signature solo.
In 2008, the musician was saluted as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s “Nashville Cats” series. In 2017, he released his first-ever solo album, Forever Young. A career-spanning 24-track compilation of selected cuts on which he played, Reggie Young: Session Guitar Star, is due from U.K. label Ace Records on January 25th.