Songwriter and performer Steve Young, one of the earliest purveyors of what would come to be labeled “Outlaw Country,” died Thursday in Nashville. He was 73. In 1969, Young first recorded what would become his best-known song, “Seven Bridges Road.” Since then, the tune has been covered by dozens of acts including the Eagles (it was their last Top 40 after their 1980 breakup and before the 1994 reunion), Ricochet and Dolly Parton. A live version by Alan Jackson, George Strait and Jimmy Buffet was also released in 2007.
A native of Newnan, Georgia, Young also penned the 1973 Waylon Jennings hit, “Lonesome On’ry and Mean,” “Montgomery in the Rain” cut by Hank Williams Jr., and “It’s Not Supposed to Be That Way,” a minor hit for Willie Nelson in 1977.
Born in 1942, Young’s family, led by his sharecropper father, moved from Georgia to Alabama to Texas looking for work, and in his teens, he returned to Alabama and became involved in the local music scene there before leaving again to immerse himself in the Greenwich Village folk music of New York. After another move to Alabama, he went west to Los Angeles and lived in Hollywood in “Tobacco Road,” a house populated by several other Alabama exiles. In L.A., he played folk music as a solo act and as part of the Skip Battin Band, the Gas Company (a group that included Van Dyke Parks and Stephen Stills), Stone Country and Richard and Jim.
Young’s debut LP, Rock Salt & Nails featured appearances by former Byrds members Gram Parsons, Chris Hillman and Gene Clark, and included “Seven Bridges Road,” which would go on to be cut by several artists in addition to the Eagles’ iconic version, including folk singer Joan Baez, country star Eddy Arnold, singer Rita Coolidge, Dobro legend Josh Graves and country duo Lonzo and Oscar, among several others. Young also featured it as the title cut on his 1972 sophomore LP.
Admittedly uninterested in the sacrifices becoming a more well-known recording artist and performer would require, Young nevertheless released a total of 14 albums throughout his career. He was also featured in the landmark Seventies documentary, Heartworn Highways, which chronicled several of the singer-songwriters of the early Outlaw movement in Texas and Nashville, including Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Rodney Crowell and Steve Earle. The film was not released until 1981.
In a Facebook post Thursday, Young’s son, Jubal Lee Young (who recently appeared on The Voice), announced his father’s passing in a statement that quoted the lyrics of “Alabama Highway,” which his father performed in Heartworn Highways.
“‘Turn supernatural, take me to stars and let me play. I want to be free, Alabama highway.’ My father, Steve Young, passed peacefully tonight in Nashville. While it is a sad occasion, he was also the last person who could be content to be trapped in a broken mind and body. He was far too independent and adventurous. I celebrate his freedom, as well, and I am grateful for the time we had. A true original.”