Houston Scores Big-Time in Latest Edition of Encyclopedia of Country Music: Part 6

Mickey Newbury paved the road from Houston to Nashville for a Hells Angels-ish, hard-drinking, hard-drugging gaggle of songwriters who, like Newbury, would go on to make a serious mark on Music City.

Ornery, belligerent, cocky, literary, opinionated and super-talented, this group of Houston transplants would turn staid old Nashville on its lyrical ear. They also set the bar for how to succeed in Nashville without selling your soul to the labels or the conservative machine that runs both the town and the industry.

Steve Young: Young's ties to Houston are minimal, but important nonetheless. He attended high school in Beaumont during a thriving period when people like the Big Bopper and George Jones also lived there, a time when Beaumont's Johnny Preston could have a huge national hit like "Running Bear Loves Little White Dove" and still live down the street.

Absorbing blues, folk, country and regional sounds, even in high school (Johnny Winter was in his graduating class), Young was already on his Zen-mystical musical and poetic journey, which would eventually find him in California at the forefront of country-rock with the Flying Burrito Brothers and Dillard and Clark.

But Young's biggest influence was in Nashville, ironically, where he had a brief major-label recording deal with RCA and contributed key anthems to artists like Waylon Jennings ("Lonesome, On'ry and Mean"), who was leading the charge for artists to take back artistic control of their recordings; this eventually evolved into the Outlaw Movement and went mainstream.

Young's two albums for RCA, Renegade Picker and No Place to Fall (the title track was a Townes Van Zandt composition), are collector's items, although Young has at times distanced himself from them for being "too country" and aimed too much at the commercial-country audience.

Although Young lived the solo troubadour lifestyle for years and traveled extensively, he didn't encounter the Van Zandt/Clark cabal of Houston writers until they arrived in Nashville, but he was featured alongside Clark, Crowell, Van Zandt and Steve Earle in the 1975 documentary Heartworn Highways, one of the earliest cinematic explorations of this new breed of songwriters who forged their own respected niche in Nashville. Young also has drawn considerable mailbox money with the Eagles' hit version of his "Seven Bridges Road."

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William Michael Smith