Red Young On the B-3 Organ as Orchestra

When you first hear Red Young play, you think, “Where has this guy been all my life?”
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When you first hear Red Young play, you think, “Where has this guy been all my life?” The truth is, you’ve been hearing him on TV and the radio for decades. Though his piano work, writing, arranging, and singing are first-rate, it’s his highly original B-3 playing that’s going to make you hit “Download Now.”

Red sounds like an amalgam of B-3 greats. You hear bits of Jimmy Smith, Joey DeFrancesco, Jack McDuff, and Groove Holmes. What sets him apart, though, is his impulse to push the B-3 further out of its comfort zone than we’ve heard before. His support for soloists has a unique orchestral style, and his soloing takes him to unusual chromatic and melodic places. On a gospel-flavored tune, for example, Red started off comping softly and five minutes later was improvising a soulful four-line fugue with hands and feet flying. It doesn’t come off as contrived or too cerebral, either—it flows out of him with the sort of inevitability that proves he plays entirely from the heart.

Red’s orchestral inclinations began as a boy. Studying classical piano in Fort Worth, he mastered three piano concerti before the age of 14, following closely in the footsteps of fellow Texas wunderkind Van Cliburn. It was impossible to grow up in Fort Worth without being influenced by the legendary local blues and jazz scene. Like so many Texas jazzers, Red attended North Texas State. Later, he would hit the road with luminaries such as Joan Armatrading, Dolly Parton, Tanya Tucker, and Eric Burdon.

“I started to tour with Sonny and Cher,” says Red, “and found myself with a new axe. Sonny had bought one of the new Oberheim Four-Voice synthesizers, and I fell in love. Within a year I was surrounded on stage by keyboards: The Oberheim, Rhodes, acoustic grand, Hammond B-3, Minimoog, and ARP String Ensemble. This was before MIDI, so you actually needed to touch the keys on everything!

“But it wasn’t all technology,” he continues. “For her first TV special, Cher did a five-minute performance of West Side Story—in which she played and sang all 12 characters! Working from the Leonard Bernstein score, I wrote and arranged everything for her unusual voice.” This knack for working with singers, honed by years on the road, made Red the perfect fit for a dream gig: a two-year stint as keyboardist, vocal arranger, and singer with Linda Ronstadt and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra during their What’s New? tour.

Red’s voice warms when he talks about Ronstadt: “Wonderful person. Truly great singer. And not afraid to try anything!” At first, he was dazzled to be working with Nelson Riddle who had arranged albums for Ella Fitzgerald, Oscar Peterson, and Frank Sinatra. Red was soon contributing arrangements to the band and absorbing the tricks and techniques of modern-day master Riddle.

Along the way he’s fronted a lively assortment of projects. See works like Red & the Red Hots’ album The Boogie Man. Don’t miss the piano solo on Dizzy Gillespie’s “Manteca,” for which Red also wrote lyrics. Then, check out The Organizer at cdbaby.com or redyoung.com. He’s currently promoting the brand new album of Austin-based trio Black Red Black featuring Austin trumpet sensation Ephraim Owens (who you can catch on tour with Sheryl Crow) and drumming juggernaut Brannen Temple, who’s the perfect, funky complement to these formidable players.