“Dear Faron — When you’re good, you’re very very good. But when you’re bad, you’re the opposite!” These words of a speech teacher can be found in Faron Young’s 1951 high school yearbook. They accurately predicted the life of this future country music legend.
From a teenager who cleaned fishing boats and sold manure for fertilizer, Faron Young rose rapidly to the top of the country music charts. He became a successful Nashville businessman as well as an entertainer who taught countless others about showmanship and business. His hit records spanned four decades.
Even at a young age, Faron possessed confidence in his singing talent. His high school girlfriend recalled the evening they attended a Hank Williams concert: “As we drove behind the big Municipal Auditorium, Faron spotted Hank Williams out on the back balcony behind the stage, smoking a cigarette.
“Faron rolled down the window and yelled, ‘Hey, Hank! Why don’t you let me come up there and teach you how to sing a song?’ Hank just laughed at his brashness, and yelled back, ‘Well, come on then!’
“We drove away, and I could see Faron’s eyes were full of excitement. He had his toe in the door–he was going to do it! He was going to get to Nashville, and he would be BIG!”
Faron Young, the son of penniless dairy farmers, grew up near Shreveport, Louisiana. The contrasting aspects of his personality can be seen by looking at his parents.
Harlan Young, a big man with large hands and a gruff voice, worked his children like hired hands. He never praised them or showed affection. His every sentence contained cuss words.
In contrast, tiny Doris Young had sparkling eyes and a friendly disposition. She “never met a stranger,” according to those who knew her.
Faron, the youngest of six children, took after his mother in size and personality, but after his father in emotional distance. He developed into a man who cussed excessively and gave public affection freely, but let few people close to him emotionally. He called himself an affectionate SOB.
That show of affection seldom extended to his family. When his wife Hilda asked him to spend more time with their four children, he said, “I feed them and clothe them, and have a roof over their heads, don’t I? That’s all my dad ever did for me.” He emulated what he resented in his father.
According to one of his band members, “Faron was starved for love. He wanted to be loved but didn’t know how to love. At the same time, he wouldn’t let you get close. It was like he didn’t trust you.”
His rapid rise to fame allowed him to avoid the struggles common to most country singers. The Louisiana Hayride and his KWKH radio performances in 1951 provided the exposure to get him a Capitol Records contract at age 19.
He moved to Nashville in 1952 and joined the Grand Ole Opry. Then his draft notice arrived, and he “cried like a rat eatin’ a red onion.”
His song Goin’ Steady approached its Number Two spot on the Billboard country music charts as he graduated from Army basic training.
Faron spent his Army hitch entertaining the troops and continuing to record for Capitol Records.
Immediately following his 1954 discharge, he hit the road with the Country Deputies, his new band which would back him for the next forty years.
Faron acquired a reputation for helping newcomers in the business. Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Buck Owens, George Jones, Mel Tillis and Charley Pride are among those who opened shows for him.
He made hits out of songs written by Willie Nelson, Bill Anderson, Don Gibson, and Roy Drusky.
He expressed his philosophy as, “It don’t hurt you to help someone. The U.S. mint runs 24 hours a day, printin’ money. So there’s plenty of money for all of us out there. I have no jealousy in me, and anytime I can help, I get more payment back here in this heart than I ever made in dollar bills.”
Working in Faron’s band provided a start for Johnny Paycheck, the Wilburn Brothers, Roger Miller and Darrell McCall, among others.
One Country Deputy said, “I give him full credit for my career, getting it off the ground. He took a chance on a young guy that never had a professional job in his life. If it hadn’t been for him, I may have never got into the business.”
Faron’s friends enjoy telling stories of how he often gave his money to strangers. He once handed a woman several hundred dollars to get her teeth fixed. He said, “You’d be a pretty woman if you had pretty teeth.”
Another time, while shooting pool with a stranger, Faron poked the man’s misshapen stomach with his pool stick. The man said he had a hernia, and Faron asked, “Why in the *&@# don’t you have something done about it?”
Upon learning the stranger couldn’t afford the operation, Faron pulled out a roll of $100 bills and peeled off enough bills to cover the cost.
Roger Miller is frequently quoted as saying, “The only thing bigger than Faron Young’s mouth is his heart.”
The Country Deputies occasionally benefited from his generosity. A piano player who had no money to get home for a funeral asked to borrow $50. Faron gave him $500 and later refused to accept repayment.
A fiddle player needed a operation, and Faron gave him $1000, then got the Grand Ole Opry trust fund to pay the hospital bill. The fiddle player said, “When you’re out of work, and somebody does something like that for you, it touches you. He is what made me survive. I would have lost everything.”
Another Deputy said, “Every time I’d get some money, I’d try to pay him back and he wouldn’t take it: ‘No, I don’t want it. I’m just glad I was there to help you out when you needed it.’
“That’s the kind of guy he was. I loved him, man, I had a lot of respect for Faron. He took care of his pickers. If you’d catch him when he was drinking, that’s a different story. Then, he’d embarrass the hell out of you. I always seemed to catch him when he was straight.”
Alcoholism was his demon. He could visibly get drunk in the middle of a sentence, changing immediately from a polite Southern gentleman to an obnoxious and rude drunk.
He loved to pick fights with big guys. Just as they reached the point of being angry enough to punch the smaller Faron, he’d hug them and say he was only teasing.
One man said, “That is the only man that I can stand there and smile at and let him insult me, and I’ll take it.”
Friends explained away his drunken behavior, obnoxious comments and insults with the often repeated phrase, “Oh, that’s just Faron.”
After a car wreck, Faron was hospitalized with his jaw wired shut. His buddies made a stack of cards with one four-letter word on each card. They brought the cards to the hospital, and said, “Faron, we know you can’t talk, and you need to communicate here in the hospital, so we brought you your vocabulary.”
Faron’s wonderful sense of humor complemented his ability as a great entertainer. Hilda said, “As mad as I would get at him, I’d still have to laugh at him. He had a heck of a sense of humor, and he was a heck of a good storyteller. You just couldn’t stay mad at him, you just couldn’t.”
According to Bill Anderson, “When he was clicking on all cylinders, there were few acts that could touch him. He could take an audience and hold them in the very palm of his hand.”
Minnie Pearl insisted Faron could “take a show away from anybody he wants to, when he wants to. I’ve seen him do it.”
Ralph Emery remembered a performance in Charleston, South Carolina, where the audience got progressively drunker and drunker. Grandpa Jones and a young Hank Williams Jr. had a rough time holding the crowd’s attention. “But Faron came on, and he spoke their language. They loved him–he got them back. A rowdy crowd is hard to entertain. So we sent them a rowdy entertainer, and he got the job done.”
The Deputies said they experienced everything they did because they loved Faron. “We liked it, or we wouldn’t be there. We loved that man. When he was right, what a joy to play with him. Faron was magic.”
A Deputy who worked with Faron for 25 years stated, “Sometimes love and hate went over the line. You could hate him just as much as you loved him.”
Hilda said, “If he was drinking after a show, and a man and his wife would come back and talk to him, he’d start picking and just downing the woman or something, and I’d think, okay, husband, speak up and say you don’t talk that way to my wife. But they wouldn’t do it.
“Everybody let him get by with everything, including me. I’d forgive and forget, and forgive and forget, and it really did not do him any favors at all, because he got where he just thought he could do no wrong.”
Faron’s natural self-confidence and talent, coupled with his rapid rise to fame, convinced him he was invincible.
His band and his friends took care of him and dealt with his drunken binges. His DUI charges usually got dismissed by a friendly judge or reduced to reckless driving.
The night of a 1995 DUI arrest he went to jail but not into a cell. He spent the entire night singing and entertaining the staff.
He always got his way, and didn’t believe Hilda would ever divorce him. She left him the night he shot holes in the kitchen ceiling.
She and their daughter locked themselves in an upstairs bedroom and called the police. When they came, Faron opened the door. Suddenly sober, he invited them in. “Well, hi fellas, what’re you doing? Come on in. Im just having some ice cream.”
They didnt arrest him. Faron and the cops sat around the kitchen table and he entertained them. He later testified at his divorce trial: “I figure it’s my house, if I want to shoot holes in it, I can do it.”
Faron refused to work out a divorce settlement to avoid going to court. He said, “No judge is gonna tell me what I gotta do, or what I gotta give her.”
They did go to court, and the judge did tell him what he had to do–give Hilda $106,000, and then pay alimony and child support.
For the next decade, he publicly complained about his ex-wife and her alimony every chance he got. However, Faron’s friends believe he never stopped loving her.
In addition to unpredictable alcoholic behavior, Faron’s outspoken ways and “tell it like it is” philosophy alienated many country music industry executives. He frequently expressed his displeasure at how older artists are ignored and unappreciated.
By 1996 his emphysema gave him serious breathing problems, and prostatitis held him in constant pain.
He sold his tour bus, found a new home for his dog, cleaned out his storage room, and gave away many of his possessions.
His friends and acquaintances knew they could always expect the unexpected from Faron Young. But nobody expected what occurred on December 9, 1996.
That was the day he put a .38 caliber pistol to his temple and pulled the trigger. He died twenty-four hours later.
(C) 2000 by Diane Diekman