1917 - 1974
Video Clip with Johnny
Johnny´s Mandolin Tuning
One sideman of Chicago Blues Mandolin hero Johnny Young said in an interview that Johnny used alternative tunings e.g. : DGBE.... Here is the way you have to tune your mandolin if you would like to try it : To tune DGBE, start with a standard mando set and set aside the G strings. Put the D strings where the G strings would have gone. Put the A strings where the D strings would have gone and tune them to G. Get a pair of strings a bit lighter than your A -- .013 would probably work -- put them where the A strings would have gone and tune them to B. Leave the E strings where they were and tune them to E. You have used 3/4 of a mandolin set. Maybe someone will trade you .013s for your G strings.
I found this somewhere : " Although the mandolin is not an instrument commonly associated with Chicago blues, it has been used by Chicago-based string bands or on Chicago-made recordings by artists such as Carl Martin, Charles and Joe McCoy, and Yank Rachell. However, the only artist to use it successfully in the later electric blues format was Mississippi-born bluesman Johnny Young. An important figure in blues history, Young loved the rough-and-tumble string-band tradition of the Delta, a style that readily coexisted with blues. Young's initial 1947 Chicago classic, "Money Taking Women," exhibits the same exuberant down-home sound, fusing blues with the older country breakdown traditions. The string-band ensemble sound suited street performance as well, whether in Memphis or in Chicago's open-air Maxwell Street Market, where Young and his cronies were brought in off the streets to record. Over the years, Young's mandolin activity declined as Chicago's African-American blues audience demanded a more modern and urban sound. Since Young was also a skilled guitarist and a fine vocalist, he easily weathered the transition. During the late '60s, an emerging White blues-revival audience proved eager for Young's mandolin styling. Unlike Yank Rachell, whose mandolin playing retained an older string-band feel, Young's style was firmly grounded in a more contemporary postwar blues idiom, and he interacted well with other electric blues artists. Through his life, he had worked with the major figures of blues history, including Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Walter Horton, and Otis Spann. He was, he insisted, born to be a musician. When I interviewed him shortly before he died, he told me how he had struggled all his life trying to make it in the music business. An emotional man, he hoped he would live long enough to make enough money to buy a house. He never made it. " ~ Barry Lee Pearson, All Music Guide
From the Book : Sounds so good to me - The Bluesman's Story - Barry Lee Pearson
Johnny Young's Story
Johnny Young had been in the blues business for forty years. The night we met, he was working as a front man for a predominantly white blues band at a Northside Chicago Club, the Peanut Barrel.I recognized him from his records, a heavyset, round-faced man with sad eyes and a thin mustache.What is known of his life comes primarily from what he chose to reveal in a number of interviews, tempered by the reminiscences of other musicians and of course his recordings. According to these sources, Johnny Young was born New Year's day 1917 or 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He grew up in a musical family, and his mother used to run suppers, a type of down home house-rent party where the guests would buy food and drink and dance to the blues. His Uncle Anthony, an accomplished musician on both guitar and violin as well as Johnny Young's major influence, often supplied the music for these events. Johnny Young soon followed in his footsteps : he was a professional musician by the age of twelve.
After moving to Rolling Fork,Mississippi, he picked up the mandolin, and by the 1930s he worked around Memphis with Houston Stackhouse and Robert Nighthawk and in Brownsville, Tennessee, with blues artists Sleepy John Estes and Sonny Boy Williamson.During the 1940s a developing market for transplanted Delta folk music served as a magnet drawing southern musicians to Chicago. Johnny Young also made the move and like the musicians who came before him sought out the artists he had worked with down home, eventually teaming up again with Sonny Boy Williamson. By 1947 he was working the streets of the Maxwell Street Market. Here, in the same year, he also cut his first record "Money Taking Woman", an energetic blues now considered a classic. In 1948 he recorded again with Johnny Williams and Snooky Pryor, but then dropped out of the recording scene until the blues revival of the 1960s, when he recorded for Testament, Vanguard, Storyville, Arhoolie, and Milestone.
In Chicago he was part of a raucous, new, and energetic sound-- at first. But the Delta country breakdowns soon gave way to the elctric blues and boogie that characterized the golden years of Chicago blues in the 1950s. Even though he gave up his mandolin to concentrate on guitar by the 1960s, Johnny Young's style of blues was decidedly old-fashioned, and he could not keep up with the progressive styles preferred by the dancers and drinkers in the South and West Side Clubs. For Johnny Young's generation of Chicago musicians these were hard times.They found themselves preachers without congregations.They encountered hostility from the younger generation and from the black media to whom they were an embarrasment. Money was bad---often below scale. The hours were long,the streets were dangerous, and a second job was mandatory. It is no wonder that a number of stars of the 1950s simply hung it up, tired of the hassle.
But even though it became harder for the veterans to find work, the blues tradition survived, perpetuated by younger, more progressive artists better adept at merging blues with contemporary trends in black popular music. Fewer clubs hired blues bands, but the blues musicians' audience never disappeared entirely. A small hard core of blues fans remained, either transplanted Southerners with a taste for down home things, or Chicago neighbors whose local bar happened to hire a blues band. The ethnic constituency that maintained the blues made up in enthusiasm for what they lacked in numbers. Despite the lack of attention from the media, blues performances in the small clubs were vital affairs where the people packed tight, close to the musicians and close to each other. But even during the decline certain changes where in the air. A growing number of white patrons --students or fans or both-- began to show up at the clubs. White musicians sat in more frequently, and following a common pattern in American Music, they went on to form their own bands.These groups helped to sell the blues sound to a growing white audience, and for a time they overshadowed their teachers. Yet their success also called attention to their sources, and new opportunities began to open up for the blues veterans.
By the middle of the 1970s many established bluesmen began to move away from the low-paying jobs in the sometimes dangerous ethnic clubs where the critical demands of an audience familiar with the blues had forged the Chicago sound. Now the Chicago bluesmen worked Old Town,Rush Street, and other Northside bars that drew a young, white clientele. Mixed bands composed of older blues veterans and young white sidemen became common. One of these bands was run by Bob Reidy, ayoung piano player who worked hard to sell the blues to reluctant tavern owners and uninterested audiences. He had faith, however, and his energy kept the band afloat, providing work for a number of traditional bluesmen. The usual show consisted of several artists such as Johnny Young, Wild Child Butler, John Littlejohn, or Jimmy Rogers alternating sets, backed up by the Bob Reidy Band.The band's sound was tight,bright, up-tempo, modern. It reflected a new merging of black and white musical values . The innovations caused some tension , and egos clashed over musical differences and arguments over leadership.
The night I met Johnny Young, he had just finished a set and was not very happy with how it went. A blues veteran, he had his own idea about how his music should sound, yet he had to defer to the band, Bob Reidy's band. Ans so even though they were good friends, Johnny Young was defensive about working for the younger man and complained he wasn't beeing presented in his best light. We tried to talk inside, but the jukebox made it impossible. Since it was an unusually warm spring night for Chicago and we had time to kill before the next set, we decided to go outside to my car. I drove to a nearby liqour store, where we went in to get a bit of scotch. The police ordered me to move along. " No double-parking." No use arguing. I sped around the block. Johnny Young was waiting outside when I drove up. " You scared me to death,man," he said." I know. The police ran me off." We drove back to the club and parked. Comfortably settled , we relaxed over our drinks and made conversation. He began by referring to my earlier interview with Bob Reidy.
" You see,Bob, you interviewed him.He wants to be a big star.He plays good, but my wife come over here and didn't come back no more. She said,'You don't need to be with that band.' Swaer to God.Say, ' They ain't fitting your type of music.See, cause when you make a record you make it different than what you do singing with them. 'Say, `Your record sells and you know they do.' " "When you make a record , you make it for you, " I answered. "That's right, " he said."Making it good for the public." He looked over, so I responded."Bob, he's got a good act, getting guys to play and sing, but the thing is, it's his act. It's not your act." He nodded."Please say it again. It's his act, not mine, cause he wants to be the boss. He is the boss. I do his act because that's what he wants, but I can do my act too. "You know what he told me last night ?Listen to me here , you know, honest to God.He said, 'Don't never leave me.' He said,'I've got so many jobs from now till next May.' I said,'What,Bob?You ain't got that many.' "Cause Sammy Lay wanted me. Samm Lay say,'That son of a bitch is dynamite.' I played with Sammy in Palatine , Illinois, last Sunday. You couldn't get in there for the people.They eat me up.. See , he won't even let me play the mandolin too much. You know I play the mandolin. You know that I've got it sitting up there now.." "I know two people who play the mandolin," I said. "You and Yank Rachel." Johnny Young nodded. "He's pretty good, but you know they told me in Europe they never heard nobody as good as me playing blues op the mandolin . I got a write-up, I want to show it to you, but it's wrote up in Dutch. Dutch is German--are you German?" "No" "Well I was in--- You know where I was? I was in Switzerland. Geneva,Switzerland. But it sure is pretty over there. Man , did you ever hear of those mountains?Pretty ! And the people meet me at the airport, when I get off they say,'Johnny Young ' They know me! By my picture on my record. I say,'How you know me?' 'We know you better than you do.' They say ,'Johnny.' Oh those kids say,'Sign here, sign it.' Lord. All night long in the dressing room . They makin me sign this,sign that.sogn. I went all over. See, we had a worldwide tour. You know Jimmy Dawkins?" I noded."He was backing us up, him and his band. Youknow who they put behind me?Let me tell you. They put three pieces behind me.Drums, bass, (and guitar) and me. All my act.Every time I go up there they say,'Listen.' I say,'Please give me a guitar.' " He shook his head."Uh uh.Say,'When you do down there, the guitar go down there, we don't know who's doing it, you or the guitar.' Say,'We want you to play that goddamn mandolin and let them know who you is.' "And I frailed that mother, man, I frailed it. And the little guy that used to set up the equipment, he say,'Play,Johnny Young,play. Play, baby,play!' That son of a bitch be out in front of me doing--saying like that." " I like your guitar-playing too, you know," I said. " Everybody loves my guitar-playing.You know what the fellows told me with Sam Lay? The guitar player that was over there the other night, they say,'Johnny, you know what I'm talking about.'Say,'You a guitar player.'Say,'Man you play guitar like Jimmy Reed.' 'What do you mean?' 'You play bass and lead all at the same time. ' You know I do."
He acted out playing the guitar and sang a riff associated with Jimmy Reed, "Da Dow,Da Dow, Da Dow Da Dow. " "I play bass and lead all the same time cause me and Big Walter Horton used to play together with just a drum.We had them like that." He pressed his hands together. You couldn't get in. Three pieces. We didn't have no six pieces like Bob. You couldn't get in, an we packed them in, and I was playing lead and bass. One fellow sat in front of me one night and he said, `How in the hell can you do that with a guitar?' " My wife thinks I'm the best guitar player in the world, you know. She said--- but I mean with the type of music I play---she said, `You a hell of a guitar player.' She likes the mandolin too, but I hate to tell you, she say, `Get on the guitar!' I get mad with her. I say 'goddamn it, white people like that mandolin.' She say, ' I`d rather you play that guitar, see, cause you can play both of them.'. She say, 'But you know you can play the guitar.` I say, `Can I ?' She say, `You goddamn right. You can make that guitar talk.' My wife love me to play the guitar. I swear to God. "He stopped , waiting for a cue. " If you could just run down your background," I said, "like your life story." He looked at the tape recorder. You got it on ?"
" I'm Johnny Young. I'm from Vicksburg, Mississippi. My uncle was a professional musician. My mother blowed harmonica and my brother played harmonica, and I started when I was about eight years old. I made me a guitar out of a cigar box, and my mother say, ' He's got to be a musician because he done made himself a guitar.' "She bought me a five dollar guitar , honest to God, she bought me a guitar and we used to play at home. And every night we had people come to listen to me play---you know, neighbors. And my brother was blowin the harmonica, you see, I was playin the guitar --- Pat, we called him Pat-- and my other brother had a broom. Now this was the act we had. He would look in the fireplace and get some ashes just like you got ashes to throw out, put in on the floor. Whoop-de whoop-de, we had a bass goin. "So my mother said, 'I got to buy him a guitar!' She bought me a five-dollar guitar. And the people used to say, 'please let him play for my party tonight.' My mama say.'He's too young, he's nothin, he's twelve years old.' " I was twelve years old then, and I used to go up in to--they call them jukes,juke houses, juke joints, suppers, call them suppers. So I used to go play for the suppers. All I got was two dollars a night, hamburger, hot dog, and a pop, big strawberry pop."
I asked," Why did you keep on doing it if you weren't getting paid that much?" Irritated by the interruption, he cut me off. " Wait a minute---well we had to, we's in Mississippi, so at that time you could take two dollars and buy twenty dollar's worth of groceries, spend two dollars then like you spend twenty now. Things was cheap." " Listen to me. My uncle used to practice. We call it practicing at home, not rehearsing.He had four guys sit on the porch at night and they practicing. The guitar was sounding so good, and violins, mandolins like I play. My uncle played a violin. So I used to sit and listen, and I said, 'God dog! That sure do sound good.' So when he go to work, my auntie would let me--I said,'Could I come over?' 'Yeah.'she say. 'What you want boy? Don't fool around with that guitar.' She would go in the kitchen. I'd hit one string...bong! It was hanging upside the wall . I'd get in the chair, lean up there, and I take it down and try to play. " Ans so we moved from Vicksburg, Mississippi, to Rolling Fork, Mississippi, up in the Delta. So my mother bought me a mandolin. I had it tuned in Spanish-- Sebastapol, they called it--- you know , like Hound Dog plays the guitar and all the rest. Well, it wasn't tuned right." "My uncle came up to play for a party formy mother. My mother used to give parties--suppers, we caled them suppers. She had fish, hot dogs, all kinds of sandwiches to sell, pop, beer. And he said, 'Son, you're sounding good.' I play any kind of way you know, then those fellows, uh, they didn't know what I was doin, see. And he said, 'You sound good, but you have to tune it in natrural.See, cause you got it tuned cross key.' " I said, 'Well, how do you do that?' He said (sings four notes) he said (simulates playing). I looked at him so hard. I said, 'Do it again.' He did it. I said,'Let me see.' I watched his fingers. I did it. He said, 'Good God a mighty, you gonna be a musician. You gonna be one of those high musicians, with a big band!' He said, ' Can you tune it?' I said,'Tune it back like I had it.' I got the sound, honest to God, I tuned it just like he had it and that's just like I'm playing it now and ever since then I been tuning it just like that. "I allways was a musician. When I hear music I cry.I listen to it--Sarah Vaughan made me cry one night,really. She was at the Regal Theatre.She sang a song about Miss Julie (sings a riff). It was just something so good that tears started rollin out my eye.I said,'God give it to me. I know I'm a musician!'
"I used to sit on the porch and play and look up the stars and play so good. I was playing that mandolin and I loved it, playing my guitar and I loved it. So then we moved up to a place called Swains, place in Misssissippi out from Memphis,Tennessee. I met Robert Nighthawk. So when I met Robert Nighthawk I got with him, I was blowing harmonica. You know, I used to blow harmonica a little bit too. So I started blowing the harp with him. He play-- Nighthawk was a hell of a good musician--he play slide. He was so good he almost made me cry. So I had --we was wearing blue jeans, you know--bad striping to here(he points) and big belts. I kept my pants pulled up like that, way up see, like I was a big shot musician. So I walked in and they say,'There's a musiscian out there. Oh, here they are.' I met Robert Nighthawk, but Robert Nighthawk had a harp." He suddenly asked," You know Houston Stackhouse?" "Yeah," I answered. "We started together. Houston Stackhouse is a hell of a musician. Why, I hate to say it man. So we, you know when that was, back in the thirties, '34,'35, all like that. And Sonny Boy Williamson was making records. I came up here and I played with him. I Played with Memphis Slim. I played with Big Bill Broomless ( Broonzy), Sunnyland Slim. I worked with everybody that's worth working with. I worked with Muddy, Howling Wolf, Hound Dog. " First record I made was in 43, right when the war was goin on.'Money Taking Woman.' !You heard that record?" "Yeah," I replied. "You ain't even got it? I believe you got it. I made the tape. I had to borrow that record when I made it for Pete Welding." "Yeah," I said. "I got the first one and the second one." " Oh come on, you gonna make me cry.Now I made the second one for Pete Welding so I made 'Money Taking Woman' for Arhoolie record company. Oh I just cranked up. "When I hit Europe, the first thing they want to know was 'Money Taking Woman.' I said,'Oh, man, think of all the records I got out.You mean that's famous?' 'Money Taking Woman', you know. "They say,'That made you famous.' I'm surprised they like it so good, you know. They went crazy wanting to hear 'Money Taking Woman'. You know what to do when you a musician, you make one hit. It made a hit for me because it's a good record, you know.
"She took my money and called me Jack.
She holds her hands out and she never give it back.
She's a money taking woman."
He broke off and looked at me ."That's a good record, isn't it?" "They don't make them like that anymore," I answered. "Oh, come on.Now you jiving me." He looked at me and stopped, then said, "Now what else do you want me to put on here?" Before I could answer he went on. " I played with Muddy.I played with Hound Dog Taylor. Howling Wolf---".Suddenly we were jolted, almost spilling our drinks."What is this?" Johnny Young exclaimed. "Somebody hit me," I said, climbing out of the car to a chorus of Johnny Youngs curses. A very stoned Spanish-speaking gentleman got out of his car and joined me in my appraisal, but there seemed to be no damage. After several unsuccessful attempts at communicating, the gentleman shrugged and got into his car and careened off into the spring night.I got back in my car and explained what happened. After a bit I said, "Look here, Johnny Young, you told me about your background. Let me try to bring it up to the present. You worked with so many artists." He noded."Sonny Boy Williams" " Sonny Boy Williamson?" I asked.He got angry. "Not Williamson. Williamson and Williams---Sonny Boy. John Lee Williams is the one I worked with.'Good Morning Little School Girl,' 'Sugar Mama,' 'Decoration Day,' 'Black Gal.' That's the man I worked with. Me and Sleepy John Estes and Willie Nix and all them guys, we were working together. I'm telling you, we was out of Brownsville, Tennessee, Jackson Tennessee. "I'm from all over parts of the world, man. See Bob Reidy and them trying to bill this thing, I told them I`m from all over parts of the world,man, I work everywhere. He stopped to admire some young woman who happened to walk by."Look at that shaky little brownskin chick." He turned back to me."What else you want to know? I know it's not going to be too good, but you and me rapping now. We rapping." I thought for a moment. "Well people see you up on stage, they think it's easy to play. They don't think it's work." " That's right.It looks easy. Well, they don't think it is work, but it is work.When you study from a kid up. I been playing forty-six years. I`m fifty-seven now. Forty-six years playing music. Can you imagine that? And I had so many jobs. I shoveled coal, I washed dishes, I cut logs. I Did everything to make a living, then I went back to music again."
"What kept you in music?" I asked. " Because my heart's in it. My soul's in music. I wanted to quit.My wife, my other wife--Yeah,buddy, I got a second wife now. She carried me to church every Sunday. She go out with me and ball and I said,'You done had a drink.You want to go to church ?' 'Yeah.I want to go to church.' 'That's what we did. "Now she takes me to church.She wouldn't let me play. We both was working at a job together , me and my wife, and I said,'Jesus Christ, I'm sick of working.' I got mad one day and throwed everything down. I said,'I`m a musician.I know I'm one.' So I throwed everything down and I went back to playing music, you know. "You know where Imet Bob Reidy? One night in Old Town. Muddy was there.He had just got out of his accident and was walking on crutches. So they said,'Wegot Johhny Young here tonight.'Chicago Slim--you know him?--Charlie Musselwhite,Paul Butterfield, have all played with me. I'm talking about fellows that I know. PaulButterfield, Harvey Mandel, guitar player, and they all respect me. Just an old man,a man that tried to make it and is still trying to make it----and, ah,God! give me enough power or give me enough luck, you dig me?Oh God! give me enough power to get some money to make me a house or build me a house or buy me one, because I got too many years as a musician to be holding on like this. He sat back wearily. "Now playing with Bob Reidy is not Johnny Young. He pays me off." I said,"I saw you working with the Aces down at the Wise Fool." "No,"he corrected me,"the Aces was working with me. They was working with me.I was the star. "You got another beer? No, I better not drink too much more cause I've got to do another set and my voice is kind of hoarse." He looked at me intently. "Where did you saw me play--Ann Arbor?" We went back into the club where he did another set--this time playing the mandolin. And he was right : nobody could play the blues as good as he could on the mandolin. Less than three weeks later Johnny Young died.According to Bob Reidy, he suffered a heart attack while sitting on his front steps waiting for a ride to see his doctor.