words: Kimberly Christoff

Blues violinist and guitarist Lionel Young has accolades weighing in so heavy that during a CRAVE magazine interview, when jokingly asked if he wants to be referred to as “the Mayor of Louisville,” he laughed, “No, I want to be the King.” And lucky for us Colorado, because this global treasure is dedicated to his local fans. His prestigious schooling and worldwide performance debuts make this brilliant musician our rare local find.

Young recently rocked out at Washington Park Community Center, at an event mainly for kids, called “Inside the Orchestra.” In addition to his many original songs, he also covered Pharrell William’s “Happy.” The Denver crowd met his performance with a strong applause, as usual, but this time including little hands.

“It was cool, I played two shows. I have a strong fan base in Colorado. I am grateful for it. I book as much time playing in Colorado as I do worldwide. I love playing here.”

Young has performed with greats such as Count Basie, Jimmy Paige, Robert Plant, Elvin Bishop and many other knockout hitters. His authentic musicality grew out of a complex voodoo vision, “A violin bleeding and then turning into fire.”

“I knew I had to follow the music and the blood of it, or I would be lost. I didn’t want to be lost.”

Many street encounters and perhaps the most hard-hitting of all his musical journeys began as a young teen carrying his violin with him everywhere. Young’s uncle frequently took him to the rough “Corner” of New Orleans. Here is where Young learned his most unique self-taught sound. Hiding, crouched down in a corner, watching, and carving out his own sound: the sound befitting of a King’s ear. A sound versed in dexterity, fired by a soul-searching path, and a sweet unfailing intuition.

“I always tried to do it with whatever I knew I had. I understood playing the Blues is a freedom song. I wanted out of the confining, politics of orchestras.”

It was his audition for The National Repertory Orchestra that brought Young to settle in Colorado 23 years ago. Young’s lyrics announce themselves with his well-known somber song, “Brown Cloud,” from his first CD. Young said this was his first “Cool tune that he wrote.” When asked how these powerful, political, lyrics forged their way, Young replied:

“It came from what you see and what you know impacts everyone. A lot has happened in Colorado. I wanted to put it in my music and make sure it was talked about. I sang about the history. General Sheridan parading scalps of Native Americans. Mostly women and children down the streets of Denver in the 1800’s. There have been a lot of massacres around here and north of here: the raping of the land, the mines, the killing of all the buffalo. It was a shooting gallery. Colorado is a weird place and a beautiful place. I directed my lyrics to talk about it in one song.”

Brown Cloud
There’s a brown cloud over Denver, There’s a brown cloud over Denver
That’s why our Blues won’t go away
Well it keeps getting darker, each and every day
A warning from the red man says we should change our plan to put our fires down there ‘cause smoke will fill the air and have no place to go
In the great Platte valley below making people cough and sneeze, gag, and choke and wheeze
There’s a brown cloud over Denver, There’s a brown cloud over Denver
That’s why our Blues won’t go away
Well it keeps getting darker, each and every day

Young’s new CD, Healing Sounds is blues, rock, gumbo, Hendrix, and a cup of sugar thrown in. It includes standards, “Summer Time,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.’’ The CD features a song written by the great blues man, Johnny Long. Young’s saxophone player also contributed, “Have You Been to Kansas City Lately.” “This is the last CD recorded with this band,” Young explained, “It is bitter sweet,” adding:

“I liked the way it came across. It’s well recorded, real dry. There are several originals. A tune I wrote called ‘Jimmy Dean,’ about a fictional character.”

Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean you better leave my woman alone
Stay away from my house and find yourself a woman of your own
I told you once there could be no doubt
Two strikes you lose the third strike you’re out
Like a baseball game you’re playing with a slugger
I’ll hit a Grand Slam on your face, because I’m a bad Mother Fucker
You better leave my woman alone
Drag back home your sausage
And go find yourself a woman of your own

Lionel Young’s new CD is due to be released this summer. Catch him performing with his Lionel Young Band on June 27th at the Fox Theater in Boulder, the show starts at 8pm. July 3rd at the Vail Jazz Festival’s 1st Friday series starting at 5:30 pm. Steamboat July 4th.

For more about Lionel Young and where you can see him play visit his website Lionelyoung.net