Nashville Skyline: Faron Young, Charley Pride Make Hall Of Fame

When country music changed, Pride persevered; Young chose suicide.

[Nashville Skyline is a weekly opinion column by Country Editor Chet Flippo].

Country Editor Chet Flippo writes:

Charley Pride and the late Faron Young, who have been voted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as the 75th and 76th members, are wonderful choices.

Their lives and careers were intertwined, in a sense, and are representative of the course of country music over the past half-century.

It's a serious honor to enter the Hall of Fame. Established by the Country Music Association in 1961, the hall is intended to represent the enduring tradition of country music by recognizing performers, songwriters, broadcasters and executives for lasting contributions.

The hall's electors, 200 anonymous figures who have been active in the country music industry for at least 15 years, look to the long term. The first three people inducted into the hall were all long dead. Even so, one of those choices was a bit controversial

The first two to enter the hall were the "Father of Country Music," Jimmie Rodgers, and a major architect of country music and Music Row, publisher/producer/songwriter Fred Rose. Rose's lifework turned out to be the career of the third inductee, Hank Williams, whom not everyone in Nashville wanted to honor.

A year before Williams' death at age 29, on Jan 1, 1953, he left Nashville in disgrace: Fired from the Grand Ole Opry for chronic drunkenness and for missing Opry-booked shows on the road, he was demoted to the Louisiana Hayride show in Shreveport, La., from which Faron Young was just graduating to a career in Nashville.

One Up, One Down

Young befriended Williams when others turned their backs on him and he continued to watch over Williams' wife and son after Williams' death. Young's own career flourished after a two-year stint in the military. He also became a major investor in Music Row real estate and owned and published the early country music magazine Music City News, which founded what is now the TNN Awards. He was a selfless country booster and helped many people new to town, including me, when I first started reporting on country music 30 years ago.

When Charley Pride entered country music, there were apprehensions about how the industry and the fans in the mid-1960s would react to a black country artist. Young took Pride under his wing, as did Willie Nelson and others, and Pride became a country superstar.

Young and Pride enjoyed successful careers with hit after hit. Pride will forever be remembered for such lasting songs as "All I Have To Offer You Is Me" (RealAudio excerpt) and "Kiss an Angel Good Morning" (RealAudio excerpt). Young helped build Nelson's career as well as his own when he recorded Nelson's "Hello Walls" (RealAudio excerpt), and Young's exuberant honky-tonk style is forever captured in his "Live Fast, Love Hard, and Die Young" (RealAudio excerpt).

Gradually, both artists became neglected by the industry they helped build when country radio, in the wake of country's gold rush years, decreed that young country sells and old country does not. Radio, it must be remembered, is not in the music business. It's in the business of selling commercials, with whatever programming product works best for them.

The record labels, who are dependent on radio to break their hits for them so they can sell albums (and their artists can sell concert tickets), followed radio's bidding. Out the door went Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Nelson, Waylon Jennings and a long list of other aging artists.

Quickly Dismissed

And, out the door went Pride and Young. Both last charted a Billboard hit in 1989. The two reacted differently at being, in essence, turned out to pasture and shunned by their own. Pride turned to his business interests and toured in Europe and never publicly mentioned the matter. Young was bitter and tended toward barroom diatribes.

In a very real sense, the country music industry must share some of the blame for Young's death. True, not every other artist who was dropped by the industry reacted as severely as Young. True, he was a drinker — "Wine Me Up" (RealAudio excerpt) was a big hit for him — and a hell raiser, but a lot of country artists have been drinkers and hell raisers without killing themselves.

Like Pride, Young was a simple man but a man of great dignity, and he didn't easily suffer being forgotten after a lifetime of striving when he felt he was still able to contribute. He sat at home and drank and brooded over losing his identity as a country star, and on the morning of Dec. 9, 1996, he shot himself.

He died the following day.

Come this Oct. 4, when Young and Pride are formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on the televised CMA Awards show, both will be greatly lauded, as they should be. Both are lasting artists in country music. And, eventually, country music always gets around to taking care of its own.