Born: 10/23/1883 Flat Rock, AL
Influential fiddler during the 1920's. Recorded hits, "Maybelle Rag," "Bill Bailey" and "Are You From Dixie".
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Music was a second career for Jess Young. Born in Alabama in October 23, 1883, as a boy, Young moved with his family up into the Sequatchie Valley town of Whitwell, in Marion County, Tennessee. Like most young men in the region in the boom-days of coal at the turn of the century, Young worked as a coal miner for twenty years until his health deteriorated due to Black Lung disease. In his late thirties, he decided to give up mining and make music his career. He organized a band with his guitar-playing nephew and a banjo-pickin' neighbor from the Bledsoe County town of Pikeville: Homer Davenport, who innovated the three-finger picking style. Together they made some of the earliest recordings of a working string band. He broke new cultural ground for music by bringing the identifiable styling's of Black string band music to new listeners.
Jess Young's activity as a fiddler and as a performer influenced and inspired other area musicians, including Bob Douglas, the Allen Brothers, and The Gibbs Brothers. Some of his original signature tunes are now old time and bluegrass standards: Sweet Bunch of Daisies, Maybelle Rag, Bill Bailey, Smoke Behind the Clouds, and Are You From Dixie?
Young stopped recording at the very beginning of music recording history, in 1929, but he continued to play for the many dances, radio programs, and stage performances in and around Chattanooga. The growing interest in fiddle contests is due, in part, to the excitement generated by regional competitions between such fiddlers as Jess Young and Bob Douglas, Curly Fox, and "Natchee the Indian." Young often won regional fiddle championships, defeating some of the best players in the South -- Gid Tanner, Y.Z. Hamilton, A. A. Gray, and Clayton McMichen-- and set the barre high for semi-professional fiddlers to try to meet.
Jess Young was on the verge of getting a contract to play regularly for the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville when his health failed him, and he died on December 31, 1938.
Young recorded hot fiddle tunes for both Gennett and Columbia records, and he innovated in music distribution, by making his records for sale at his performances, a practice that is carried on by old time and bluegrass performers even today. His first record, that included the new tunes, Bill Bailey and Are You From Dixie? sold over 30,000 copies. In addition, Young interpreted and made 19th century parlor songs accessible to, and meaningful to, country audiences; one example is Irving Berlin's Ragtime Violin, that Young restyled and reworked as Fiddle Up.
In addition to bringing sophisticated tunes to country audiences, Young was an important conduit of the black and white string band music of the Sequatchie Valley and Chattanooga area into the world of commercial country music as it was starting to form in the 1920s. His musical styles are heard in the work of professional fiddlers, Curly Fox and Bert Layne, active semi-professional musicians, Bob Douglas, Wally Bryson, and Fletcher Bright.
Photo source: http://www.tennrebgirl.com/cgi-bin/display_Items.asp?Cat=19&Sub=255
I was always out into everything. Once a year, the coalminers used to have these big conventions. And this one was out at Palmer, Tennessee. It was at the ball field and they builta stand to play—it was like a boxing ring, up about three or four feet off the ground with banisters around it and steps up it. That’s where the musicians played. It was in the middle ’30s, somewhere along in there. Jess Young was playing. He was my idol, just about. Anyway, I kind of stayed hid. He didn’t know me, never had seen me before or nothing at that time. And some nut kept after me and said, “You go up there and play with him. He’ll let you play.” I said, “No, I don’t want to play. I can’t play as good as he does.” I was backwards. Some nut went up there and told him who I was and pointed me out. And Jess Young come out there in the crowd and got me. Just got me by the arm and said, “Come up here.” I said, “Listen, I can’t play the fiddle—not like you can.” He said, “It don’t make no difference, I want you to play. What do you wanna play?” I said, “Well, what do you want me to play?” He said, “Can you play ‘Sweet Bunch of Daisies’?” I said, “Yes, I can play ‘Sweet Bunch of Daisies.’ “And so I played’“Sweet Bunch of Daisies’ and he just had a fit. I had it note for note, just like he played it. And from then on, why, I was with him everywhere. We got really acquainted. He thought it was it was out of this world that I could play this. He never did forget me, I can tell you.
– Clint Kilgore remembering how he met Fiddling Jess Young
Mp3 Jess Young Old Weary Blues http://www.juneberry78s.com/otmsampler/423%20Jess%20Young%20-%20Old%20Weary%20Blues.mp3
Mp3 Jess Young Are You From Dixie http://www.juneberry78s.com/otmsampler/422%20Jess%20Young%20-%20Are%20You%20From%20Dixie.mp3