My brush with hipness

Of the three, I’d have expected Steve Young and David Jackson to know each other: both were pioneers on the Los Angeles country/rock scene in the ’60s and early ’70s. Young, who’d come to L.A. from Alabama, was in Stone Country (with future Nitty Gritty Dirt Band member Jimmy Ibbotson) before cutting his influential solo album “Rock Salt and Nails” for A&M; Jackson had been a founding member of Dillard & Clark.  and then played bass with Hoyt Axton and seemingly zillions of other acts. (He played piano in the Naughty Sweeties, but that was a whole ‘nuther thing).

Raise of hands, though, from those who knew that the song The All Golden on Van Dyke Parks’ first album was written about Steve Young? One (meaning I) tends to associate Parks more with his arty collaborations with Brian Wilson and his own ambitious solo work than with country/rock; even Los Angeles country/rock.

Yet, writer Tom Nolan, who was also in last night’s audience for the trio of Young, Jackson and Parks, recalls Parks touting Young to him decades ago, along with another of his then-current enthusiasms, Randy Newman.

Young doesn’t live in L.A. anymore; his being in town (no explanation given) occasioned the three musicians, billing themselves as “Close Personal Friends,” to perform at the Coffee Gallery Backstage in Altadena. How could I miss the opportunity to see these three in (probably) a unique appearance; especially in a room seating something like 50 people? I couldn’t.

Young, playing acoustic guitar, opened; backed by Parks on electronic piano and Jackson on guitarron, an instrument resembling and held like an overstuffed guitar and functioning as a bass. Both sang.

Quickly, Young established himself, performing his original “Seven Bridges Road”, which has been recorded by The Eagles. (“I hope Hannah Montana will cut it,” he remarked); along with “Lonesome, Ornry and Mean,” which Waylon Jennings has recorded, and Bruce “U. Utah” Phillips’ “Rock Salt and Nails.” Along the way, Young performed Warren Zevon’s very Los Angeles “Carmelita,” and provided his audience the unexpected opportunity to hear Van Dyke Parks play (and solo on) “Mystery Train.”

Young left the stage, leaving Parks to perform his own set, accompanied by Jackson; the songs included selections from Jump, Parks’ album of songs inspired by “Uncle Remus” creator Joel Chandler Harris; and “Orange Crate Art,” a collaboration with Brian Wilson celebrating Parks’ image as a youth of California; a picture that brought him here from the South in the early ’60s. Like Jackson (who mainly kibitzed this time) and Young, Parks likes to talk onstage, and his topics included the erosion of intellectual property rights, why he so long resisted going to Hawaii (it has to do with the way the United States took over the formerly sovereign nation), and his current work scoring a National Geographic special. For all the gravity of some of his talk, Parks was amusing, and certainly preaching to the choir, politically speaking. (Somehow, a few people possibly in their twenties were present; otherwise, the crowed was well into the AARP demographic).

Young returned for a few other numbers, including “Coal Tattoo” by Billy Edd Wheeler (“the poet laureate of Appalachia,” in Parks’ words), and a set-closing sing along (a sing along! Van Dyke Parks!) of Mentor Williams’ “Drift Away.”

Though not entirely spontaneous (Jackson was reading from charts), the set was informal and fun. And for those two hours or so, the circle of  “Close Personal Friends” had increased by something like 50 people.