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In 1971 the Roy Young Band released a self-titled album on RCA, then followed it up the next year with a second LP, Mr. Funky, on MCA. Neither platter sold very well on either side of the Atlantic. "His records just weren't as good as his stage shows," evaluates McAleer. "He cut things like 'Just Keep It Up' and 'Hey Little Girl,' the Dave Clark songs, which were mid-sort-of-poppy things, whereas on-stage he did Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard numbers. But he never actually seemed to record those kinds of things."
McAleer, who worked at RCA but never met Young, continues, "They were trying to launch him as the 'new Roy Young.' The albums were typical of that period, introspective late-Sixties singer-songwriter stuff. No out-and-out rock and roll. He got a fair bit of press at the time, more than he'd ever gotten as a rock and roller. You know, with the beard and the hat, he had the sort of right look for the late Sixties [a battered leather cowboy hat had become such a ubiquitous part of Young's wardrobe that it earned him the moniker "rock and roll cowboy"]. But it never happened for him at all."
Young ascribes the commercial failure of the two albums to his willingness to allot his time to other projects when he should have been promoting his records, especially in the U.S., where he was totally unknown. "When I was recording for MCA and RCA, for some reason, every time I had an offer to come over here [to the U.S.] to promote the albums, I got involved in different things over there [in England]. Like I worked with Jeff Beck. I really regret the fact that I didn't, you know, pursue America. But then again, what I achieved in England and Europe was that I was very successful in making a career out of touring. By rights I should have been making albums and going off to promote the albums. But what I seemed to be doing more was going out and playing live shows. In England I became the bands' band. I mean, everywhere I played the audience was full of other bands.
"I'd often see the Beatles," Young muses. "I was quite a regular at the Speakeasy Club in London. They allowed everyone in the business to go there and not get mobbed by autograph hunters and whatever. Everyone was someone. It was just packed, and you were only allowed in there if they knew who you were and if you were involved in the business. I was like the house band there. My piano would be right out front, and I could see them all sitting there A Mick Jagger, John Baldry, George Harrison, Eric Clapton. I met Jimi Hendrix there. It was like a big party."
At about the same time his first album was being released, the photogenic Young landed a plum cameo in Stephen Frears's 1971 directorial debut, Gumshoe, which starred Albert Finney. Young was featured singing "Baby You're Too Good for Me," a tune penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who was hot off the success of Jesus Christ Superstar. Frears's whimsical spoof, about a small-time British vaudevillian-cum-private eye who thinks he's Bogart, bombed so resoundingly that a dozen years would pass before Frears A one of today's most critically acclaimed directors, responsible for My Beautiful Laundrette, Dangerous Liaisons, and The Grifters A would be granted another opportunity to direct a film. Young's second try at acting came in another howler, 1972's X, Y, and Zee with Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Caine, and Susannah York. When the job offers deteriorated to French soft-core sex films, Young sensed his days as an aspiring thespian had run their course.
Meanwhile he was fast becoming rock's Forrest Gump: Young had been in the thick of everything, yet his name had somehow never quite made it into the history books. In the early Seventies, Young blitzed England and Europe with his band, and played with everyone from Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Roy Orbison, and Ray Charles, to David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Wings, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Sly and the Family Stone. Young backed Berry on piano and vocals on Berry's million-selling number-one hit, "My Ding-A-Ling," in 1972. As is so characteristic of Young's career, however, the keyboardist never received a penny in royalties for the performance, and you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone familiar with the song who can even remember that Berry had a band playing behind him.
In 1977 Bowie tapped Young to work on his Low album, with recording sessions outside Paris. Bowie was entering the most experimental of his many musical phases. Low marked the beginning of his collaboration with ambient music wunderkind Brian Eno. "The whole album didn't work out right at all," laments Young today. "He called it Low because it was a very low point in his life, when he was changing personas. We recorded one side of straight-ahead rock and roll. Then he called us all to his room one day and played us a tape of this huge orchestral kind of thing, and asked us, 'Do you think you guys can play this? I'm thinking of putting it on one side.' And we all said, 'Are you fucking kidding?' We were rock and rollers and this was like some weird, experimental sound.