Brent Cash: Starting at the beginning, where were you born?
Kenny Young: Jerusalem.
BC: When did you realize that you were into music?
KY: At about 2 when I played piano on my upper lip with
my fingers as I sucked on my thumb (really!).
BC: From the early '60s to the present time, hardly any
of your songs sound similar or repetitious. They're almost as different
as people are. Do you have a method of writing, or does it just
happen as it chooses to happen?
KY: I have had many methods of writing thru the years. First
choice has been idea first, then write a few lines and strum the
guitar 'till the right sounding tune takes over, then go from there.
Also a tune pops into my head and I fit a line that catches my fancy,
etc. With a co-writer, I just have to hear a couple of chords I
like, and I'm away with a melodic idea, or a few catchy lines.
BC: Was 'Don't Waste Your Arrows'/'Thumbin'' your first solo release,
and how did you get hooked up with MGM?
KY: Actually, my first record was 'This Must Be The Place' under
the name of Yale Hunter. I don't remember the label, nor the B-side,
which may have been the A side. 'Don't Waste Your Arrows' and 'Thumbin''
were done after I met Artie Resnick at the Brill Building for the
first time. He asked if I could sing, so I played him a demo of
some songs. He said, "Perfect, come to the studio, and we'll
cut a tune." Actually, I met Artie and Clint Ballard Jr. at
an office where they rehearsed me for the songs. I signed some shitty
contract and recorded for MGM . . . just like that. My first hit
song and production was 'Please Don't Kiss Me Again' by the Charmettes,
a Phil Spector-ish tune, which I'm surprised you missed. It was
a hit in New York and in the 40s nationally in 1963. My friend Ron
Oehl and I produced the record and managed the unmanageable group.
BC: You worked in the Brill Building, 1619 Broadway, for Bobby
Darin's TM Music, correct? What were those days like? 'Under The
Boardwalk' has been covered by many artists and written about numerous
times, so I won't dwell on it. But did you have a feeling you'd
helped write a song destined to be as well known as 'Happy Birthday
To You' when it was done? Also, did you know Rudy Lewis from the
Drifters, who was originally supposed to sing it before he passed
KY: Very flattering to suggest 'UTB' was as well known as 'Happy
Birthday'. I didn't know Rudy. He died on the day of the recording
session and Johnny Moore replaced him.
BC: You wrote many other songs with Art Resnick. What are your
memories of working with him, and did you maybe get to hear him
write 'Good Lovin'' with Rudy Clark during its creation?
KY: We are still buddies. I think I wasn't around to hear him write
'Good Lovin'' with Rudy, but we wrote lots and lots of songs, including
'King Of The Surfers', which had the same theme and melody as 'Leader
Of The Pack'. Ironically, we got a girl called Ellie Greenwich to
sing the demo. About four months later, 'Leader Of The Pack' came
out. It's all in my book (not out yet)!
BC: There are a number of Resnick/Young songs on Diamond (Ronnie
Dove, Kenneth Young and the English Muffins) as well as Kapp (the
Charmettes, Charlie and Chan). Was there a connection to those labels?
KY: Artie and I used to do lots of joke records, just foolin' around,
and people asked us to release them. So we did in many cases.
BC: I will get clobbered by girl group sound lovers if I don't
ask you if you worked with or knew the artists who did songs of
yours around this '64/'65 period: Bernadette Peters, who did 'And
The Trouble With Me Is You' and 'We'll Start The Party Again', etc.
KY: Artie and I produced some of Bernadette's first singles. We
almost had a hit with 'Wait Johnny For Me', to the tune of 'Pomp
And Circumstance'. Shame on you, you shoulda known that!
BC: The Charmettes, who did 'He's A Wise Guy', 'What Is A Tear',
KY: As I said, 'Please Don't Kiss Me Again' was the hit. Also,
'(Preacher Man) Stop the Wedding', which became an anthem in Brazil
by some megastar there!
BC: The Johnson Sisters, who did 'Devil In The Dark' and 'Tough
KY: We didn't know them gals . . . just wrote the toonz.
BC: Getting back to Diamond Records for a second, how did 'Mrs.
Green's Ugly Daughter' come about?
KY: Just a take off on 'Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter'
. . . something Artie and I used to do when we didn't have something
better to do.
BC: Moving deeper into the '60s, the Seagulls made some
great singles for Date Records. With all due respect to the Hermits
and Mickie Most, 'Don't Go Out Into The Rain' by this group outdoes
Peter Noone & Co. In my opinion, the "whole tone"
scale on the vibes is a master touch of arranging. Now, this was
you, June Winter and Ken Sonn (same guy as Ken Sonenberg who co-wrote
'Charlie No One'?), correct?
KY: Yup! We had a minor hit with this in Florida, so we did a mini
promo tour there. Thank you, I agree, ours was the better version.
BC: 'Just A Little Bit Better' was a #7 US hit for Herman's Hermits.
Am I way off in thinking that could've been a hit for Buddy Holly
had he lived? I also think Dwight Yoakam could do a great version
KY: That's because I liked Buddy Holly a lot and imitated him on
the track I did, which was a B-side to 'Everybody Laughed' on a
label I can't recall.
BC: What was the line-up of the Squirrels ('Who's The Bird') also
making records around this time?
KY: The line-up was me and me, I think, and a couple of session
musicians. I worked with a guy called Vinnie Rogers, an amazing
guitarist. He died tragically, like Michael Hutchence.
BC: Could 'Su Su', recorded by San Francisco Earthquake, be the
attractive older sister of (Phil Collins') 'Sussudio'? This group
made several 45s for Smash. Who was in the group?
KY: I was the San Francisco Earthquake . . . another pseudonym,
along with Blue Yogurt and a few others that will spring to mind.
BC: San Francisco Earthquake's singles capture the zeitgeist of
that era, with the light, dreamy imagery. But to me, 'March Of The
Jingle Jangle People' and 'Fairy Tales Can Come True' almost have
an ominous feel in the music, with the minor keys, etc. If you can
remember them, what's your take on these songs?
KY: I was experimenting with hallucinogens, probably.
BC: Around this time, Reparata and the Delrons cut 'Hold The Night'
(also done by SF Earthquake) along with others of yours. They had
a sizable hit with 'Captain Of Your Ship'. What are your experiences
KY: If they had been more attractive there could have been a decent
career there. They were responsible for me moving to England. I
accompanied them to Top Of The Pops, the legendary show that's been
on UK TV since the beginning of time 'till now. Later, I attended
the reception for their hit single 'Captain Of Your Ship', along
with John Lennon and Ringo at the Revolution Club in London. I met
half the Beatles at our own reception . . . so there!! I later decided
to stay in London, having met some of the mini-skirted lovelies
who tempted me with their charms and parts of their bodies that
were barely covered . . . but that's not what I'm here for . . .
BC: How did you come to produce Methuselah who later became Amazing
KY: Just one of many productions I was asked to do for some sharp
production companies, along with the Searchers ('Umbrella Man',
'Somebody Shot The Lollypop Man'), the Fortunes ('Cool It'), Hopscotch,
aka the Average White Band . . . you see, you skipped a few.
BC: And now onto Clodagh Rodgers. The three albums you did with
her are great. I must mention here that 'Biljo' is my favorite thing
you've ever done - catchy and rockin'. The bridge, or middle eight,
is mind-blowing - such a sneaky key change, followed by another
key change, and one of the trickiest intros ever? Who could guess
where it will end up upon first hearing it? One of my favorite all-time
records by anyone. What were the sessions like? They sounded like
fun, with the studio chat left on the first, self-titled LP.
KY: Gonna have to listen to that again . . . mmmmm.
BC: There was a 45 around this time, produced and by Van McCoy ('LeaveThem
Young Girls Alone'/'Ain't It Funny What Love Can Do') that is credited
to Kenny Young. It sounds like this is a different person. Can you
put an end to the confusion?
KY: Kenny Young was a guy called Kenny Shepherd, I believe. He
liked my name and nicked it. What can I say?
BC: As the '60s end and we get into the '70s, you had several versions
of 'Arizona' recorded, but Mark Lindsay claimed the gold in the
US with it. 'Silverbird' did well by him also. Your feelings on
KY: 'Arizona' was originally a B-side of a single I did for CBS
and became a top 5 hit. 'Silverbird' was the follow-up and was used
in a few commercials, including United Airlines and Yamaha. Also,
Jay-Z used a sample of my version of 'Arizona' on a bonus track
on his second album. The track was 'Cru Love' and I got 50% credit
as a writer. So I co wrote with Jay-Z. Howz 'bout dat?
BC: Now, we get the first Kenny Young solo LPs in the early '70s.
A lot of people dig these records and the Happenings did a version
of 'Me Without You'.
KY: I did two albums for Warner Brothers. They wanted me to tour
and become James Taylor. I said, "Thanx, I ain't that good."
BC: I noticed that this period has some short, sweet songs that
end the sides of these LPs - 'Nayli, Nayli' by Clodagh, 'But I Love
My Car' and 'Blue Man Serenade' by you and, jumping the gun a little,
'The More' by Fox. My copy of 'Last Stage For Silver World' has
no musician credits, but rumour has it that a Susan Trayner sings
some vocals on it. She would become Noosha Fox, correct?
KY: Correct, my man. Noosha Fox was once and still is more than
ever Susan Trayner.
BC: Fox made several records. Some people seem to prefer 'Blue
Hotel'; some 'Tails Of Illusion'. I think the eponymous debut album
is stunning from start to finish, with a rare cover song in the
form of 'Love Letters'. It's a perfectly balanced work that's hard
to categorize. It seems to pre-date the Kate Bush sound, but has
the playfulness of Abba. Are you proud of that record?
KY: I was and still am. It was recently re-released in UK. Kate
Bush said in an interview that Fox were a great influence on her
BC: As the '70s faded into the '80s, how could someone be in a
punk/pop outfit (Yellow Dog) and soon after have a composition be
nominated for an R&B Grammy? Tell us about 'Ai No Corrida',
recorded by some guy named Quincy Jones.
KY: I don't know, you seem to know a lot, you tell me.
BC: Back on the 'Clever Dogs Chase The Sun' LP, you wrote 'But
I Love My Car' - a very tastefully expressed ecological theme. In
the '90s you helped found the Earth Love Fund. 'Spirit Of The Forest'
has a vocal lineup of artists that is staggering. How long did it
take to pull that Herculean task together?
KY: You are pretty knowledgeable, I must say. This was a very important
part of my life. I had a strong feeling about the planet's degrading
environment, so I did something rather than sit on my ass. I started
ELF with some co-musicians after an album we recorded for A&M,
'Transmissions' by Gentlemen without Weapons, which had only digital
samples of animals and nature. We turned those sounds into melodic
songs. We used the voices of John Hurt, Zulu singers, myself and
a few great backing vocalists. Our brief was NO musical instruments
- only nature sounds. Check it out sometime. The artwork is by Pink
Floyd's creative artist Storm Thorgerson. He also did our video.
ELF was a ten-year thing for me. Lots of good work came out of that.
BC: Lest anybody think you're taking it easy in the 2000s, Face
On Mars had a Top 5 European dance hit with your song 'The Bug'
and 'Come Back And Shake Me' by Clodagh Rodgers has been featured
on the TV show Malcolm In The Middle, correct?
KY: Also, Queer As Folk and a few other TV shows - good work, Brent!
BC: Going back over your career, can you give me some of your memories
of these some of your various former co-writers: Estelle Levitt?
KY: Lovely gal. She went a bit funny but is getting herself together,
BC: Scott English?
KY: Still a great friend. Just wrote a song with him yesterday!!
BC: Artie Wayne?
KY: He's another strange one. What did we write together?
BC: Ben Yardley?
KY: Alias Estelle Levitt - the secret is out!
BC: And, I assume a good friend, Herbie Armstrong?
KY: One of my best mates. Good ol' Herbie. We did lots of things
together - many memories!!
BC: Seagulls, Squirrels, Kangaroo Music, Yellow Dogs, Clever Dogs,
Patient Tigers: are you an animal lover, or what?
KY: You noticed!
BC: What would some of your all-time favorite or Desert Island
KY: Ten copies of 'Sagina Te Ribena' by some mysterious Indian
bloke. Maybe tomorrow I'll change my mind.
BC: Who in the world would you liked to have worked with or met?
KY: Would have liked to write with David Byrne and Brian Eno, and
maybe do a rap record with Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Otherwise,
I'm quite content.