Michael Young wants to know what happened to country music: God-fearing, twang-ridden, pickup-truck, faded-jeans, a six-pack-of-tall-boys country music. The kind of country music that makes tears well up in the corners of your eyes. The stuff that makes hound dogs wail in the night. Cowboy boots, Resistols, Western-cut shirts, honky-tonks. That kind of country music.
Michael Young isn't interested in crossover artists . Or pseudo-C&W singers who wear mousse and wouldn't know sippin' whiskey if Jack Daniels himself poured it down their throats. He can also do without city slicker imitators who've never heard the sweet, sultry sounds of a slide guitar or the gentle passion of a mandolin.
Writer Larry Sons once made a list:
"She's So Ugly She Makes My Cat Bark."
"I Caught Her Drinking Johnny Walker With Tom, Dick and Harry."
"I Put My Heart in the Mail Last Night."
Those are the kinds of songs Michael Young loves. Songs that tug at the sensibilities. Slice-of-America songs. Jaded innocence.
And who is Michael Young?
Los Angeles Rams, No. 88. You've probably seen him. Must have. An occasional spot on the Saturday or Sunday night sports highlights? Touchdown catches? The whole nine yards?
Young played football and baseball at UCLA. The El Toro resident was a second-team All-Pac 10 wide receiver during the fall and an outfielder during the spring. The Rams were kind enough to notice and selected Young in the sixth round of the 1985 National Football League draft. Last season, in limited appearances, Young caught a respectable 15 passes, three of which resulted in scores. Now that the persistent NFL player strike is finished, Young has resumed the season as a second-team wide receiver, behind former Pro Bowl selection Henry Ellard.
Young is a good-looking sort, with black, curly hair and a gentle voice. He's 6 feet 1 and weighs about 190 pounds. The 25-year-old has the appearance of an athlete but the personality of someone you'd meet at a company picnic. He's friendly, quick to offer a handshake or a smile. You'd trust him with your daughter or with the keys to your restored '65 Mustang. Hardly a discouraging word ever is heard.
One day shortly before the start of his senior season at UCLA, Young received an invitation to a baseball party. Understand this much about college baseball players: sophisticated, they are not. In the past, a UCLA baseball bash had all the subtlety of a sucker punch: "Here's your brew, dude. Pizza's in the kitchen." That sort of thing.
With this in mind, Young accepted the invitation and jotted down directions. The party was planned for Tory Lovullo's house in Encino. Lovullo played second base for the Bruins. This is the same Tory Lovullo who earned All-America honors and now plays in the Detroit Tigers minor league system.
Anyway, Young and a friend drove to Lovullo's parents' house. They found themselves surrounded by sweeping palms, stately mansions, manicured yards. Young looked at his scribbled directions.
"We're lost," he said. "Obviously, we have the wrong address."
No, the number, street and city jibed. And there--the driveway and adjacent curb space dotted with Mercedes-Benzes, Rolls-Royces, BMWs--was the Lovullo home. A valet jerked open the car door. This was not your average UCLA baseball party.
Young walked toward the entrance, his mind scrambling for answers.
"OK, maybe Tory's folks invited a few of their friends."
"OK, maybe our party is in the backyard."
"OK, maybe I'm early."
Young knocked on the front door and entered. The first person he saw was Kenny Rogers. Young's jaw dropped. Over there were Buck Owens and his son, Buddy. And wasn't that Merle Haggard?
This wasn't a team get-together. This was a party of 350. Of country-Western stars. Someone had substituted a snazzy UCLA fund-raiser for the usual pizza-and-beer bash.
It turns out Tory Lovullo is Sam Lovullo's kid. Sam, it turns out, produces "Hee Haw," a nationally syndicated TV program that regularly features the best country-Western talent available. If you can strum a sad chord, pick a six-string or fake a drawl, you set your sights on "Hee-Haw."
Ever since he was 13, singing songs with his childhood friend, Troy Korsgaden, at their junior high assemblies in Visalia, Young has wanted to become an entertainer. Back then, he imitated Elvis Presley. For an assembly one day, Korsgaden played the guitar while Young sang Bob Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door."
"For a long time, I wanted to be a pop singer," Young says. "I've never told anyone that. You don't tell the other kids that when you're 11, 12, 13. But I've always had that dream."
Says Korsgaden: "He'd come over to the house, and we'd jam around. Whatever he felt like singing, it didn't matter because I could play by ear. Singers . . . that's the kind of thing we wanted to be. I guess we idolized those people."