This artist rose to prominence in the late '60s and '70s as one of a handful of pedal steel guitarists moving their instrument out of the country barn and into the rock garage, so to speak. It was actually something of a rootsy move, since Rusty Young's background included playing guitar in psychedelic bands such as Denver's Boenzee Cryque as well as country. He worked and recorded with Buffalo Springfield and eventually co-founded the popular country-rock band Poco with ex-Springfield members Richie Furay and Jim Messina. The success of the band as a soft rock venture not only led to even wimpier-sounding outfits such as Loggins & Messina and the Eagles, but managed to deteriorate the reputation Young had managed to build for his wild pedal steel showmanship which included playing through a swirling Leslie rotating speaker cabinet, coming up with unusual instruments such as the Melobar and the Mosrite electric Dobro, and hobbling on-stage with a broken leg and proceeding to play his axe with his cast.
Young was born in California in the mid-'40s but moved to Colorado soon after. He started playing guitar when he was six years old, and has recalled that at that time where he was living, potential guitar students all started out on the lap steel guitar, advancing to the regular six-string guitar after six months. This was probably due to the lingering popularity of Hawaiian music after the second World War, but as far as Young's parents were concerned, playing country music was the goal for their son. He started gigging in bars in Colorado when he was only 12, sticking to Sunday afternoon gigs, still playing steel. By 16 or 17, he was keeping a schedule that would have left adult professionals panting. He taught lessons in a guitar studio in the afternoons and then played country music in bars until the wee hours of the morning. Then he would pack up and head to jam sessions, catching a few hours of sleep before it was time to go to high school. In 1966, he was surprised to get a call from a local rock band, the Boenzee Cryque. "Are you sure you want him?" Young's mother apparently asked, "He's in a country band you know." Boenzee Cryque was about the most popular Denver rock band at that point and had done fairly well with several locally produced singles that had been picked up by the psychedelic-obsessed Uni label. He worked with this band for two years, incorporating the pedal steel and utilizing some of his strange effects for the first time. In the meantime, a former student who had become road manager for Buffalo Springfield brought Young in contact with the hit group when the members were looking for a pedal steel track for their song "Kind Woman," and didn't want to hire any of the Los Angeles session men. Young was flown out to L.A. to do the session. After he hit it off particularly well with Messina and Furay, it was only natural that Young would become part of a new band that formed in the aftermath of the Springfield collapse.
Originally, the band was to be called Pogo and even used pictures of a similarly-named cartoon character in early promotion. The author of the Pogo strip, Walt Kelly, promptly sued. One letter was changed and Poco was born. Young wrote more than a dozen of the group's most well-known songs. The band was active until the end of the '80s, but seemed to make less and less use of Young's instrumental talents as the years went on.
Although based out of Nashville, Young avoids the recording session work that is the bread and butter of most pedal steel players in that area, due to the lack of space for experimentation. He can sometimes be heard playing solo at that city's Bluebird Cafe. His main venture since the late '90s has been a trio with John Cowan and Bill Lloyd, called Sky Kings. ~ Eugene Chadbourne, Rovi