Remember, Lest We Forget

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On the Musical Legacy of Freddie Young

By Charlie R. Braxton

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

The City of Jackson recently mourned the loss of one of its most esteemed musical talents – Freddie Young. Young was a multifaceted artist, serving as both a singer and songwriter, as well as an accomplished producer. He stood out particularly for his role as lead vocalist in Sho-Nuff, a pioneering funk band based in Jackson. While Sho-Nuff achieved regional success with their lively and upbeat tracks like “It’s Alright” and “Funkasize You,” their slower ballads featuring Young’s vocals left the greatest impression on fans. Songs such as “I Live Across the Street,” “Don’t Be Lonely,” and the widely popular “What Am I Gonna Do” showcase Young’s dynamic falsetto – so silky smooth and angelic that it can soften even the hardest hearts. Lyn “Sky” Chambers, Freddie’s friend and former bandmate, concurs that Young possessed a truly unique voice for his era.

“He had a voice that I had never personally witnessed or experienced on the Jackson club scene. It had a sincerity and purity in it that’s extremely rare. I know that he had the vocal range to cover the whole vocal scale of possibility.”

Chambers initially encountered Young at Club 77 in 1977 where he was performing backup vocals for a local funk band named the Funk Factory. Chambers sought to replace Jewell Bass, who was leaving the band to embark on a solo career and was taken aback when he heard Young flawlessly execute an Isley Brother’s classic, “For The Love Of You”, during his performance. After witnessing him deliver an impressive solo during the song, Chambers knew that they needed Young in Sho-Nuff. Serendipitously enough, Bass brought him in for an audition with the band just one week later where his exceptional vocal abilities left quite an impression on everyone present and ultimately led to his invitation to join Sho-Nuff as their keyboardist and secondary lead vocalist in 1979.

The band secured a record deal with the renowned Stax record label the following year and unveiled their inaugural LP, From The Gut To Da Butt. This album produced two regional hits in “Funkasize You” and “I Live Across The Street,” featuring Young’s seductive high tenor vocals. Regrettably, their partnership with Stax was short-lived as they only released one album; however, it wasn’t long before Sho-Nuff inked another agreement with a local label called Malaco. Despite being primarily known for its blues catalog, Malaco had also put out some RnB records. 

In 1980, Tonite became Sho-Nuff’s second LP on Malaco Records which spawned two popular regional hits: “It’s Alright” and the scorching ballad “What Am I Gonna Do,” topping charts in cities such as Miami. Not only did Young sing on the hit single “What Am I Gonna Do,” but he also co-wrote it alongside his bandmate Al Bell III who sang along too; this song served as the title track of the LP itself. A year later, Fern Kinney recorded that same tune under a new name – “Love Me Tonight (Love, Love Love)” – for her 1981 album simply titled Fern. This time around though, there was more of an emphasis on disco elements within the composition of this version of the song which helped to establish it as her lead single.

Regrettably, Tonite marked the final album that Sho-Nuff would produce for Malaco. It appeared as though the group was destined to remain in a state of uncertainty; however, fortune favored them. Their subsequent record label hailed from an unlikely location for a band based in Jackson – the Far East.

Despite the admiration and support of Jacksonians, Sho-Nuff was often perceived as merely a local band producing records on a local label. However, this perception failed to recognize their world-class musicianship and artistry. Sho-Nuff boasted an extensive fan base in Japan that attested to their international acclaim. According to Sky Chambers, “We had been going back and forth to Japan doing tours… We were big stars over there,” performing at both large clubs and small arenas across the country. As a result of their success abroad, they secured a record deal with Constellation, a Japanese-based label.

In 1983, Sho-Nuff released Body Pressure – their fourth and final LP – which has since become highly coveted by audiophiles worldwide. Despite never being officially distributed stateside, original pressings of the album have sold for upwards of $1,500 due to its enduring popularity among music enthusiasts.

By the late 80s the music scene had undergone a drastic change, forcing many of the funk bands of the 70s and 80s to go in different directions. This included Sho-Nuff who decided to go their separate ways in 1986. Young opened Fly Studios, a 24-track studio to record the next generation of Jackson musicians, and continued his musical career.

At the outset of the decade, Young and Chambers established a cover band known as The Exam and embarked on a three-year stint in Japan. Alongside their live performances, the ensemble produced jingles for commercial purposes. In addition to this, Young lent his vocal talents as a backing artist for various Japanese musicians. 

Despite initial success, touring proved physically taxing for Young while family obligations began to weigh heavily on both members. Consequently, they relocated back to the United States where Chambers pursued law enforcement work and Young refocused on music – opting this time around to focus on hip hop. This pivot would prove to be a wise move.

Freddie Young played a significant role in developing Mississippi’s funk music scene, but his influence on Jackson’s hip-hop culture was even more profound. His recording studio quickly became the premier destination for local rappers seeking to achieve rap superstardom. Moreover, he secured a production deal with Rap-A-Lot Records and produced records for many notable artists affiliated with the Houston-based label, such as Menace Clan, 5th Ward Boyz, Mr. 3-2, Too Much Trouble, FWC (Fifth Ward Circle), and Bushwick Bill from Geto Boys. 

Over time, Young either recorded or performed alongside nearly every prominent hip-hop act in Jackson and its surrounding regions. These included Kage, Tony B., Boo da Boss Player, David Banner, Reese & Bigelow, Queen Boys, Kamakazi, Donnie Cross, X-Only, Wildlife Society, and other rappers who have made an indelible impression on the city’s music scene.

According to rapper X-it Only (AKA James Edwards), Young’s recording studio wasn’t merely a place where artists could record their music; it was also a hub for learning opportunities. Young generously shared his extensive knowledge of songwriting techniques along with production and engineering strategies with countless young Jackson artists who passed through his doors over time.

“Mr. Freddie Young was the backbone of Mississippi music,” says Jackson rapper, X-It Only. “And [his studio] was the gathering headquarters for Mississippi hip-hop. He was a kind, caring, giving soul who will be dearly missed in Mississippi music. 

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Remember, Lest We Forget

By Jackson Advocate News Service
April 2, 2024