She's been called "The Cinderella Of Show Business." She traveled the U.S. and Canada for five years with Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, The Shirelles, Bo Diddey, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Ray Charles and Neil Sedaka to name a few. She appeared on American Bandstand four times, where she received a Gold Record for "A Thousand Stars".
Yes...we're talking about Kathy Young.
We spoke with Kathy about her stardom and the stars she knew and worked with along the way, as well as what she's up to today.
Q - Kathy, why are you so often referred to as "The Cinderella Of Show Business"? What does that mean?
A - Well, because I went from being a fourteen year old girl in the 9th grade in high school to overnight being a star on American Bandstand. I was Cinderella. I went from one thing to another in a matter of weeks.
Q - You didn't come up with the term did you? Someone else must have.
A - The disc jockeys started calling me that back then.
Q - Have you heard of this book called Brown and Friedrich's Encyclopedia of Rock 'n' Roll?
A - No, I haven't.
Q - Let me read to you what they wrote about you.
A - OK.
Q - "A one shot artist back by a group called The Innocents, Kathy Young made it with "A Thousand Stars". She wasn't much of a singer and it wasn't much of a song, but it was typical of the many nothing love ballads with a beat which racked up heavy sales during the early 60s. She never had another hit and no one seems to know what happened to her." What do you think about what these guys have written about you?
A - I think they didn't do their research very well. (laughs) It wasn't my only hit. I had a few more after that. If that's their opinion of the song, I think history has proven them wrong. I can't say anything about their judgment. (laughs) The research wasn't very good.
Q - Well, how would you rate yourself as a singer?
A - Oh, I'm not a great singer by any means. I just have a great passion for it. Love it. It comes from my heart. And, I was lucky enough to be chosen to what I think is a beautiful love song. There's a lot of singers who are so much better than I am. I mean, I sing good, but I'm not a great singer by any means. But, I definitely have the passion for it.
Q - Your second release was "Happy Birthday Blues", correct?
A - Correct.
Q - Now, how far up the charts did that go?
A - It made 16 or 31. I can never remember exactly 'cause different charts said different things. But, it was in the Top 100.
Q - You recorded a series of hit songs with Chris Montez...Chris and Kathy. Anything I would have heard of? I seem to remember Chris Montez only as a solo singer.
A - We did the same songs as he did, but we did them as a duo and re-released them and they were hits again; West Coast. I don't think anything was really a big hit on the East Coast. But, now they're being played because Chris is still so well-known. When they find out we recorded together, DJs usually find them and play them. It's the same three, "All You Have To Do Is Tell Me", "It Takes Two" and "You're The One".
Q - I guess in the beginning of your career you used to sing at school dances?
A - No. Never got to sing at a school dance. I sang in talent shows at the school. But, I never, never got to sing at a high school dance. I wanted to and had I think my 40th class reunion last year (2006) or the year before (2005). I got to sing for all the kids I grew up with and went to elementary and junior high school with. So, that was really fun.
Q - They obviously were aware of who you were and what you did.
A - Oh, yeah. Absolutely. It was partly because of them that I got to be Kathy Young...the singer Kathy Young. They definitely know me and are very proud of me. I'm very proud of them. They're great friends.
Q - So, your story is that you went to a dance party that Wink Martindle was hosting on TV. You asked him how to go about making a record? What did he tell you?
A - Not exactly. That's close, but that's not exactly what it was. That's kind of the condensed version. The girls that I'm speaking of, that I went to school with, we were in junior high school. I have wanted to be a singer since I was five years old. I wanted to be a recording artist. I was already a singer. So, I had written to all the recording companies and they had all written back, "Don't call us, we'll call you." But, I found out that I could rent a studio and a band and make a demo record for $225.00. So, that was my focus. I was going to do that, but I was just a normal kid. I didn't have that kind of money. So, the Girls Club that I belonged to, were the kids that I was in school with, decided that they would loan me the money because they had faith in me and I was going to be a recording artists. So, we were having car washes and spaghetti dinners and things like that. I think we had about $175 saved. So, the Girls Club, we all went to the Wink Martindale Show at the Pacific Ocean Park. It was a television show. Frankie Avalon was the star that day. I happened to be sitting where I could look down in the Green Room. So, I saw this gentleman walking around, talking to all the artists, but he wasn't actually with someone. So, after the show, he was out in the amusement park just walking around. When I saw him I just thought, oh my gosh, this person knows people in show business and the recording business. He's the only person I've ever come in contact with 'cause I lived in Long Beach. I knew nobody in Hollywood. I walked straight up to him and said "How do you make a record if you don't know anyone and you don't have any connections? How do you do it?" All of a sudden all the girls from the club surrounded him and he stood there looking at me. He said "Really?" I said "Yes. How do you do it? How do you get an audition?" He said "You really want to be a singer?" I said "No. I am a singer. I'm going to be a recording artist. I just have to find out how to get there." And he just stood there looking at me. My mom came over and asked him if I was bothering him. He said "No. Is she serious?" All the girls said "Yes!" My mom said "Yeah, yeah. She truly is. She's very focused and determined." He stood there and looked at me again and pulled out his wallet and pulled out a business card and handed it to me and said "I have some friends that own a record company. So I'm gonna call them and tell them I heard you sing. I think you're good and they should give you an audition."
Q - Who was that gentleman?
A - He was Jim Lee. He became my manager and the record producer for Indigo Records.
Q - Indigo Records being the record label he referred you to.
A - Yes.
Q - What a great story that is.
A - It gets even better! (laughs) He gave me the card. I know I have to be the very, very best I can be because you don't get a second chance to make a first impression. So, I went home and I practiced and I sang and I played and I wrote more songs. For three weeks straight, that's all I did. I just had to be the very, very best. So, I finally called and he was then working for this record company and he said "Where have you been? I've been waiting for you to call." I said "Well, I had to practice and get really, really good." And he said "Well, come in tomorrow." So here I am, fourteen years old, it's 1960, I am just beyond belief excited that I actually, truly have a record audition with a record company the next day. So, I'm over at my best friend's house and she has a swimming pool and we're celebrating. I'm very athletic and very competitive and so she was gonna dive in one end I was gonna dive in the other end and we were gonna swim under water and see who gets to the other end first, and win. But, we had on beach towels that were brand new back then and each one of us had one on. As I started to dive in the water, my towel started to fall off and I grabbed for it. Well, I was diving in the shallow end. If you don't have your hands in front of you, you go straight to the bottom, which I did. Knocked myself out cold. My girlfriend swam to the other end, got out, couldn't find me, looked in the water and there I was pretty much drowning. She pulled me out and got me going again. I had a terrible, terrible concussion and couldn't go in the next day for my audition. I was absolutely heart-broken. So my mother called and explained. He said "Don't worry. Tell her when she feels better, give us a call and come in. Tell her not to worry about it. Just get well." It took me three weeks to really feel like myself again. During that time, a disc jockey in Bakersfield sent the song "A Thousand Stars" out as The Innocents, as their follow-up song to "Honest I Do". Well, the record company thought about it and said no, a guys group called the Regeillers had a hit with it previously and that a girl should do it. They didn't have a female singer. I walked in a few days later, sat down, played my guitar, sang some songs I had written. Jim Lee, who was the audition manager, the gentleman that I met, asked if I could read music. I said yeah and he pulls out this music and I started playing it. He said "Why don't you come back tomorrow night and we'll do a test recording." So I did. He said "Why don't you come back the next night the next night and let's cut a record." So, I went back the next night, two days after my audition. This was on the end of The Innocents album session. The guys were still there. I walked in and started singing. They just started singing harmony in the background. They thought it sounded pretty good and put us together and that was how Kathy Young and The Innocents recorded "A Thousand Stars". Three weeks after we recorded that night, it was out and being broken in Los Angeles and three weeks later it was number one in Los Angeles.
Q - Those early days were great weren't they?
A - Oh, unreal, amazing. I had the passion and the determination, but it was also kind of one those things where I happened to be in the right place at the right time. I feel like God has just watched over me and guided me every step of my singing career. I know that, that was what I was meant to be. And I was meant to be the one that sang that song. Again, I feel so lucky. It's such a beautiful song and I know it's brought so many people some really wonderful memories. I just feel blessed.
Q - I've seen that song on compilation CDs. Do you still get royalties on that song?
A - Yes, I do.
Q - Well, that's good. At least you weren't ripped off.
A - Well, I was at the time. I made no money off the record or the album or anything. But, years later the company went bankrupt at the time and I was awarded a portion of the company. Years later, I had to go to court and won the rights to my music, which I now have.
Q - You made an appearance on American Bandstand where they awarded you a Gold Record for "A Thousand Stars". What was that like?
A - I think that was my fourth of fifth time on American Bandstand. That was an absolutely incredible moment. I still get choked up when I think about it. I had no idea that "A Thousand Stars" sold close to a million records. Back in those days you actually had to sell a million to get a Gold Record. I was on there promoting "Happy Birthday Blues" and the President of Indigo Records had come with my mother and I to Philly (Philadelphia), which never happened. It was usually just my mom and I traveling. I thought maybe he had some business there. After I had sung "Happy Birthday Blues", Dick Clark walked out on stage and handed me a Gold Record and I just started bawling like a baby. (laughs) I absolutely could not believe it. I couldn't stop (crying) and Dick kept saying "C'mon Kathy. It's a live show" and I just kept crying and crying and crying. I think he had to cut to another commercial and we just had one. Finally, he came back and I was still crying and I sang "A Thousand Stars" with tears running down my face.
Q - Because of that song, you got to tour with all the greats - Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers, Connie Francis, Brenda Lee, Ray Charles. How did those people treat you?
A - Like there little sister. It was really wonderful. Brenda and I became very good friends. She used to come to my house and spend the night whenever she was in town. Her mom would come out and they would have dinner with my parents and myself. Everybody else was like my big brother and sister 'cause I was still quite young. They were great. Everybody was wonderful. That was one of the absolute best times of my life.
Q - You were married to one of The Walker Brothers?
A - Right.
Q - Now, The Walker Brothers performed with The Beatles. Does that mean that you got to meet The Beatles and maybe The Rolling Stones at that time as well?
A - I hung out with all of them. They were all friends. I lived in England for four years, from 1965 to 1969.
Q - The Glory Years. So, you socialized with them?
A - Of course. Yeah. We were all in the same business. We all hung out together. Very nice guys all of them.
Q - You're talking about The Beatles and The Stones.
A - Yeah and The Animals and The Yardbirds, Peter and Gordon. Everybody. We were all friends.
Q - Would you go out to clubs? Would you go to a restaurant for dinner? Would you go to a movie? Where would you meet these people?
A - During those days you could not go out to dinner or go to a movie. It was absolutely impossible. The fans had such radar that they would know the moment that you set foot in any place and it would just become overwhelmed with kids and disrupt everybody else's evening. Johnny (Walker) and I would try to go to a movie and we would wait 'til the movie had started, sneak in the back door through the alley and the manager would come and let us in. The theatre would be dark and we would sneak in. And, I'm not kidding, within five minutes, kids would know that he was there and we would have to leave. Restaurants, we had to have dinner in. We tried to go on vacation. Any place in England was absolutely impossible. We had to go to Spain or France or Italy to be able to have a holiday. Those fans in England, their radar, are absolutely something. Great, great kids. Lovely kids. I knew it was Johnny's time. It wasn't my time. I quit singing so we could be married and raise a family. I knew the fans would always be there. Sometimes I would have 125 to 150 kids outside my door, just waiting to possibly see him or myself. So, I knew I had to make friends with all of them, so I would invite the heads of each little fan club up for tea when he wasn't home, and collect all their autograph books and whatever they wanted, pictures or anything. Then I'd set up a time for them to come back the following week and I would have everything for them under the condition that they wouldn't harass my neighbors, wouldn't try to follow him and just be as nice as they could. It worked out quite well. They were great kids.
Q - Where would you see The Beatles, at a show, in a club?
A - Quite often we would go to one of their shows and be backstage. Other times there was a club called The Scotch Of St. James, that after the club was closed, it was only open to entertainers. They had a bandstand set up with instruments. We would all go there and hang out. There might be Eric Burdon playing or Elton John or Paul might be there or Johnny or Nick. They all kind of jammed together. It was really nice. It was fun.
Q - So, on the bandstand you might have Mick Jagger and Paul or John and Eric Clapton.
A - All together at the same time, yeah.
Q - You got to see shows that the public would never see.
A - Never, ever.
Q - After having been in the spotlight for so long, you then went on to help manage a citrus ranch in central California?
A - I had my own orange groves and lived up in central California while I was raising my kids. I've very much a country girl. I love the city, but I really like country life with animals and growing things. I still love to be in the lime-light. I just came back from Pittsburgh doing a concert there. I absolutely love it. I like the balance of having a little bit of a quiet life and then also stepping back into the lime-light. Now I have the best of both worlds. (laughs)
Q - Today you perform on the Oldies Shows?
A - Yeah. Always oldies concerts with other artists. Sometimes there's only two other artists. Sometimes there's one. Chris (Montez) and I have done a few shows together where it's just the two of us. The last one (concert), I think there was maybe six or seven groups on the show.
Q - How often do you perform?
A - Sometimes it's one a month. Other times it becomes every other weekend. Almost all of them are back East. I like one a month or two a month. That's enough.
Q - Do you have any new product out?
A - No. It's still the original album I recorded in 1961. I've transferred it to a CD that's available on my website. (KathyYoung.com) New product, I'm hoping I'll be able to get that together this year and put something out. I'd really love to record some new stuff. I have so many requests for it.
Q - Besides singing on weekends, do you still have that citrus ranch?
A - Today, presently, I'd prefer not to discuss what I do. I do work. I work a regular 9 to 5 job, but I prefer not to mention what it is or where it is.
Q - Whatever it is you're doing, I just wonder how you can be happy doing it, given your background.
A - It's kind of funny, it's something I love to do. I've done it for a long time. I work with really great people who have been my friends for a very long time. The way I look at it is, it is something I like to do. It pays the bills and allows me to go sing and to be able to have my passion. Working a regular job allows me to do that and still keep it as a love, not a job. So, I've very lucky that I get to do both of these.