My phone rings with a Texas area code.
On the line is James Young, singer-songwriter and guitar player for the Eli Young Band. He’s a long way from Texas.
“We’re in Burbank tonight,” Young tells me, “playing a show for the troops.”
Military has been on the collective mind of the Eli Young Band for some time. Their latest single, “Love Ain’t,” hit the internet alongside an inspiring music video that features combat wounded veteran Taylor Morris. After losing his arms and legs to an IED in 2012, Morris crawled the arduous road to recovery thanks to support and devotion from his high school sweetheart Danielle.
“That songs about what love ain’t,” Young explains, “but also what love is, and their story couldn’t be a more perfect example.”
The Eli Young Band released this most recent single and video in partnership with the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit dedicated to the service of wounded veterans like Taylor Morris. Typically, veterans receive a pretty short stick when it comes to health care at home. Young hopes partnering with a charity like the Wounded Warrior Project will help raise awareness for the plight of service men and women.
“They put their lives on the line for us,” Young says. “They deserve better.”
In Burbank, The Eli Young band is reaching out to wounded warriors in another way.
“We gave out a lot of tickets [to veterans],” Young explains. “We’re doing it for them.”
It’s charity by choice. When asked if he believed it was the responsibility or obligation of musicians on the national stage to support causes or take political stances, Young was quick to answer, “I think that’s up to everyone…it’s great to be able to help, but we like to keep it about the music. We’re entertainers.”
Musicians first to the world, but to each other “friendship first, music second,” Young says. Founded at the University of North Texas circa 2000, the Eli Young band has history under their belt.
“Eighteen years…we’ve outlasted some marriages,” Young laughs. In that time, the self-described “band of brothers” has toured and recorded their way to top slots in the country music charts, multiple Grammy and CMA Award nominations and a 2012 Song of the Year Award from the Academy of Country Music for their No.1 single “Crazy Girl.”
To that achievement, Young thinks the band owes much. “'Crazy Girl' is the one that kind of opened things up for us.”
Breezing through open doors, they ascended the charts again with “Even If It Breaks Your Heart.” Originally written by Will Hoge and Eric Paslay, Young says their label was not cozy to the idea of publishing a cover.
“We had to fight to get that one on the album,” Young says. “And it ended up being our second No. 1.”
To Young, the success of “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” is proof that artists can only have one master. “When you stop following your gut…that’s when you go wrong.”
For this group of good buddies, more has gone right than wrong. In earlier days, they toured indomitably, sometimes “on the road for than 200 days out of the year,” Young says. But hard work was only half the equation. “You definitely have to want it more than the other guy, but there’s a lot of luck too. Being in the right place at the right time.”
Come November 15th, the right place and right time is in Flagstaff. The Eli Young Band will be stopping into our Arizona hamlet to grace the Orpheum stage. With them comes a sound you have to hear for yourself. Young thanks his upbringing for an eclectic list of inspirations.
“There was Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but growing up in Texas, you got Motown and Jim Croce, and Willie and Waylon…just a melting pot of influences.”
Bound to make your night, if you want to return the favor, learn the words to their new single “Love Ain’t.” As Young puts it, “When you release as single you play it out at first and no one knows it…then you go down the road and people pick it up and sing. Watching a song grow like that is the best feeling.”
The Eli Young Band will be performing on November 15th at the Orpheum Theater, 15 W. Aspen Ave. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25 before tax/fees.