Vince Gill kicked off both recent sets with the Eagles "Seven Bridges Road." The beautiful five-part harmonies of the Eagles' live version (and captivating a cappella opening) turned this obscure country song into a classic rock staple. In addition to paying homage to Eagle's co-founder Glenn Frey, Gill honored Steve Young. As a student of country music history, Gill was paying homage to more than Eagles co-founder Glenn Frey. He was also honoring Steve Young, a lesser-known yet extremely influential singer/songwriter who passed away in early 2016.
Young found inspiration for "Seven Bridges Road" in a rural stretch of dirt road just outside of Montgomery. This stretch was later identified as Woodley Road. A child of eastern Alabama, the song pays homage to his southern roots.
Young's acoustic version first appeared on his 1969 solo debut, Rock Salt and Nails. It's an underrated album, featuring guest appearances by Byrds alums Gene Clark and Gram Parsons. An even more emotionally-draining version was cut in Nashville for 1972 album Seven Bridges Road. That album included two Young songs that shaped outlaw country, "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean" and "Montgomery in the Rain."
Joan Baez also recorded a version of the song in 1969. Her arrangement sounds more traditionally country than the original. Baez had a great track record with country covers including one of the greatest versions of early hillbilly gospel song, "A Tramp on the Street."
Former Fairport Convention member, Ian Matthews, completely revamped the song's arrangement in 1972. He worked alongside producer, background singer and ex-Monkee, Mike Nesmith. Matthews and Nesmith's multi-part harmonies and sparser arrangement sound very similar to the Eagles' live treatment of the song. While Young wrote the lyrics heard on 1980's Eagles Live album, Matthews and Nesmith could easily get credit as arrangers.
Separating Young's legacy from the Eagles' version of "Seven Bridges Road" became impossible over the years. Later covers by the Carter Family and Dolly Parton owe more to the inspirational vocal harmony of the Eagle's version. That's more of a tribute to the Eagles' grasp of roots sounds than a slight at Young. Conversely, most reports on Young's March 16, 2016 passing rightly identify "Seven Bridges Road" as Steve Young's timeless contribution to country and rock's often-visited crossroads.