Behind the Song: The Eagles “Seven Bridges Road”

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“Seven Bridges Road”

Written by Steve Young

Of all the singer/songwriters associated with outlaw country, Georgia-born Steve Young may be the most overlooked and underappreciated. His songs, including the classic “Seven Bridges Road,” are marked by evocative imagery and deep-rooted emotion that work hand-in-hand to build quietly powerful narratives. As a vocalist, he possesses reserves of sensitivity and strength, while his outstanding guitar playing is delivered with true imagination. Once heard, Steve Young is impossible to forget.

Young has written many songs, but few have proven more enduring than “Seven Bridges Road”- it’s been covered by Dolly Parton, Eddy Arnold, Tracy Nelson and, perhaps most famously, the Eagles. Supposedly inspired by a rural thoroughfare in Alabama that leads from Georgiana to the Oakwood Annex Cemetery in Montgomery (final resting place of Hank Williams), the song weds an unforgettable melody with lyrics that are hauntingly specific:

“There are stars in the southern sky/Southward as you go.”

As Young continues, writing of “moonlight and moss in the trees” and “time-sweetened honey,” we feel as if we are traveling with him, journeying through a half-remembered time and space.  Observant listeners will note how he creates a distinct sense of movement within what is otherwise a very restrained piece, capturing not just the look of this lost place, but the feel as well: “Running like a child beneath warm stars.”  As a moving work of art, “Seven Bridges Road” radiates the kind of yearning, magical quality that has made Young a true embodiment of the oft-used description “songwriter’s songwriter.”

But for all its influence, this unique composition almost didn’t make it onto Young’s first album, Rock Salt and Nails (1969).  In a 1999 interview with music journalist Dave Dawson, Young admitted that his producer, Tommy LiPuma (no doubt aware of the performer’s earlier experience on the Greenwich Village coffeehouse circuit), had mostly wanted him to record a series of folk and country music covers.

“One day we ran out of songs to record in the studio…” said Young. “[Guitarist] James Burton and the bass player were there and everything was up and rolling, so I started performing ‘Seven Bridges Road’ because I didn’t have anything else to play… After it was recorded LiPuma, had to admit that, original or not, it was good.”

After this early career milestone, Young’s profile continued to rise once Waylon Jennings recorded another of his compositions, “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean,” in 1972.  The album of the same name was a commercial hit and has been regarded by many as one of Jennings’ greatest moments.  But despite recording a fine sequence of works in the 1970s for RCA and Mountain Railroad, Young has mostly been a stranger to any degree of mainstream success.  In the same interview with Dawson, he speculated upon the reasons for his lack of renown: “I’m always way in the background and it may just be something I unconsciously create. I’ve never set out to do a hit or even be successful.”

Still, he has continued making vital, compelling music.  In 2000, he released one of his strongest albums, Primal Young (Appleseed), which boasts elegant material such as “No Longer Will My Heart Be Truly Breaking.”  Here, supported by a gentle choir, Young’s vocals are pure and forceful (he has always displayed a gift for sustaining long notes), as they surge with the possibility of final release. “I don’t know how long it may be taking/but my deliverance is promised now.”

Hopefully, that won’t be happening any time soon.  Now in his mid-60s, Young is healthy. After years of drugging and drinking, he became a Buddhist and vegetarian during the late 1970s-and he’s long overdue for critical reassessment.  Newcomers to his distinctive sound would have no better place to start than the haunting and poetic “Seven Bridges Road.”

 

Definitive Version: The Eagles / Notables: Steve Young, The Swon Bros.

 

 

 

Comments

comments

7 COMMENTS

  1. CZECH SOFT ROCK BAND called ” TURBO” when they began ,played this EXCELENT SONG

    This song “catch my heart more than full . Pavel Les TŘEMOŠNÁ CLOSE PILSEN

  2. I’ve went to the place called seven bridges road with my mom. She explain that she grew up there in Greenville, Flordia where the seven bridges road is located. We have relatives that lived down the road from there. Of course, we know the song by the Eagles which we listen to one night that’s when my mom struck up the conversation about growing up there and swimming there in the late 1970s. So my mom, brother, husband and I went there to see for ourselves. We went but the bridges are rotted and not safe to walk on. There are people that lived down the road that baths there are kind of dangerous and heard things about them. So it wasn’t fun like I heard from my moms childhood days. We only got to see the first bridge and not the other six. The first was already rotted and looked dangerous to even cross. The place was ate up with black snakes so too dangerous and gators are in the waters. We saw and went. People that are down the road which are kind of dangerous follow us and kept an eye on us so uncomfrontable there. The song seemed awesome and wonderful then when they first wrote it but now it’s best to stick with the song 🙁

  3. I’m pretty sure the Seven Bridges Road Young was writing about is near Montgomery, AL — not Florida. But I wish I could find the lyrics somewhere ACCORDING TO YOUNG. One source includes the line “thyme-sweetened honey.” And don’t the Eagles sing “running like a child from these warm stars”?

  4. 1921 American Bee Journal noted the wonderful production of honey in Montgomery, AL, produced from white sweet clover and… THYME. It called Montgomery a ‘Paradise for Beekeepers’.

    That said… here’s a link to the song on Steve’s website, where it says ‘time’.
    http://www.steveyoung.net/extras/lyrics/7bridges.htm … BUT… with so many websites actually maintained by others… I wonder if ‘Thyme’ isn’t still correct!

  5. What a great contribution to my understanding of this powerfully evocative song. Thank you for sharing what, on its face, appears to not really even be about the road or the bridges. But then you realize that the song isn’t about the road or the bridges anyway. But the way you talk about the remembrance of your mother and of (almost) going there touches me in a strange way.

  6. The song was written about a relatively short section of Woodley Rd. in Montgomery Alabama, my home town. It does not run from Hank Williams ‘ grave to Georgiana as stated in this article and is most certainly not in Florida.

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