Local guitar teacher and drummer Alphonso Young on being in a band for twenty years, and performing at the Kennedy Center


Alphonso Young during a performance of “Christmas is coming” from the “A Charlie Brown Christmas” soundtrack, with the Eric Byrd Trio. He has been performing with them for over twenty years. Photo courtesy of Alphonso Young.

Students who went to Simpson Middle School will likely remember Alphonso Young, and the nicknames that he gave to students. Young is a guitar teacher at Simpson and Smart’s Mill Middle Schools, and a jazz percussion professor at Shenandoah University and Gettysburg College. On top of that he is touring with his band, the Eric Byrd Trio. 

“I don’t sleep,” Young said.

Young began his Jazz career freelancing, playing with different acts, until he joined the Eric Byrd trio as their drummer in 2001, and they began touring that same year. During their first tour, they left the United States on September 9, two days before 9/11. “It was crazy,” Young said. “We got over there and the world blew up and…it was insane, but that kind of brought us together.”

The name for the trio comes from founder Eric Byrd, because “he does most of the work,” according to Young.

Byrd was looking for two musicians who were similar musically, and Young became one of them. “It worked with us, we were about the same age,” Young said. “It was a dream.”

Performing live before recording helps the band “keep that sense of real in the music,” Young said. “We don’t want to be a studio band.” He added. “…when you’re with one core group, it allows you to really kind of develop a sound.”

Young prefers the live atmosphere to that of a studio. “What we do is we usually go out on tour first so that the music has a chance to develop, and then when we get off our tour, that’s when we go into the studio, so we kind of do it a little bit backwards. I think it allows the music to kind of go through those changes,” Young said.

Pre-pandemic, Young was performing roughly 120 shows a year with the trio. “We used to play gigs for like, nothing…just to play. You know, fifty dollar gigs…just to have opportunities to play, and we stuck it out, we paid our dues and now we don’t play for fifty dollars anymore!” Young said, laughing.

Young wants to be thought of as a drum player. “I could say that I play guitar, I could say that piano, you know, but it’s nothing in comparison to what I can do behind a set of drums,” he said.

Some of his favorite drummers are Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Brian Blade, Neil Peart, and John Bonham. His favorite albums are “Kind of blue” by Miles Davis and “Off the wall” by Michael Jackson. “Off the wall” was Young’s template for learning how to play drums as a kid, as well as “Brick house” by the Commodores and “YYZ” by Rush. As he discussed drumming, he tapped his fingers to demonstrate the rhythms.

One of the things students of Young will remember is the nicknames he gives some of his students. Some of his favorites are “Big Red” and “Father Time.” 

“Guitar players are kind of unique in the music world…we have unique personalities, you know, and all my classes have always been sort of like a family, a family type of thing, so you get to know everybody, and you know things that they do, and you know some of the quirks and things, and so that’s how it happened.” Young said.

Young picks his nicknames at random. “I never you know, preconceive it, it just kind of comes out of nowhere.”

The idea to cover “A Charlie Brown Christmas” came from Sandy Oxx, of the Carroll County Choir. “I thought it was the dumbest idea ever. I was like ‘this is ridiculous. I’m not doing this. I’m not going to sit here and play ‘A Charlie Brown Christmas.’’…I hated it.”

But Oxx had booked three shows, and all sold out. “Afterwards, we’re like ‘this actually works!’” Young said.

“We get tired of it, sometimes, you know, after like, the thirtieth show! But you know, it’s fun, it’s always fun and it’s always packed. I mean, it’s just sold out shows every just about every single time, everywhere we go…we’re literally booked from Thanksgiving weekend all the way up until Christmas Eve,” he added. “It’s great.” 

Even though the work is written by someone else, Young still finds a way to put his own spin on it. “It’s a great format for what we do. You know, we improvise in the music…the formats already set. We just kind of put our own spin on a body of music that was created by Vince Guaraldi, like, years ago.” 

Young said his shows have become a tradition for many families during the holiday season.

“It takes me back to when I was a kid, like in my garage…I had like this little piece of trash drum set, and this little turntable…but it would immediately take me back there, because that was the happiest time. When I go back there, it’s like you, you get…rejuvenated…so this is why I’m doing this, because…it was fun,” Young said.