Danny Young, drummer, rubboard player, restaurateur, and community activist, was born on May 29, 1941, in Defiance, Ohio, to Roy and Margo Young. Known for his community action and friendly disposition, Young enjoyed all types of Texas music, including Tejano, western swing, country, Cajun, R&B, rock-and-roll, and polka.
Danny Young moved from Ohio to Kingsville, Texas, with his family when he was in the fifth grade to escape the harsh winters of the North. While a hard transition initially, Young grew to love Texas. His father, Roy, was an auto mechanic, while his mother, Margo, ran a root beer stand that later evolved into a pizza parlor and cafe. Once in high school, Young trained as a drummer. In 1959 he joined the Shades, a rock-and-roll cover band whose influences included Freddy Fender and the band the Traits. The Shades found success when they opened for Conway Twitty on his last rock-and-roll tour before he switched to performing country music.
After completing high school, Young joined the United States Coast Guard and left for Alaska, putting an end to the Shades. After returning from the Coast Guard, he advised other young men on how to avoid the draft. He also became active in the local civil rights movement. In 1975 he and his wife Lu, along with their two children, Scott and Holli, moved to Austin. Young studied philosophy briefly at the University of Texas before returning to the restaurant business.
In 1981 he opened the first Texicalli Grille on South Lamar Boulevard. Decorated from floor to ceiling in Austin music memorabilia, the restaurant became a popular gathering place for local musicians, artists, writers, politicians, and others who were a part of Austin’s burgeoning live music scene. Young introduced to Austin patrons the signature sandwich that he had perfected at the family restaurant in Kingsville. After experimenting for seven years, he had developed the popular Texicalli sandwich, inspired by Gene Autry’s hit song “Mexicalli Rose.”
In the mid-1980s, Young had been nicknamed the “Mayor of South Austin” after he took a leading role in helping resolve a dispute over plans to widen South Lamar Boulevard. When the city announced its plans to widen the road and put in a median, Young feared that the expansion would negatively impact the neighborhood. Working with other business owners, he gathered petitions in opposition to the construction and voiced the neighborhood’s concerns before City Hall. Eventually, the city dropped its plans to widen the thoroughfare. Because of his involvement in the Lamar Boulevard controversy, the Austin Chronicle awarded him a certificate declaring him “Best Mayor for the City of South Austin.”
In 1989 Young relocated to an abandoned Taco Bell restaurant on East Oltorf Drive in South Austin. The Texicalli Grille remained at this location for nearly two decades and continued to attract a loyal clientele made up of musicians, artists, and community activists.
In 2006 Young retired at the age of sixty-five and sold Texicalli Grille. He had long been famous for his gregarious personality. He knew most customers by name and often greeted them with a hug or handshake. His unofficial motto, “Just Be Nice,” was posted on a sign near the entrance to the Texicalli Grille. Because his presence was so much a part of the restaurant, Young continued to greet customers even after he was no longer the owner. However, in July 2007, the Texicalli Grille closed due to rising rent prices.
It was later in life, after his children were grown, that Young became interested in playing the rubboard, the musical instrument with which he became most closely identified. The rubboard is a modified version of a washboard worn over the chest and strummed with spoons or other metallic objects in order to create a percussive rhythm. After playing rubboard for several years with accordionist Ponty Bone, Young began sitting in with the Cornell Hurd Band in 1993 and appeared as a guest artist on the band’s second Texas CD, Live! At the Broken Spoke. Young continued to perform with both Ponty Bone and the Cornell Hurd Band for more than a decade. It took several years for Young to create what he considered to be the perfect rubboard. He tried several different combinations of copper and brass until he eventually found just the right sound. Young also worked diligently to find the ideal implement with which to strum the instrument. He tried whisks, spoons, and bottle caps before settling on a pair of leather gloves with mercury dimes glued to the fingertips.
On August 20, 2008, Danny Roy Young died of an abdominal aortic aneurysm at South Austin Hospital. He was sixty-seven years old. Young was survived by his wife Lu, son Scott, daughter Holli Hegefield, his mother Margo, and several granddaughters. Funeral services were held on August 26, 2008, at the First United Methodist Church in Austin. Fourteen hundred family members, friends, and fans attended the funeral. Organizers played recordings of the classic dance hall tune, “Waltz Across Texas,” and Ponty Bone and local musician Conni Hancock performed the gospel song “I’ll Fly Away.”