The Kentucky Headhunters are getting ready to embark on their first ever UK tour in July.
The band is very much Southern rock royalty, and despite the roots of The Kentucky Headhunters going all the way back to 1968, the band’s frontman, Richard Young, stayed grounded in the US due Richard Young’s fear of flying, that is until now.
Queue Young’s son, drummer John Fred of Black Stone Cherry, who told the Headhunters to puttheir money where their mouth is, and proceeded to reach out to Live Nation to route the band a tour through Europe starting at the prestigious Sweden Rock Festival.
National Rock Review recently caught up with Richard Young to talk about The Kentucky Headhunters latest album, Meet Me In Bluesland (featuring Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Johnnie Johnson), the British rock/blues bands that have influenced their sound, and their first impressions of playing in Europe.
NRR: After almost 50 years together as a band, how does it feel to be embarking on your first European tour?
Young: Fred (Headhunters’ drummer) and I lost our father this past April. It got me to thinking; Daddy was a very educated man, with many degrees. He had an interest in all things art and could talk about anything to people from all walks of life. He loved history, genealogy and everything about the USA and Europe, but he never travelled farther than 500 miles from home. I looked at the great opportunities I have had to see all the things he loved and had never taken advantage of them because of flying. So yes, we are coming to play our music and meet all the great folks out there, but we are also starting to make these trips for our Father. I’m sure his spirit will be travelling with us!
Coming to England and playing our music is something we’ve dreamed about since we saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964. We are very excited for this to finally happen! With the help of my son, John Fred Young (Black Stone Cherry’s drummer) and the rest of the Black Stone Cherry boys, it is becoming a reality. With their success over in Europe, the boys have always had questions about The Kentucky Headhunters. Naturally, we influenced them quite heavily and they were proud to tell the story in interviews.
More recently, the interest in the Heads was coming up more and more and the boys basically laid the law down. John Fred said “Dad, the jig is up. We are tired of sounding like the boy who cried wolf! We are gonna get you some shows and your butt is getting on that plane!” This, coupled with our desire to play for Europe and also going for our Father are some pretty strong reasons.
NRR: You played your first European show at Sweden Rock Festival a couple of weeks back, what was that experience like and did it live up to your expectations?
Young: Sweden Rock is a motherlode of a festival! Naturally, we have played many in the USA and Canada over the years, but I must say Sweden Rock is one of the most well-organized we’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of. Everyone who worked there went out of their way to make sure we had a good time and sounded great.
We were a little nervous, being our first time over, so we didn’t know whether the people would take to us. We were in the first set of bands to play on Thursday. Sweden Rocks has four stages going pretty much simultaneously and we were playing at the same time as some really popular groups over there.
When they opened the gates, around 8,000 folks came running to our stage like a herd of buffalo!! Once we saw the excitement of the crowd, it was on! We went out there and gave them everything we had and they’d give it right back. It was truly one of the most touching live moments in our career, to be all the way from home andknow they came to see us and loved our music.
NRR: Now that you’ve overcome your fear of flying, do you think that The Kentucky Headhunters will become regular visitors to the UK/Europe?
Young: Are you kidding?! We gotta keep coming over now! We’ve opened a whole new can of worms!!
NRR: Do you find that you still have the same hunger and motivation as you did back in ‘1968 when the band was founded as Itchy Brother. What inspires you and drives you on?
Young: Asfar as inspiration, your desires and expectations change as the years go by. Anyone you ask who has played for many years will tell you, you can never reclaim the feeling of the first few years when you’re getting started. You’re naive, still awkward with your instrument and all you do is listen to your favourite bands and dream of what it would be like to be them. This is the period when you’re learning and developing your own style.
We have been blessed, we got to relive that period of time watching Black Stone Cherry develop from kids in the practice house on our farm to becoming an international monster. I have been very fortunate to write songs with them on most of their albums and produce their debut album. This to me was like being a kid learning again. Nowadays I get my kicks watching them and also watching their children watch them play. What can I say… we’re lifers.
NRR: Having had such a long and successful career in the music industry, with the benefit of your experience would you go back and change anything if you could?
Young: As far as changing anything, there are things I have learned from making mistakes. This is what makes you wise and stronger. If I went back and changed all those mistakes, I wouldn’t have learned from them. It took us 20 years to land our first major record deal. You would think you’d know it all by then. Wrong again!
That’s when the oops hits the fan – moving from being an original rock band playing clubs into a national touring act was like landing on the moon. All new rules and terrain. You never stop learning in this business, it changes daily, that’s what makes it fun. Our father always said “When you’re green, you’re growing. When you’re ripe, you rot.”
NRR: You will be playing your first UK shows in July including a date at The Ramblin Man Fair. With the close family ties between The Kentucky Headhunters and Black Stone Cherry, how does it feel for you to be sharing the same stage at the festival?
Young: I was very much a part of the initial beginnings of Black Stone Cherry, helping them secure a record deal with Roadrunner, producing, writing, and setting strategy with their management, Indegoot and their label.
When the boys took off in Europe, I was kind of left behind because I didn’t fly and I had commitments of my own to the Heads. I couldn’t just drop everything and run off to Europe. It was a very trying time for me, not being able to go over, hang out, watch their backs and see them flourish. Playing with them is going to be double sweet. I finally get to see them headline Ramblin’ Man Fair and play the same stage. Watch out! You never know what will happen when the Heads and BSC are together. Folks in America have witnessed it many times, but it’ll be a new thing for the UK.
NRR: In light of your forthcoming UK tour which British blues/rock artists would you say have influenced or shaped your sound over the years?
Young: When we were kids, our dream was to be an English rock band! Of course, we all know that was impossible, because of geography. We were from Edmonton, Kentucky! But by training ourselves on English rock with our rural upbringing and sensibilities, it gave us a unique style.
We started out listening to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, then came bands like Free and John Mayall’s Blues band, Cream, and then Led Zeppelin just flipped us out.!! Changed our lives forever.
We finally got to see them in Kentucky in 1977. Our manager, Mitchell Fox worked for Led Zeppelin at Swansong Records in New York, but that’s another story for another day. We also learned a lot from Bad Company and Trapeze. All these bands were very instrumental in introducing us to the blues, which was always in our backyard. If you peel the apple to the core, you find the roots of our music..it’s the blues.
NRR: You worked with the legendary pianist Johnnie Johnson on your latest album Meet Me In Bluesland. What was it like working with Johnnie and how did that collaboration come about?
Young: You could write a short story on our relationship with Johnnie. He was one of our influences who became a bandmate and was like an uncle to us. We met in 1992 at the Grammy Awards and became friends for life. He had just released his 1st solo album, he recorded with Keith Richards, Eric Clapton and others, and he was nominated for Best Blues Album. We hung out all night and kept in touch after that.
In 1993, we were asked to write, record and produce his 2nd solo record which was titled ‘That’ll Work’. Ten years passed, we toured together often and Johnnie would come to the farm to visit.
In 2003 we were recording an album called Soul. We had Johnnie fly in to play piano on the Freddie King song, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.” Frances, his wife let us know Johnnie was not well and we should keep him in Kentucky, let him have some fun and most of all write and record some. In just three days, we wrote and recorded Meet Me In Bluesland>/em>.It stayed in our tape room until its release on 2nd June 2015 via Alligator Records. Unfortunately, we lost Johnnie in 2005, but his family got to enjoy the outcome of the album.
: What’s the one album in your record collection that you couldn’t live without?
Young: If I were on a desert island, I could make it if I had Jeff Lynne’s “Armchair Theatre,” “Layla,” and a Led Zep, Stones and Beatles album.
NRR: What else do you have in store for the rest of this year?
Young: Yes, we are in the studio mixing as we speak! Look for it in October of this year. It will be released in Europe. too. Gonna be a good ‘un!
Kentucky Headhunters UK Tour Dates:
Wed 20th Jul – LONDON Borderline
Thu 21st Jul – CHESTER The Live Rooms
Fri 22nd Jul – GATESHEAD Summertyne Americana Fest
Sat 23rd Jul – PENTRICH Rock & Blues Custom Show
Sun 24th Jul – MAIDSTONE – Ramblin’ Man Fair, Mote Park
Mon 25th Jul – BILSTON The Robin 2
Tue 26th Jul – KENDAL Bootleggers Bar
Wed 27th Jul – GLASGOW O2 ABC2
The Kentucky Headhunters
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