Kentucky Headhunters: “Black Stone Cherry told us to put up or shut up”

Cult southern rock band Kentucky Headhunters
The Kentucky Headhunters: playing their debut UK tour

They’re not as famous as southern rock’s big guns Lynyrd Skynyrd, but the Kentucky Headhunters have built up a cult following over the 48-year-career. In recent years, their profile has skyrocketed thanks to their connection with band-of-the-moment Black Stone Cherry – Headhunters guitarist Richard Young and drummer Fred Young are the father and uncle of BSC’s windmill-armed drummer John Fred.

The Headhunters kick off their very first UK tour on July 8 – and they even play on the same bill as Black Stone Cherry at the Ramblin’ Man Fair on July 24. Richard Young explains why it’s taken them so bleedin’ long to get across the Atlantic…

Why has it taken the Headhunters more than twenty-five years to get here?

I’m terrified of flying. I haven’t been on a plane for thirty-seven years. We were coming to Europe in 1990 to support Dire Straits, until the Iraq War. I hate to admit, I was relieved. But my son John Fred [Black Stone Cherry drummer] insisted: “It’s time to put up or shut up.” When we were confirmed for Sweden Rock I broke out in hives.

Besides some club gigs in the UK, you support Black Stone Cherry at the Ramblin’ Man Fair. Do you envy their headline status?

Naaaaw. We love playing with ‘the kids’, as we call them. We learned a long time ago that it’s not about who’s the biggest or the loudest, it’s how you build a show.

It’s going to be a great match.

It sure is. And we’re extremely proud of their achievements. You get grey-haired guys in BB King T-shirts standing next to youngsters in BSC shirts, all together.

Kentucky Headhunters’ style has been called ‘heavy metal bluegrass’. How would you define it?

That’s a tough one. When our first album came out in the country music scene [in 1989], we figured out we’d better get some other genres of people liking this band. Bikers enjoy us, so it’s great to also be doing the Rock & Blues Custom Show.

What do you think you’ve taught John Fred, and what have you learned from him?

We turned those boys on to Rory Gallagher, Trapeze, Cactus, Free and of course the Rolling Stones… The list is endless. What he’s made me realise is that maybe you’re never too old for a leap of faith [laughs].