Payin' Dues: The Kentucky Headhunters

The excellent Meet Me In Bluesland is the result of a three-day recording session in 2003 with The Kentucky Headhunters and Johnnie Johnson. Johnson, who’d made his name playing piano with Chuck Berry, was fresh from guesting with The Rolling Stones at the Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas; The Kentucky Headhunters were firing on all cylinders. The album, which laid in the vaults until now, is an instant classic. “The minute Johnnie sat down with us, the music was a kind of ecstasy,” says guitarist/vocalist Richard Young.

Why did you decide to release the album now?

In 1992, we headed to the Grammys for a song nomination for the movie Dutch. Johnnie’s first solo album had come out and we listened to it on the trip to New York in our bus and we were mesmerised by it. When we went to the Grammys pre-party, Johnnie was there. We introduced ourselves and spent most of the time talking about his playing on his new album, the songs he did with Chuck Berry and Albert King. That one night spurred a friendship that lasted until he passed on April 13, 2005… 10 years ago./o:p

Your first collaboration was on 1993’s That’ll Work.

After Johnnie’s first album for Nonesuch came out, talks began about doing his second. Our name came up and when they called us and asked if we would like to produce, write and record the project, we said, ‘When?!’ We spent a week writing, then a week recording and mixing. After its release, Levon Helm told us The Band had just cut Shufflin’ Back To Memphis from That’ll Work, for their latest release, High On The Hog. When we took the record on the road and played New York’s Lonestar Roadhouse, the audience was full of Johnnie Johnson’s friends. Levon and Danko [Rick, The Band’s bassist] were dancing in the catwalk, Link Wray, a Rolling Stone or two and Doug Sahm were there too.

What made you want to do this?

With all the early exposure to music, it was pretty much a given from the beginning, but when The Beatles came over and played Ed Sullivan’s TV show in 1964, that set it in stone… you only work two hours a day and the girls scream and chase you… come on!/o:p

Meet Me In Bluesland is out now via Alligator./o:p