The Kentucky Headhunters start their debut UK tour

A black and white picture of The Kentucky Headhunters standing in a line and smiling.
The Kentucky Headhunters: flying high (finally).

The Kentucky Headhunters make their live debut in the UK performing a handful of summer dates, including the prestigious Ramblin’ Man Fair in Maidstone, Kent on July 24. While the four-piece, formed by brothers, rhythm guitarist and vocalist Richard Young and drummer Fred Young in 1968 in Edmonton, Kentucky, play an average 100 shows a year, they’ve never been able to stray far from their native United States and neighbouring Canada due to Richard Young’s acute fear of flying.

“From when I first saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, I had this desire to come to England, and so when we got the band together, it was only natural we’d want to come over and play,” he tells The Blues. “But I’ve just never been able to get on that plane until now. Although,” he takes a deep breath, “it’s not going to be easy. I lie awake for two hours every night just thinking about how I’m going to do it. But it feels like the stars are aligned, the time is right for us.”

It was his son, John Fred Young, the drummer with hard rockers Black Stone Cherry, who persuaded him to overcome his phobia.

“Black Stone Cherry are joint headliners with Whitesnake at Ramblin’ Man and I couldn’t turn down the chance to play on the same bill as my son in the UK. Two generations of our family on stage together, that’s really special. And the UK, they understand the importance of history, of genealogy so much more than the Americans.”

The band, with line-up completed by vocalist and bassist Doug Phelps and lead guitarist Greg Martin, will primarily be promoting Meet Me In Bluesland, their 2003 collaboration with the late Johnnie Johnson, issued on Alligator in 2015.

“He lifted us up on to another level,” Young says of Chuck Berry’s pianist. “I mean he lifted everyone he played with… Chuck, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, there’s no denying that, and we were no exception. When he sat at the piano, he took you somewhere else, so he’s a big hole to fill up on stage. But it’s like he’s riding shotgun with us, I feel like if I just look over at any point, I’ll see his left hand pounding that piano.”

While the band have no plans to premiere new material live, they have been recording tracks for Bluesland’s follow up scheduled for autumn. “We had a studio booked and then our dad passed away, so we couldn’t go in. Then after the funeral my brother said, ‘We should record, it’s what dad would have wanted.’ There were only three days left and you know, we recorded our debut [1989’s Pickin’ On Nashville] in three days due to lack of money, we recorded Meet Me In Bluesland with Johnnie in three days and I’ll be darned, we made another album in those three days that were left. There’s one song, Got Them Old Deep South Blues Again, it cuts across the sky like a flaming jet. In fact the whole album does, it’s blazin’.”

The Kentucky Headhunters play at the Ramblin’ Man Fair in Maidstone, Kent on July 24.