Kentucky Headhunters frontman Richard Young has recalled their early image struggle after being labelled a country music band.
And he’s told how veteran pianist Johnnie Johnson decided to work with them in 2003 after playing just one song.
Pickin’ on Nashville, the band’s 1989 debut, injected southern rock and blues into country radio, and went on to sell more than two million copies – but the exposure did them few favours long-term.
Young tells PostCrescent: “”I look back now and think how ridiculous it sounded to hear the Headhunters on country radio. It didn’t make a lot of sense, it was so different. It sounded like a band from the 70s doing southern rock.”
The band’s most recent release, Meet Me In Bluesland, was recorded with Chuck Berry sideman Johnson in 2003, but only released last month.
Young says: “It was surreal, man. Johnnie walked up and said, ‘I hear you boys made it in the country and western business. I’ve been playing country and western with Chuck Berry all my life. I want to make a blues-jazz album.’”
Johnson told them he’d play one song and that would decide whether he’d stick around. He chose Berry classic Little Queenie – which the band had been playing for years.
“We killed it,” Young recalls. “Johnnie stood up, lit a cigar and said, ‘Okay, I’m in the Headhunters.’”