Richard Young of The Kentucky Headhunters has always marched to his own musical drumbeat all the way back to 1989’s Pickin’ On Nashville, the album that launched the career of the southern-rock group.
The disc, which won the CMA Awards’ album of the year and spawned four Top 40 hits on Billboard’s Country Songs chart, including “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine” and “Dumas Walker,” also furthered Young’s belief that being yourself is more critical in building a career than a simple sales tally.
Through the years, Young has followed his own path, continuing to release rollicking Kentucky Headhunter projects, while working closely with Black Stone Cherry, the rock group led by his son, John Fred, and even producing an album for The Georgia Thunderbirds, a band that often opens for Black Stone Cherry.
This Friday (Jan. 11), the Kentucky Headhunters release Live At The Ramblin’ Man Fair on Alligator Records, a recording that captures their first ever European show, taped in front of 25,000 fans at the Ramblin’ Man Fair in 2016 in Maidstone, U.K.
The Ramblin’ Man Fair took a track from each act who appeared at the festival for a compilation album, the sale of which benefited Nordoff Robbins, a U.K.-based charity that helps children with developmental disabilities through music therapy.
“I wondered if they recorded (our) other tracks, as well,” says Young. “So, I called up the Ramblin’ Man people and they had,” Young says, “I said, ‘Let me ask you, how would you guys feel about us releasing a couple of the tracks on a disc here in the States?’ They were instantly excited about that opportunity, as it would give them the most exposure.”
Young then called Alligator Records head Bruce Iglauer, who had released the band’s 2015 album, Take Me to Bluesland, originally recorded in 2003 with Chuck Berry’s pianist Johnnie Johnson. “I sent it to Alligator, and they dug it,” Young says. “Bruce said ‘Well, Richard, we’ll put it out, but you know it’s really hard to get radio play on live music…Why don’t you guys go into the studio and cut us a blues rock album.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’”
Instead, to supplement the eight-song live set, which includes the Pickin’ On Nashville album fave, “My Daddy Was A Milkman”— Young found three songs left over from the Meet Me in Bluesland sessions.
“We went into the studio and mixed a version of ‘Rock Me Baby,’ and ‘High Heeled Sneakers,’ an old Tommy Tucker song, and then ‘Rock ‘N’ Roller,’which, believe it or not, was the first song that Itchy Brother [a band that Richard and Fred Young were part of before the Headhunters] ever recorded as a rock band in 1970.”
With the Ramblin’ Man Festival in the books, other international opportunities for the Headhunters began to take shape while the band was abroad, with John Fred convincing the band to also play a gig at the Sweden Rock Festival in Solvesborg in June 2016. “I said, ‘Now, wait a minute, I didn’t say anything about Sweden. I said I’d come to England, you know,’” Young says.
However, any fears Young might have had turned out to be for naught, as the Swedish introduction to the Headhunters turned out to be a pleasant one. “For three months I had the cold sweats worrying about getting on an airplane, and all this. I finally just had to suck it up and go over there,” Young said of his long-standing aversion to flying.
Young says that once he and his family made it to Sweden, it was the experience of a lifetime. “It is such a beautiful place. We were very fortunate because the day we played was the day Queen was headlining, so we got to hang out with all of our heroes that we’d grown up listening to, and really felt we were in our niche. It was like a cruise ship out in the woods,” he said with a laugh.
Given how well it went the first time, not surprisingly, the Kentucky Headhunters now have another European tour in the works, as well as U.S. dates booked through August.
Stream Live At The Ramblin’ Man Fair below.