Headhunters Stick With Country-Rock They Pioneered

FRIDAY, SEPT. 22, 1995

Richard Young is proud of the changes the Kentucky HeadHunters brought to country music, but he doesn’t like everything he sees.

“I wouldn’t want the HeadHunters to take any credit for what’s going on now,” the guitarist said in a rambling interview from his parents home “down on the creek” in Wisdom, Ky.

The Kentucky HeadHunters will play the Opera House Sunday.

The HeadHunters blew the roof off an incipient roots-rock/country movement with their 1989 debut LP, “Pickin’ On Nashville.” The self-produced record introduced a level of rock ‘n’ roll energy to the country scene unmatched even by Hank Williams, Jr.

“Pickin’ On Nashville” won the HeadHunters Best New Group honors from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music, the Grammy Awards, the American Music Awards, the Billboard Music Video Awards, the National Association of Merchandisers and the AMOA Jukebox Awards.

It a wellspring that a few, iconoclastic artists already were in touch with.

“Right before the HeadHunters hit, we would never have gone to Nashville. For me and the rest of the band, we were watching things like k.d. lang, Lyle Lovett, Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle, especially. We were looking at this and saying, ‘You reckon maybe we could fit in?’

“When that ‘Pickin’ On Nashville’ came out, it was clear we did fit in. We was all ugly as hell, but we were talented and we brought something to Nashville.”

Now that country-rock is all the rage, people want to give the HeadHunters credit, but Young says not so fast.

“I know they don’t mean anything bad by it; they mean we got the young kids listening.”

Ironically, the trend that the band helped start now isolates them from country. The HeadHunters appealed to the boomer crowd, while the new “hat” acts attract an even younger demographic. Young says he can live with that.

“There’s room for everything. I can dig some of the bubble-gum country that’s going on; they to have that stuff to sell records to little girls.”

But it’s tough to get a rocking, guitar-slinging country band on the radio. “Maybe you didn’t know, but the HeadHunters haven’t put an album out for a year and a half. If we was to do an album right now, it would do us in.”

Young is confident the trend will fade, and then the time will be ripe for a new HeadHunters record.

“It’s nothing to me. The HeadHunters did OK. If we never did anything more, we’d be fine. But it’s the young bands that deserve a chance.”

Besides, there are other payoffs. Not long ago, the HeadHunters made a record with Johnny Johnson, the piano player who gave Chuck Berry his start.

Working with Johnson “was one of the greatest thrills of my life,” Young said and it brought an unexpected bonus: “Johnny played the piano at Keith Richards’ birthday party. Keith came and sat down and said, ‘So, how’s them HeadHunter boys?’

“That’s part of the payoff. That’s part of what makes it worth it.”

xxxx The Kentucky HeadHunters Location and time: Opera House, Sunday, 7 p.m. Tickets: $16

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