A band comprised of brothers, who were also fellow musicians, grew up with a rugged, country tradition and inspiration to reach for something greater. Their songs were their voice and they would go on to leave a hint of real grit in country music melodies that will last for generations to come.
The Kentucky Headhunters are back on the map and headed to a place called “Bluesland” and they want you to meet them there. They have put together a ten song CD that was recorded back in 2003 with the legendary Johnnie Johnson, who is the King of Blues piano and much of the fire behind Chuck Berry’s sound all through Berry’s career.
They bring together one of the strongest links to ‘real’ blues and country rock creating almost a culture in the true sense of music. This is a look at The Kentucky Headhunters and Johnnie Johnson together on the new CD release “Meet me in Bluesland.”
The friendship between The Kentucky Headhunters and Johnnie Johnson began more than two decades ago and since that time they have created two albums together. “Greg and I bought Johnnie Johnson’s third solo album, ‘Johnnie B. Bad,’ where he was backed by Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and NRBQ and we listened to it all the way to NewYork,” explains Richard Young. “We were on our way to the Grammys where we had been nominated for the song, ‘Only Daddy That’ll Walk The Line,’ which had been used in the movie ‘Dutch’. We walked into the pre-party and there sat Johnnie Johnson at a table by himself. We hung out with him the rest of the night.”
“I suppose everyone noticed how we hit it off with Johnnie, so we received a call asking if we would like to do an album with him. We were like ‘when do we start.'”
Young explained, “Johnnie Johnson came to our old farm in Kentucky, our ole practice house…Johnnie walked in and said ‘This is how it is, I’ve played enough country music with Chuck Berry. I want to play some blues and jazz.’ We had already been clued in so we had been schooling ourselves, so we had our guns loaded, but we weren’t ready for him to say something like that. He said, ‘I’m gonna play one song with you guys and if I like it we’ll work together and if I don’t I’m gonna get back on the plane.’ So we played ‘Little Queenie.’ He stood up and said ‘OK I’m in the Headhunters.'”
That first album with Johnson, ” That’ll Work,” was released on Elektra/Nonesuch Records and went on to do well. Ten years passed and the Headhunters and Johnnie Johnson remained friends. In 2003, the Headhunters were working on a solo album and they asked Johnnie to sing a song on that album. “He flew in to help us out. Of course he was tickled to death to be coming, he loved us. Johnnie said every time he was around us something good happened.”
Young said, “Johnnie’s wife, Frances, called and said ‘why don’t y’all just keep him down there two or three days and let him enjoy himself?’ We decided to put our solo album on hold [for those few days] so we could record another album with Johnnie while we had him here. We didn’t have any songs, we were not ready, but we dug in and wrote seven songs and pulled three from the previous album. We wrote and recorded the whole album in just three days, it was great,” Young fondly recalled.
The Kentucky Headhunters went ahead and finished their solo album at that time and released it – and so the album they’d recorded with Johnson got put on the shelf for a while. Johnnie Johnson passed away in 2005 and the Headhunters decided they didn’t want to cash in because they had too much respect for Johnson than to handle the album that way. Fred Young expressed, “We decided we would put the album out when Frances says put the album out.”
Frances Johnson remained friends with the Headhunters even after her husband’s passing in 2005. She called the Headhunters last October (2014) asking them to put the album out while she could still enjoy it.
Greg Martin adds, “We were looking at getting Eric Clapton and Keith Richards to come in and play on the album but it was such a time sensitive thing and they were already working on projects, so we decided to go ahead and put it out. Clapton really wanted to do it but it was time and we feel we did the right thing.”
Doug Phelps continues: “You’re really gonna enjoy this album. Johnnie set the groove and he always pulled you back just a little and you would settle in to the groove. Make no mistake, when he sat down with a band it became his band. It was an honor to record this album with Johnnie.”
Now you know what we’re listening to here at S&E Nashville. Why not check it out for yourself?
The album is called “Meet me in Bluesland” and has a great raw blues sound. This was the last recording Johnnie Johnson sang on and is sure to be a great success. The Kentucky Headhunters’ career has spanned several decades and this album is a great reminder of why we love them.
Johnson and the Headhunters have given so much to the culture of American music, whether it’s country, rock, blues, or jazz, they have the heart of it covered. If you would like to check out this great album visit the Kentucky Headhunters’ website or find them on Facebook and Twitter.