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Richard Young (Kentucky Headhunters)


by Michael Buffalo Smith
September 2003

For the second part of our Kentucky Headhunters spotlight, we spoke with guitarist/vocalist Richard Young, another down to earth, fun loving, rocking and rolling feller from the hills of Kentucky. We spoke about Southern rock, country music,  Eddie Hinton and the great Albert King.

How’s it going buddy?

Aw man, great. Hey, I saw where Tommy Crain played on your new album. He’s great, man.The last time I saw Tommy, someone told me that he was playing with a band in Nashville. I was at that show and he got up onstage in a pair of painter’s overalls and just smoked the walls in that place. What a great day. I saw him play  The Yellow Hydrant in 1972 in Bowling Green Kentucky when they came through there. All the good bands would come through. In Louisville, we had a little place called Beggar’s Banquet and in Cincinnati it was called Reflections, and then they came on down to Bowling Green to the Yellow Hydrant,  and then of course Alex Cooley’s Electric Ballroom in Atlanta and Richard’s and two or three other good rooms down there. Then Diamond Jim’s Warehouse over in Birmingham. Then as quick as we got old enough to get our driver’s license we were playing in them. I didn’t even have my driver’s license and we went down and snuck in to the Exit Inn -before they screwed that place up, it was such a cool room. You walked down this long dark hallway to get into the room. We drove down there to see Albert King when we were all about 15 years old,  and none of us had a driver’s license. We were all determined that we would meet Albert King. And behind the building was the bus that was pictured on that Albert King album, and we beat on the door and his valet answered the door and said that Mr. King was not feeling well. Then Albert said, “Oh, let those boys come on up here and see me.”  So we did, and it changed my life. The first question out of the white kid’s mouth was, “How come black dudes play with so much feeling?” Just dumb stuff. He said, “Oh, son you got it all wrong,” and he started punching us in the chest and said “it all comes from right here.” He told us about jamming with Hendrix and just set us all on fire with it. Well, I got off  track,  but speaking of the Yellow Hydrant,  I heard Tommy Crain and Marshall Tucker, and Charlie Daniels and all of those bands there,  and their first albums were just coming out. All of that stuff was happening,  and shoot,  we saw all the bands play there. It isn’t even there today and it was just a little bitty bar, but it was the ultimate, funky, hippie hang out and it just wreaked of ganja. (laughs)

It was the place man, and I will never forget I went there one time and there was this guy named Reilly, and he was painting the Yellow Hydrant Sign outside of that place, and he was dressed just like Snidely Whiplash, and was  up on a ladder painting. Just one of those old funky hippies from 1967 or ‘68, that had not given it up in 1970. I lived for that stuff. My brother and I were speaking the other night and we realized how fortunate we are because we are from the sticks out here, I am joking, because I am proud of where we live and come from,  but we live in Southern Kentucky and as far as music back in the 1960s and 1970s, it was the sticks and you could not get out and get any good music. The only way we could get hold of any good records was to get them from Greg’s brother from Louisville or something. He would send us some NRBQ, Nazz records and Cream’s first album and all that stuff. A lot of hippie’s moved here and it just confused everyone from this area.  Where were you from?

I grew up in Spartanburg, South Carolina.

God, that’s a rocking town. Did you know all those cats that played down there?

I grew up knowing most of the Marshall Tucker guys, and in my twenties I  hung out with some of them. I knew Artimus Pyle, who was later with Skynyrd,  and I wrote a book about all of the musicians from Upstate South Carolina.

Sounds like we had lots of the same influences in music.

Yeah, no doubt. Before Marshall Tucker I got to see The Toy Factory. Toy Caldwell’s band and I have a poster from The Sitar Club in Spartanburg from 1970, with the Allman Bros. Band and the Toy Factory opened for them.

You have got to be kidding me? You and I are lots alike. We have this old farmhouse that my grandmother bought. She didn’t want anyone living in it, and she let us practice our music in it. I am sitting here right now looking at a Jimmy Hall and Wet Willie concert poster from Peaches Record Store.

Cool. Well, I started this magazine in tribute to that kind of  music. It is a labor of love for all those great Southern bands.

The first thing that I thought of was Crawdaddy, remember that magazine?

Definately a good one. And I loved Creem and Rock Scene. They all had a lot of eclectic things and that has been a large part of my inspiration for Gritz.

In the mid-seventies, we moved to Atlanta. There was a guy down there that was an accountant for Phil Walden and them. They had gone to college together down at University of Georgia in Athens. He decided that he wanted to get him a band, and would get Phil to sign them up. They scoured the country and found us playing at a dirt race track somewhere and then moved us to Atlanta. While we were down there, Tom Long who eventually worked for ASCAP in Nashville, was the guy that drove up here to see us and got it all together. While we were down there,  I will never forget this,  we went to town to the Electric Ballroom and there was this sign over there that said ‘Fox Theatre, two nights live, Lynryd Skynyrd.’ Tom asked us if we wanted to go over there and see it. Angel was playing at the Electric Ballroom. We said no, there would be more women at the Ballroom. (laughs) We could have been at that recording, (One More From The Road)  but we wanted to be around the women.

It was the weekend before or after that I was across the street at the Agora Ballroom seeing some of that new wave- either Elvis Costello or The Pretenders. I almost made that show myself.

It’s funny how our paths run so parallel. Then in 1977 we were down in Atlanta and we were living down there around Halloween and we heard about the plane crash and it put us into a funk. We thought, Southern Rock, it’s going to be a while before it recovers, man. We felt like we needed to load the bread truck and go home. How old are you, Michael?

I’m 46.

Yeah, well, I am 48 so we grew up at the same time period.

I remember going into some of these clubs to hear music at the age of 13. People thought I was 18, because I was a big kid.

Yeah, we went into the Exit/In to see Albert King.Then I saw Marshall Tucker and Freddie King play together and it was amazing. He broke into “Tore Down” and all I could think was, wow, let me just survive this.  This is the real deal. Seeing Freddie was like seeing a burning spear of all the stuff. It took my breath and I couldn’t think straight for a week or two.

Freddie King and Albert King, they are great, and B.B. King I love too, but he is more like me, in the respect that he is not a fast player, lots of white space. I love that. Albert and Freddie both smoke it. Wasn’t it Freddie that did “Hide Away?”

Oh yeah, it was. Freddie did that. One of our shared momentos is the album Born Under A Bad Sign, signed by Albert. My brother actually owns the album, but I claim it too.

Oh yeah, I’ve got that one but it is not signed.

Well, you know Albert couldn’t read and write and so it was very unusual when we stuck this album out to him, and he wrote “Albert King, Love You.” It meant so much to us, and I thought it was very cool. We got some great memorabilia over the years. We opened for Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels. Remember all of those great bands? I just talked with Jim McCarney the other day-remember Cactus?

Oh yeah.

I jammed with them last year. Johnny Banacheck that used to play drums with Mitch Ryder came to see us play in Detroit at the Hoedown, and he got up and played some wild stuff. He wanted us all to go to this club and see some of his buddies to jam. We didn’t know who it was so some of the guys went to get a shower and I went over there and it was Cactus, with some other guy singing. Carmine, Bogart and the whole bunch was there. Bob Seger and me got up and sang the blues all night and I had a  great time.

That’s one of the things that I learned this year from so many trips down to Muscle Shoals lately, that Jimmy Johnson and so many of these guys from there worked with Seger.

Sometimes ignorance is bliss. (laughs) Somehow or another on the Muscle Shoals thing, I knew about Jimmy and I knew about Dan Penn and Roger Hawkins, and Spooner but somehow or another Eddie Hinton eluded me. I don’t know how, because Eddie Hinton is Richard Young from Alabama and I am Eddie Hinton from Kentucky.

(laughs) That’s right. You even sound like him at times on that new album.

If somebody asks me to sing something twice the same way, they may as well shoot me because I can’t do it. Greg Martin is a musicologist. Greg Martin didn’t know who Eddie was until 1998 and I don’t feel as bad now, but I guess I was getting him mixed up with Eddie Kendricks or something, because he sounded so black. I was down at Bug Music and you know our publicist kind of had this turned around, saying we were having trouble dealing with going into the studio, but it was just that we were burned out from doing pick-up truck songs. I was burned out on the trucks and shucks thing. I said that we needed to get back because we had our following, we have our audience. Country radio is never going to play the Headhunters anymore anyway, so let’s not worry about it and just play the music that we know our fans will come and see. That’s where we got back to, and after a couple of more albums we will be back to where we belong. It’s going to be a journey.

It would be hard to beat that Soul album, what a great album.

Let me tell you about this Eddie Hinton thing. I went down to Bug Music and there is this little guy down there named Drew, and he has never had a song cut and has been there for 3-4 years. I had really been suffering. I was deer hunting all through November and December and trying to get out into the woods and trying to figure out my contribution to the game plan for the new album, see? I decided that I didn’t want to do the same old thing, and I was not wanting to tell everyone and have them feel like I was wigging out. I have been appreciative of all my success, but I have not ever been able to get to meet the people that we really wanted to meet, like the people you and I have been talking about. I got into the music business to meet John Lennon and he got killed before I could meet him. I wanted to meet Jimmy Page. God bless them, but I never set out to meet George Jones, even though I know him and we are pals. We are not into each others music necessarily. We don’t make any bones about it. This kid told me one day that he wanted to give me a copy of this song on this album, and he went and burned me a copy of this album called, Dear Ya’ll.  I don’t know how I had missed out on it, but that album did more to fire me up to do whatever it was that I brought to that band on this album than anything! I would not have been able to do it without Eddie Hinton. It was like his ghost was present.  It reinstated my faith that a white boy has got soul too. It just tore me up. Now, I might not be able to sing with the heart he’s got but I am sure gonna try.

Yeah, Eddie was great and it was sad that he died so young... Tell me about playing guitar in Kentucky Headhunters.

Greg Martin worries if he doesn’t have a Marshall amp you know, but it doesn’t matter if he is playing through a Silvertone, he still sounds like Greg Martin, you know. I think, what can I do to bring the same calibre of  playing to the band. Greg has got the lead thing covered. So I learned to do that Chuck thing and that is kind of my specialty. I play it on a ‘52 Tele. That is a special guitar that I have got. Danny Gatlin was on tour opening for us down in South Texas and he says you know I can make the guitar sound like the devil. He told me to leave it with him during sound check and go get my shower and when I came back that he would have it rocking. I came back and almost got mad because he had taken the toggle switch and bent it over like he does on his guitar. I will have to quit  playing if it ever tears up. It has some kind of sound, man, and I have a ‘63 here that I keep to practice and I took it out to rehearse. I run it through a ‘55 Tweed that I use at the studio and it just doesn’t have it like that ‘52 Tele does. Danny called me 30 minutes before he did himself in man. He called me several times and I would talk him out of it. Damn, I wasn’t home the last time. I was down at Mom and Daddy’s.

Tell me a little bit about Danny Gatton.

Well, him and Rory Buchanan were tortured guitarists and Roy was a white blues player and of course, you know his story. But Danny was born of the wrong generation. He should have been Scotty Moore - he should have been Elvis Presley’s guitar player. He was like a grease monkey, like Jeff Beck. He loved to work on cars and hot rods and that was his hobby. He looked like the average red neck car freak, but he would come up onstage and he would turn into this guitar demon. He would like drink a beer and then flip a bottle upside down and just burn slide that sounded meaner than Duane Allman. He was just a badass and that’s all I can tell you and he was one of my favorite guitar players.

I have seen or heard his name so many times.

Mitchell, our manager, managed him and Mitchell had some great ideas for him but never got to put them to use. The biggest problem with Danny as far as notoriety and people finding out who he was, was that he kind of did low profile country things with steel guitars and he and Pete Drake would get together and do albums and stuff. That was really cool, but if he had done a lick like when Stevie Ray Vaughn played on David Bowie’s album, a lick like that, it would have been over with. He was the calibre of guitar player that should have been in Electric Ladyland New York Studios recording. He was a psychedelic, low profile type and I don’t know how to explain it. 

Did you ever hear Steve Ferguson play guitar? He was the original guitar player with NRBQ, take what Steve does and make it like psychedelic as Hendrix. That was Danny. I never heard him on an album sound like he did when he was live man. My mouth would get dry it would hang open so long when I would hear him play.  Did I tell you who I saw the other night? I had not been to see Jimmy Hall play. He would have done a lot more on this album but he got there that day and had the flu and only did a couple of pieces on there. But I took my son who is 18, called Black Stone Cherry, watch out. They are the Stone Temple Pilots of the South. Watch out! They are like Cactus and Hydra.

Give me some of your thoughts on the Soul album?

It’s like if you are going to have a dream date, and sit down and figure out how your date is going to happen. We were able to choose because of our friendship with these people. All of our life we have known Jimmy Hall  and Johnny Johnson.  In 1993 we did an album and Nancy Jeffries at Elektra Records and Keith Richards had recommended us to do. They did one album, Keith Richards, Clapton, and NRBQ had done an album with Johnny. It was very successful and was critically acclaimed and so Nancy said we would do another one. Keith told them to ‘get the Headhunters guys.’ That was one of the highlights of our lives,  to do that Johnny Johnson album. Since we have done that I have to tell you something. With  Johnny Johnson, we did that album and I told them that he would turn us into something more than we are. Johnny Johnson has the ability to take a band and turn them into what he wants them to be. Even though he is the piano player you will be what he wants you to be. So Johnny came to the show in St. Louis and Doug had  never played on stage with him. I told him to just wait he would see what it was like. When he came onstage I looked at Doug and we broke into “Little Queenie,” and about two seconds into it Johnny grabbed the whole band and pulled us back two steps into this funk, and I looked at Doug and he looked like - what? (laughs)

That’s the  kind of thing that this album has on it is, the Headhunters are a great band but these people brought true grit to it. Jimmy Hall,  who we grew up watching ourselves, and Johnny Johnson, who I stole every left hand lick the man had on the guitar, and Jim Horn I have listened to all our life and we have heard  him on the Beach Boys albums, Beatles, Bangladesh - and he was in the middle of all that stuff. I used to say that if we were going to make this trek back in time, let’s get some of these guys that influenced us even to be there in the first place. Thank goodness for the Headhunter’s success because that has allowed us to call them up and get those people there. The album would not have been so soulful without their help. Robbie Bart is a great lady and is a girl from Louisville,and granted we could have gotten a lot of chick singers to sing on this thing, but she has been hanging around Louisville for 30 years and we thought it might be a good time to bring her into the fold and sing a duet and that made us feel good inside.

She did a good job.

Oh, hell yeah she did. I like Robbie, just a great singer, a lot like Etta James. You got to love her, man. For me that was the gist of things, that and finally you know, learning who Eddie Hinton was and I guess his ghost actually snapped me out of it and put me back to square one where I want to be. The band did not take a turn for the worse by any means, but now when people come to see us instead of us just hearing some  Freddie King live they will have a record to take home. You know what I’m saying. We have always hinted at the blues, and the rock and roll soul thing,  but now they can actually have a tangible record. Hopefully that we can make many more. I think between you and me we have just scratched the surface on things. I think that we have been so repressed to do what we really wanted to do, just finally getting back to our roots and we  have not really gotten back to them but we are headed that way. We have not gotten there yet. We did not know until two  weeks before we went in what we would do. We quit chasing country radio. God bless those songs. Every song can’t be “She Loves You.” If a band doesn’t grow and do something different it will die.

Even the early albums are eclectic in song choice, but this is the most moody album we have ever done,  being where the band wants to be musically. I hope that the people like it.

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