Richard Young Interview
(The Kentucky Head Hunters)
When it comes to influences, few bands have had as profound an impact on the
music of the 1990’s as The Kentucky Head Hunters. They turned the music
world upside down with “Pickin’ On Nashville”, a record so
visionary, it became the model for the country boom of the 1990’s.
Guitarist/Vocalist Richard Young spoke with us about the history of the group.
Q – Was “Davy Crockett” the break-through
period for The Kentucky Head Hunters?
A – No. Actually, that was the mud-slinging period. We had an album before
that, that sold over 2 million records. It was a terrific album. I really thought
it was good. It was right for the times. That first album came out and of course
everybody was raving we were changing the music scene, pushing the envelope
and all this stuff and we’d be good for country music. We were in Indianapolis
at Farm Aid and my brother and I were on the elevator with Lou Reed and Iggy
Pop. Of course, they were performers at Farm Aid. My brother looked at me and
said, “We’ve got to record Davy Crockett for our second album”.
Immediately it was like a yes, we must. We all had kids at the time who were
Ninja Turtle age. I would watch my kid watching the Ninja Turtle stuff, and
they were actually becoming heroes of theirs. I was thinking when we grew up,
we had Fess Parker and John Wayne, a real strong model. I felt it would be
neat if we could expose kids today to Davy Crockett again. So, we went into
the studio and cut it quite differently than the original Disney version. We
felt it had to be modernized to suit our music. Nashville totally went berserk
when it came out. They thought that we had poked fun at rural people by doing
that. It was quite the opposite. We wanted people to be proud and wake up to
their past a little bit. I guess some people don’t want to be reminded
of where they came from. I think the most important thing in life is not to
forget that. They took offense. So, when that second album came out, from then
on it was like a political fight for The Head Hunters to survive. And, it has
been and probably always will be. You gotta understand. I think we were quite
different than anything else. We weren’t a Country Band. We were a Southern
rock band. It was a time in Nashville when things were dead. Nothing was going
on. Nashville needed something badly. They let us slide in under the fence.
We had kind of that Credence Clearwater Revival (sound) and we were rural people.
Q – And, you were wearing your hair long, which at the
time, no one else was doing in country music, singing about Davy Crockett.
You looked and sounded weird to a lot of people.
A – It was just different, wasn’t it? (Laughs).
Q – Yes it was. Now, after “Davy Crockett” hit,
you had some personnel changes in the group. Does that mean success went
to the heads of some of the guys in the group?
A – No. You know, I could say that, but, I don’t think it was that
as much as the band that had been praised from ’89 through ’90
and getting all these awards and all of a sudden became like a political enemy
of Nashville. That was really hard for us to accept because we never had any
intention of something that rocked the boat. I always wanted to be in a band
that made a difference in the music scene. But, we wouldn’t have made
as big of a difference had we been in a rock ‘n’ roll band. We
would’ve just been ordinary, maybe. By the way, one of those boys is
back in the band. He got smart and came back in ’96. We got a lot of
criticism in ’91 and early ’92. I think, in all honesty, those
two guys jumped ship because they couldn’t take the pressure. To me,
it was welcome pressure. It’s much better to be talked about in a bad
way than not to be talked about at all. I liked the fact that we stirred things
up. Being in a band is not for everybody. It’s kind of like being married.
Some people do a better job at that than others. You have several distinct
personalities and yet nobody is gonna get up out of the right side of the bed
everyday. And so, you gotta deal with all that stuff. I guess it was easier
for Fred, Greg and I because we had been together with our cousin Anthony who
played bass with us for 20 years before the Head Hunters ever hit, just playing
bars off and on.
Q – You were The Beach Boys of Country music.
A – Yeah, with 2 brothers and there were 2 other sets of brothers and
a cousin. It was all a family thing. When these guys did leave, it was very
upsetting. It would be like Brian Wilson leaving The Beach Boys. Although I
don’t think they were that important to the cause or we wouldn’t
have been able to survive. (Laughs).
Q – Who were your influences?
A – Naturally, Elvis Presley. Then, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones,
Led Zeppelin. We listened to a lot of weird groups too, like Moby Grape, and
Buffalo Springfield. Man, we just sucked up everything. We were like sponges.
We listened to jazz. We listened to blues. We were big blues fanatics early
on. We listened to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson.
I mean good God, we watched Lawrence Welk. So, it wasn’t any one type
of music. But, it definitely had a rock ‘n’ roll base. I think
what gave it the Southern rock flavor was probably our rules of sensibility
and our upbringing. I didn’t know how to sing about 444 Madison Avenue.
(Laughs). We were more concerned with the gravel road.
Q – How long did you struggle before Mercury Records
A – We actually had been together since 1968, some of us. About ’72, ’73,
we went out playing bars. About ’76, we started looking for record deals.
So, probably about 15 years of playing bars. But, we weren’t as religious
about it as some other bands were. We would play 2 or 3 weeks out on the road,
different towns like Birmingham, Atlanta, maybe Indianapolis and then we’d
get hungry and come home and let mama fatten us up again. Then, we’d
take another stab at it.
Q – So, you were working full-time in the band then?
A – Pretty much. That’s about all we had going on. We farmed too.
We’d hit the bars on the weekend.
Q – Did you ever meet up with some of the guys from
say Lynyrd Skynyrd or The Allman Bros. during that time?
A – Yeah. We were playing places like Diamond Jim’s Warehouse in
Birmingham. Dickey Betts of The Allman Bros. would come around with the band.
Or, The Yellow Hydrant in Kentucky. We were playing there and you’d run
into Charlie Daniels. Those guys would be loading out and we’d be loading
in. Up in Vincennes, Indiana there was a place called The Pier Three Twelve.
We were loading in one time and this other band was loading out. John Mellencamp
was the lead singer of that band. I remember loading in one time at Diamond
Jim’s and there was a group called Blackjack. The singer’s name-----Michael
Bolton. Naturally we all grew up playing bars, so we’d all end up running
into each other. I remember the guys in The Georgia Satellites. A couple of ‘em
used to come into C.W. Shawls in Atlanta. We were playing there. We didn’t
really all know each other, or hang-out, but, you’d meet in passing like
setting up in the bars. Boy, what a magical time-----the early ‘70’s.
It was a great time to be in music.
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