It seems that The Kentucky Headhunters always have something cooking on the musical stove. On Safari, their latest disc, will be released November 4. However, the band’s Richard Young says the music has been simmering for some time.
“We were actually in the process of writing what would become the album two years ago,” Young told CMChat. “Then, Johnny Johnson’s wife had called, and we had cut an album 12 years before, and she wanted to get the record out. So, we put it out (Meet Me In Bluesland), and it did great.”
For the new album, Young said they wanted to revisit their Southern Rock roots.
“We wanted to go with a little more of a Southern Rock feel for this record, and get back to who we really are, at the core of our music. This past April, we set a goal of getting back to the practice house, and take the cassettes we made, listen to them, and see what we wanted to do. Then, Daddy got sick and we lost him,” he said.
With fate throwing a wrench into the band’s plans, time was running out to finish the album on time. “We had booked the studio two weeks after we were going to rehearse. So, as it turned out, we only had three days. We were all moping around, and Fred said ‘Let’s just go in with the time we had left, and see what we come up with,” he explained. “We got to the studio, and had a handful of cassette tapes, and a cassette player. We would listen to what we had done, and had forgotten some of the stuff we did. We’d listen to it a couple of times, and then we’d cut it. It was all cut live – we might have overdubbed a vocal here or there – but there’s just a few. It just seemed like there was a higher power.”
Guitarist Greg Martin said that it did indeed seem like someone was looking out for the band – on both a vocal and instrumental level. “A lot of times when you do albums, you might leave a spot for a solo, and then go back and do it. But, we did all the solos live.”
One of the highlights from the disc is “Beaver Creek Mansion,” a song that already holds a place in The Kentucky Headhunters history – but it seemed like the perfect time to come back with it. “That song is obviously about the farm, and mom and dad. Greg is always great about putting music together for things like that, so he pulled that song and made a CD of it. Sam Bush had cut it. Mark Orr, who sang it, was with us in the mid-90s. Greg remembered it, made a copy, and we had played it at Daddy’s funeral.”
Young said it just fit with the music they were cutting for the new disc. “It was great that we finally got to do something with it, especially with Daddy. We all simultaneously agreed that it needed to be the first cut on the record.”
One of the tracks that Martin enjoyed cutting was “Governor’s Cup,” of which he said “That was a melody I’d been working on for a while. We loved Merle Travis and Chet Atkins, and the finger pickin’ thing. It comes naturally, as we’re from that neck of the woods. That melody had been sitting around for years, and we played with it when we did Dixie Lullabies. But, we got to the end of the sessions for On Safari, and we only had about 10 minutes. We knocked it out. Then, Richard does that spaghetti western melody, and it just worked.
The band’s longtime Country fans might be attracted to “God Loves A Rolling Stone,” a song that Richard had a typically unique way of describing. “I think that’s probably the most ‘country-uncountry’ song we’ve ever done. I don’t think that anybody would have done a song like that, and put a B-3 on it. We come from a rock background, so that’s as country as we can get. It’s a song that you can sing on a church bus or in a bar. It fits both ways. I had actually written that for Waylon Jennings when I was writing for Acuff-Rose, but I never played it for him. I chickened out. It wasn’t right yet – not until everyone put their own stamp on it.”
And, just like their Pickin’ On Nashville album made a hero out of Dumas Walker, On Safari features the story of another colorful figure from the band’s past – “Crazy Jim.” Young picks up the story.
“When I was a kid, we would be at a music store in Glasgow. He’d come in with a big sack, and he’d have a lot of rocks. He would hand them out to people in the store, and tell them ‘This will make you rich.’ A lot of the people were taken aback by it, and some would congregate after he left, and have a big laugh about it. That bothered me, because I thought that wasn’t what he meant – maybe he was talking about believe in this spiritually, and life could be rich. I knew I wanted to write a song about it, and finally, about two years ago – it hit me. I wanted it to come across that this guy could be an angel, and that’s who he is.”
After playing with each other – in one incarnation or another for five decades – the band continues to tour and record. Young says that music is simply their way of life. “We love each other, and we love music. We threw away our set list years ago. We’re just like a bunch of rats. There’s nothing complacent about this band, and the last thing that was, we got rid of years ago. That was a set list. There’s not a lot of bands still playing together anymore – especially like us, getting together when we were young, and still playing 48 years later.”