The band members of the Kentucky Headhunters never have been about conformity. From their uniform of faded jeans and T-shirts to their unapologetic and steadfast loyalty for their Kentucky homes, the members have made originality work for them.
Once again, for the band's eighth album, the Headhunters have ventured far from norm to release "Soul" on Audium Records.
As the title of the project implies, the new music comes from the core of the band members' influences and personal tastes, which results in 11 songs influenced by British-tinged rock, Southern rock, blues from the depths of Memphis and Muscle Shoals, Ala., and rockabilly.
"I just could not see the band going to make another record about pick-up trucks and corn shucks," said Richard Young recently from his Kentucky home. "There's only so many songs you can write about being on the farm and in the country. Even though you live it, there's only so many ways to tell it."
Singing unabashedly about their country heritage and lifestyle has been good for the Headhunters, which includes sibling band mates Richard and Fred K. Young, and their cousins Anthony Kenney and Greg Martin, and friend, Doug Phelps.
Though they had been together since 1968 -- first as blues-rock band Itchy Brother and becoming, in the mid-1980s, the Kentucky Headhunters in its current formation -- success eluded the band until Mercury Records signed the musicians in 1985. The first release, "Pickin' On Nashville" sold more than 2 million copies and won the group awards from the Country Music Association, the Academy of Country Music and the Recording Academy.
Suddenly, after 20 years, the Kentucky Headhunters band was an overnight success.
The second album for Mercury, "Electric Barnyard," sold more than 500,000 copies, earning gold status.
Subsequent records tended to mix it up a little more, bringing in personal friends, such as legendary piano player Johnnie Johnson, who has played with such superstars as the Rolling Stones, to infuse the Headhunters music. And while the music was released and marketed from a Nashville label, fans and industry types alike recognized that they do things differently in Kentucky.
So when time came for a new Headhunters record, the band decided to go for it.
"We've reached the point our career, we're going to have fun in everything," Young said. "We have an audience and a following and they will always be there and we'll make the music we want to make for them ... I know our fans dig it and understand it.
"For awhile, we've catered to country radio, which was a big part of our career in the beginning," Young said. "In the back of your mind, we've got to try to make this work for everybody concerned. I'm sure people think it's not on the Headhunters' mind, but it is. ... You get responsibilities. You've got people working for you, you have to put on yourself to deliver something that will kind of work. We got into that mode.
"But now the music scene has changed so much in Nashville, we've been given a free ride to do what we want to do. It's like a moth," Young said of the previous work. "It's time to be a butterfly. We're going to be what feels the best to us."
The result is indeed a soulful collection of music from the undeniable down and dirty blues of "Have You Ever Loved A Woman," the British overtones of "That's Alright" (think David Bowie!) to the obvious nod to the rockbilly king on "Last Night I Met Carl Perkins," which is based on a true story.
In 1993, when the band recorded "Dixie Fried," they invited Perkins to appear in the video for the song, which he did.
"Anthony was so overwhelmed, he had to write this song about Carl Perkins," Young said about his bandmate meeting Perkins. "Anthony wrote that song the night after we did the video. ... If Carl had been alive, he'd been on the album."
Never a band to let death stand in its way, the musicians found a way to list Perkins as "bandleader" in the song credits on the CD.
"If you listen really closely, you hear 'Go Cat Go' (at the end of 'Last Night I Met Carl Perkins')," Young said.
They found the recording on "Honey Don't," which was a tune the Beatles cut. When they called Stan Perkins, Carl's son, and asked if they could use Perkins' voice, he said, "Go for it," Young recalled.
Perkins joins a host of other legendary musicians, the rest alive, on "Soul."
The 73-year-old Johnson returned as pianist for the recording, along with Grammy-nominated Jimmy Hall (Jeff Beck) on saxophone. Reese Wynans (B3 Hammond organist for Dickie Betts Band) and legendary saxophonist Jim Horn rounded out the special guests.
The Headhunters even invited a local celebrity, popular Kentucky vocalist Robbie Bartlett, to sing on "Everyday People," the first single from the album.