A FEW MINUTES WITH… John Fred Young of Black Stone Cherry
By Don Wilcock
Warning: This article contains sarcasm and may be too intense for some readers, small children and small-minded adults.
OK, for all you fidgety mouse clickers out there with ADHT who can’t or won’t go past the first sentence of this article, let me state up front, if you haven’t bought a ticket for Thursday’s Gov’t Mule concert at the Palace Theatre, do it right now. I’ll wait…
I know, I know, nobody has to tell you that Warren Haynes is as close to a guitar God for people “in the know” as anybody since Jerry died. He’s like Clark Kent with a closet full of super hero costumes. “Let’s see. Am I Duane Allman today? Am I trying to cut Bob Weir? Am I sitting in with Little Milton? (You don’t have time for that story!) Uh-uh, I’m the Big Boss Man fronting my own band today, Gov’t Mule. I can wear loose comfortable clothes and stretch out which is pretty cool, because I can focus on my own muse. I don’t have to remind anyone of their favorite dead guitar icon.”
You still with me? We all on the same page with this? OK, what makes this show different? The opening act, Black Stone Cherry! Now, I’m gonna lose about half of you here because even though this group has released six albums since 2006 and sold millions of CDs, they’re a southern rock band that hasn’t played this market too much before. So, you may think they’re all about volume and lack the nuance of a Gov’t Mule.
Yup, their brand new album, Family Tree, released last Friday, is a potentially lethal dose of testosterone. Just listening to it on my computer jacked me up high enough to have to step away from the vehicle, as Officer Spudd would say. This stuff is GOOD! I’m gonna tell you why they’re so good at this. But first, be aware that Warren sits in with them on one cut of their album, “Dancin’ in the Rain,” and as you have a right to expect, it peels permanent paint off dry and wet surfaces indiscriminately. So, Warren has genuflected over these guys.
You still with me? If not, go check your Facebook page and come on back…
Why are these guys so good? First off, they’ve all been playing together in one manner of speaking or another since they were in diapers. Drummer, pianist and background vocalist John Fred Young is the son of Kentucky Headhunters rhythm guitarist Richard Young and is a third-generation resident of the Young family farm in rural Kentucky. His uncle Fred is also a member of The Headhunters.
Now, in case you think these guys are all a bunch of inbred hillbillies, let me just inform you that the Kentucky Headhunters toured with pianist Johnny Johnson who taught Chuck Berry how to rock and roll. (That’s another story I don’t have time for here.) The Headhunters are Grammy Award winners and frequently play the prestigious King Biscuit Blues Festival.
Not only that, but last year Black Stone Cherry put out Black to Blues, an EP covering six of their favorite songs by Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King and Albert King. “We didn’t think it would do anything. We figured our fans would dig it,” says John Fred Young. “We released it on iTunes. Well, we released it, and the dang thing went to No. 1 on the Billboard Blues Chart, and it stayed in the top three for about six weeks. That was amazing. The blues community – our fans, as well – dug it that much. We covered some older artists, and it was fun, and it got us into the mindset to dig back into all those roots that we had when we were teenagers and playing in The Headhunters’ practice house. It was so much fun to just have fun in the studio and make this new record.”
If you’ve read this far, you’ll appreciate the subtlety of the next reason these guys are way cool. (Sorry, I’m old and slip into slang occasionally, but I refuse to use the word “groovy.”) This band stood up for their own sound even though their former record label fired them for it.
“You’ve got to have a certain sound to get on radio,” says Young. “We never really had that sound, and I think our previous record label just wanted us to try to get to sound like another band, and we just couldn’t do it. I’ll tell ya what. The last couple of years we signed with another label called Mascot, and we were
actually released from Road Runner. They fired us. We had some great people that were friends over there, but it was time to go. We’ve got such a great relationship with our label now. They’re just lettin’ us be who we are, and they know we have our own style, and the sound of the band is unique, and that’s the thing. I think it’s been so great, man, making these last two records.”
Warren loves to get poked by great players, and, no question about it, these young dudes have the venom.