The Kentucky Headhunters recently rocked Music Row with something that sounds an awful lot like a comeback. The Heads have been low-profiling it, record-wise, since their Soul album of 2003 (which didn’t get all that much attention).
So to introduce Big Boss Man, their new album of cover tunes, the band entertained the neighborhood with a free late-afternoon concert at Owen Bradley Park. The crowd, which bristled with old friends and associates from the band’s glory days, was rapturous.
Not surprisingly, the band spent much of its hour-plus onstage playing such hits as “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine,” “Oh, Lonesome Me,” “Louisiana Coco” and “Dumas Walker.” Only two of the 12 songs on the show were from the new album — “Big Boss Man” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Big Boss Man is a relatively low-budget experiment that’s being financed by Sony/ATV Music Publishing and released and distributed by CbuJ Entertainment. It’s designed to use established acts to wring more income from old standards.
Originally, Sony/ATV’s Tom Long asked the band to select some classics, primarily from its hit-rich Acuff Rose song catalog, and do new versions the company could then pitch for movie soundtracks. However, Long was so impressed by what the Headhunters came up with, he decided it could also work as an album.
At a press conference held at the ASCAP building before the show started, Long explained he has worked with the Headhunters since 1976, when they were called the Itchy Brothers. Noting that he first saw them perform at a car race in Edmonton, Ky., he said, “They were louder than the cars. I knew these boys had potential.”
Richard Young, the band’s rhythm guitarist and de facto spokesman, said the members sifted through thousands of songs and finally “narrowed it down to 150 we really liked.” There was, he added, one rule: “We couldn’t do 12 Beatles songs.” But they did end up doing three Hank Williams compositions — “Honky Tonk Blues,” “Hey, Good Lookin’” and “You Win Again” — plus “Take These Chains (From My Heart),” “Walkin’ After Midnight,” “Chug-a-Lug,” “So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad),” “Made in Japan,” “Don’t It Make You Wanna Go Home” and Lennon and McCartney’s “I’m Down.”
“Some of these songs were so good,” bass guitarist Anthony Kenney observed, “it was scary messing with them.” The Headhunters cut the album at Barrick Recording Studio in Glasgow, Ky., with Long serving as their co-producer.
Long previewed the music video for “Big Boss Man.” Shot at a coalmine in Central City, Ky., it features a stunning blonde, dressed as a miner, who scrubs away the dirt in some of the more memorable scenes. “We went down the street there,” Young explained, “and found a little old girl cutting hair and asked her if she wanted to be in a video.” That “little old girl,” cosmetologist Dana Tucker of Powderly, Ky., posed with the Headhunters for pictures just before the show started and stayed to cheer them on.
Long told CMT.com the album will probably break even if it sells 50,000 copies, a modest amount by current country standards. He also noted that Sony/ATV is planning a similar cover project for Ricky Van Shelton.