Do we have any Black Stone Cherry fans in the house? If we do, you’re in for an absolute treat; for those of you who might not be aware of who these guys are, allow myself to give you a quick rundown.
Black Stone Cherry is an American hard rock band, hailing from Edmonton, Kentucky. Having been signed to record label Mascot Label Group since 2015, the band has seem tremendous amounts of critical acclaim and success in their careers, including charting eight singles on the US Mainstream Rock Tracks charts. Their latest project, Black to Blues, is an album that not only sees them pay homage to some legendary names within the Blues genre, but also has them tackle pure Blues brilliance and make it their own, maintaining their ballsy Black Stone Cherry sound.
John Fred Young was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to speak to OVERDRIVE in regards to their latest album, which also included stories from his past that helped entrench not only himself, but Black Stone Cherry heavily into the music industry.
Black Stone Cherry are comprised of Southern Rockers Chris Robertson (lead vocals/lead and rhythm guitar), Ben Wells (rhythm and lead guitar/backing vocals), Jon Lawhon (bass/backing vocals), and John Fred Young (drums/percussion/piano/backing vocals).
Young opened up about a lifelong journey that immersed himself heavily in the music industry, even as a child, particularly around the Rock and Blues genres. It’s these experiences that he had personally, as well as experiences he had with the band members of Black Stone Cherry as a whole, that culminated in the production of Black to Blues. Opening up with where the initial idea of Black to Blues originated, Young explained, “Well we were actually just hanging out and we thought ‘you know we should do something that we’ve never done before’, which is you know this Black to Blues record. And we’ve been so heavily influence by blues music and growing up where we are from we get a lot of bluegrass music, and a lot of country and old school country, and gospel music. My Dad and my Uncle, Richard (Young) and Fred Young, are The Kentucky Headhunters and they really turned us on at a very early age to blues music, and Mo-town and a lot of classic rock (Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cream) music that we’ve never even heard of. As I said, my Dad and my Uncle there in a band called The Kentucky Headhunters and they were massively huge in Nashville in the early 1990s and they went to Nashville and got a record deal, and they were rock guys, they were hugely influenced by Led Zeppelin and they were one of the first rock bands to ever really kick in doors at Nashville.”
Continuing his story of a childhood intertwined within the music industry, he further explained the first instances of when soon to be Black Stone Cherry were exposed to the Blues genre, which would later influence the album Black to Blues. He explained, “Through all that when I was about fourteen, Chris and I started playing music together and I asked my Dad if we could use the practice house to play music in, and he was like ‘yeah, yeah sure.’ He thought we were just going to hang out and play around but we got our act together and sure enough we found Jon our bass player, and about a year later we got Ben from about a county over, and like we would sit around and jam, and my Dad and the band would come in and hang around with us and they’d show us all these blues records. This old house we grew up practicing in is absolutely a museum of Rock and Roll memorabilia out in the middle of the woods on my grandparent’s property. When they were very, very young they’d put up rock posters to keep the heat in this place, because there wasn’t any insulation. So we grew up looking at Aretha (Franklin), looking at Sam Cook, Muddy Waters and obviously Led Zeppelin posters and every classic rock band you could think of. That’s how we got very highly influenced by the blues, even you know the Ray Charles stuff man, we had such a fortunate education of the blues, soul and gospel, Mo-town stuff that man, that’s the biggest reason why we sound like we do.”
Once he had finished giving insight into a past history entrenched heavily around the music that would later inspire Black Stone Cherry to be as dominant in the music industry as they are today, he turned to talking about the production of Black to Blues, including wanting to reach a much younger audience in hopes to expose them to sounds they’ve never heard of before, and bring new found inspiration to the blues genre. He explained, “So I think when we wanted to do this Black to Blues record it was really cool because you know we knew we were going to make these songs, these cover songs into Black Stone Cherry songs. You know the hardest thing about making this record was picking out the darn songs man, cos we just didn’t know, we had no idea what we were going to do. We just started rambling out songs and it just started coming together man. It was cool we got some Muddy Waters tunes, it was just so fun making it. A lot of what you hear honesty is one takes. But yeah it was fun to finally go in and do some songs that we’d been covering for years, and finally get them on a record. And now a lot of kids, a lot of younger musicians, will hear this stuff and maybe turn them onto this earlier blues stuff. We love Stevie Ray Vaughn, love him. And most people know who those cats are, and you know if you said to a kid at a concert now do you know who Muddy Waters is it’d be hard, and I’m sure some would know but that’s why we chose some of the artists that we did we wanted to make sure we picked some cats that weren’t so obscure in the blues world but less obscure to the younger rock fans.”
The recording process of an album varies, a band could spend months and months piecing together an album, where as some can pull it off in a matter of weeks. What if you were to find out that Black Stone Cherry pulled off Black to Blues in only a few days? You heard correctly! Young explained, “You know, um, I think we probably did this record in, I’m trying to be truthful here, in about six and a half days. We only had a week as we were going back on tour. I think I did all the drum tracks in a day, and then the next day we got in with guitars, and bass, and stuck in with the vocals and harp. Man, we didn’t want to make it too overthought, that way it would just be what it is. It was cool though man, it was really nice to sit there and hear the stuff back and think ‘what would these legends think on our take on all this great blues music.’” Young continued to reminisce about experiences surrounding the blues sound when he was a kid. “But I remember being a kid growing up with my Dad and my Uncle they played this festival almost every single year called Blues Aid. It was a charity concert that all proceeds when to health care, and any other needs that were needed. None of these guys had proper management, no one to look out for them so it was really nice thing that was put on. I remember the (Kentucky) Headhunters they probably played that thing ten times over the space of fifteen years and they normally had it in a casino, like a hard rock casino, and I remember getting to meet so many people. My Dad would tell me when I was little ‘you have no idea what you’re getting to be immersed in right now’ and at the time I knew it was cool but I didn’t know the depth to what it was to meet some of those blues guys. We want people to hear this record and dig it, man.”
Black Stone Cherry fans will be familiar with the country/blues undertones that swarm amongst the Southern Rock riffs, so when it came to recording Black to Blues the transition to pure Blues was one of the easiest things the band had ever done. Young explains, “Man it was like putting butter on toast, it was so easy. It was probably the easiest thing we’ve ever done in a recording studio. I really feel like the reason why, is when we first started our band we used to do bike rallies and we’d play Harley Davidson stuff, this was before we had a record deal, and we’d do all these cover songs and instead of doing just Motley Crue songs we would do so many blues songs and Cream, Ted Nugent.” He continued to explain that, “It was funny when we were in the studio to look back at the covers we’d done over the years and majority of them were old blues covers. We play our original stuff a lot, but we still do covers, man. I think any great rock and roll band can do a cover song, take an original song from somebody and make it their own. We’re very gifted, and fortunate that we can. I’m just looking forward to some younger people coming in, ‘cos it’s already happening on Facebook, and social media sites hitting us up saying ‘Man, I haven’t heard this song’ or ‘I loved your version of this song’, and that’s really deep and warming for the soul, as a musician.”
With the Black to Blues album seeing Black Stone Cherry turn to a straight Blues sound (with the obvious Black Stone Cherry twists and turns) it’s curious to know moving forward whether we can come to expect these tones to come through more predominantly moving forward, or whether it was a once off experience. Young explains, “The bluesy thing definitely bled off on the new record that we’re recording right now, and that will be out probably next year sometime in the early spring. It’s always been there, the blues and soulful bluegrass that’s been underlined in all our albums, but I think where we are at now on our Black Stone Cherry journey, you can tell there’s some influences that come through on our new album. I think that the core of Black Stone Cherry is we like to, well, we don’t like to be afraid to try different things, and we never have been. Our core is the southern rock kind of root system that we have, and I hope people like the new record we’re working on. But we are proud of Black to Blues, and there could be a time in the future we do another EP style like this it might be a different genre, it could be reggae man, could be Bob Marley all the way.”
The question on every Black Stone Cherry fans lips is ‘What’s next for Black Stone Cherry’, and Young gave us the rundown of everything that’s going down, including the possibility of a 2018 Australian Tour! Young explained, “Well yeah as we were just saying we’ve got this full length record, we’re going to be going in sometime next week to start recording. Yeah, I mean all the time in Black Stone Cherry we’re always thinking of what we’re doing next, how we keep everything growing, as I said earlier we were in Australia earlier this year and thanks to everybody who came out to those shows, and that was our first Headline tour. The year before that we were there supporting our buddies Steel Panther, which was awesome. It’s cool, we’re definitely going to be back down to Australia, and we’re trying to branch into different countries and different parts of the world, but I think once the record comes out we will be full on touring. We’re very fortunate to have a fan base that’s strong enough worldwide that allows us to tour all these different places, you know man music takes around the world and we’re so grateful for that. We are thankful for all those who love our music, we just hope to keep making people happy, man. Thanks to everybody who listen to us, who come out to our shows, and we’ll be back to kick ass in Ozzie Land very soon next year.”