The Kentucky Headhunters, who since their 1990 debut have become the hottest touring and recording band in country music, have almost single-handedly given new dimensions to the word "earthy."
This scrofulous, revved-up and unreconstructed '70's style country-rock ensemble from central Kentucky (consisting of two pairs of brothers and a first cousin) has somehow managed to beat the odds against trendiness and fashion. In the last year or so, they have racked up a Grammy Award, a couple of Country Music Association Awards, as well as a platinum album for their million-selling debut LP, "Pickin' On Nashville."
Yet success has not turned the Headhunters' heads. They still sport stage attire that appears to be straight off the rack from Walmart: tank top T-shirts, frayed flannels, denim vests and off-brand tennis shoes. They still possess the ragged, unkempt demeanor and boisterous stage energy of a straight-out-of-the-backwoods wrestling tag team.
"I think the reason we broke through," muses Richard Young, the Heads' always gregarious and philosophical rhythm guitarist, "was that people in Nashville saw us and thought, 'Well, these ol' boys is ugly, they's scruffy-lookin', they ain't got no fancy stage clothes, and they got nothin' to wear but tennis shoes, but they got team work. They got brotherhood.' "
Another essential element to the Headhunters' success, which is sometimes obscured behind their semi-comic down-home personas and their self-effacing brand of musical humor, is their hard-driving musical mastery, which has swept across the contemporary country scene.
"Electric Barnyard," the band's new LP, was (like their debut album) produced and arranged by the band members themselves in a Nashville studio, on a modest budget. The music therein delightfully attests to the Headhunters' bizarre but vital and refreshing brand of hillbillyish eclecticism. ("Psycho-billy" is Mr. Young's offhand description for the brash amalgam of styles.)
But, as 35-year-old Richard Young emphasizes, their success was hardly of the overnight variety. The group, under various band names and in various personnel configurations, has been kicking around on the Southern rock scene for more than 20 years.
"You gotta understand that you're lookin' at a bunch of men in their 30s who've been kicking around for years and had more or less come to face the fact that, musically, nothing was ever gonna happen for us. We all were sorta starting to settle into our lives and enjoy them. And then, man! We managed to get hooked up with Polygram [after the band's umpteenth live audition in Nashville], and this all just come outa the blue.
"But, no, we ain't gonna change. People may stop likin' us, and if so, we'll just go on back home to Kentucky. But we sure ain't gonna change to make 'em like us."
Where: Painters Mill, Painters Mill Road, Owings Mills.
When: March 16, 8 p.m.