After 12 years, recordings made by the Kentucky Headhunters with legendary pianist and Rock and Roll of Fame inductee Johnnie Johnson have been released as a new album, “Meet Me in Bluesland.”
The Grammy-winning Kentucky Headhunters will celebrate the album’s release with a concert in Glasgow at the Plaza Theatre on May 1. “Meet Me in Bluesland” will be released June 2.
The Kentucky Headhunters made several recordings with Johnson in 2003 while working on the band’s “Soul” album. Johnson played piano with rock and roll icon Chuck Berry in the 1950s.
“We grew up listening to Chuck Berry. He was one of our early influences,” said Richard Young, rhythm guitarist. “Chuck Berry was a very gifted lyricist. Johnnie had a band and he hired (Berry) to play with him in 1955, and so that’s where the relationship started.”
Berry landed a recording deal with Chess Records and Johnson became a part of his band.
Eventually, Berry stopped performing with his own band and began playing with pick-up bands. That meant Johnson was out of a job.
“Johnnie went back to St. Louis and started driving the city bus to make a living and would play on the weekends,” Young said. “That’s kind of how their situation came down.”
The Kentucky Headhunters met Johnson in 1992 at a Grammy Awards party in New York and invited him to join them in recording one song for their “Soul” album, which was released in 1993.
Although the band only meant to record one song with Johnson, they continued to play music and record.
After releasing “Soul,” the unused recorded tracks were placed in storage and never released until now for the band’s new album.
Young explained there were several reasons why the band chose not to do anything with those additional recordings until now.
“Number one, out of the shear respect for Johnnie,” Young said.
Johnson died in 2005 at the age of 81.
“We just didn’t want to put it out. It didn’t feel right,” Young said, adding the timing just never seemed right until now. “The reason we put it out now is because Mrs. Johnson is getting older now. She called us and she said, ‘I wish you all would get that out before I get too old to enjoy it.’ It was a good time to do it.”
The album features original music by Johnson and the current band’s lineup, which includes Doug Phelps, Greg Martin, Young and his brother, Fred, as well as former band member, Anthony Kenney.
The only song on the album that was not co-written by the band is “Little Queenie,” which was originally recorded by Johnson and Berry.
“It was one of the first songs we were introduced to by Johnson and Chuck Berry in the late ’60s,” Young said. “It’s always been a staple in our set. The Headhunters have played it off and on for 40 years.”
Performing with the band during the concert at the Plaza Theatre will be pianist Kevin McKendree, who performs with Delbert McClinton and the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
“We are very excited about coming to Glasgow,” Young said. “It’s going to be a lot fun.”
Even though the album isn’t scheduled to be released until June 2, copies of the new album will be for sale at the theater after the concert.