It is often said that if you want to “make it” in the music industry, you need to live in entertainment capitals, such as Los Angeles, New York City or even Nashville.
But a couple of natives from Edmonton, Ky. — which sports only a population of 1,607 people — proves that saying wrong.
This small town is known for two things: The Kentucky Headhunters, a country rock band that gained fame in the early ’90s, and Black Stone Cherry, a newer Southern rock band with soul. Both bands are in the same family business.
“My dad and uncle are in The Kentucky Headhunters, and they actually produced our first record for us. We’ve had a lot of help from our families and friends. We can never forget that, you know?” drummer John Fred Young said.
For Young, the word “family” encompassed more than just his immediate kin.
“We all went to kindergarten together,” Young said about his bandmates Chris Robertson, Ben Wells and Jon Lawhon. “We were crazy friends, and it’s amazing to play anywhere because we’re from such a small town.”
Black Stone Cherry was formed on lead singer Robertson’s birthday — June 4 — and after eleven years, the band is still going strong. The intimacy that was formed through the band members’ long friendship shines through their soulful, hard-hitting songs.
The band’s latest record, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, released May 31 last year, delivers a nice balance between heavy riff-driven songs such as “White Trash Millionaire” and “Blame It On the Boom Boom” and heartfelt ballads such as “All I’m Dreamin’ Of.”
Though Black Stone Cherry’s songwriting process hasn’t changed, the band’s production style had to change because of the record label’s pressures and changes in popular rock radio.
“The American music system runs on radio, and especially for rock bands, that’s how we get heard. Our label pressured us to make a record that appealed to American rock stations,” Young said.
Howard Benson, who has produced for Gavin DeGraw, 3 Doors Down, Relient K and countless more, was brought in to take the band in a more commercial route.
“I think after every album we learn something new. It’s a building process. No band starts off and says we know everything there is to know about music and recording. You meet people that changes your outlook on music,” Young said.
Since the release of its eponymous debut album in 2006, Black Stone Cherry has been on the road supporting big acts like Nickelback and Def Leppard as well as headlining on its own.
“We’ve been on the road for six or seven years, and our forte is playing live,” Young said. “Also, our live shows and musicianship builds on our fans. That’s just how we make fans.”
And even though Young and the rest of the band are from the U.S., they have a much bigger fanbase in Europe, especially in the U.K.
“The fans in Europe and U.K. rock because they’ve had the rock festival circuit for so many years,” Young said. “Sometimes fans in the U.S. look left and right and ask ‘Can we have a good time?’ But still, I think U.S. is catching up.”
Going off this, it would seem that the response from fans overseas would trump those from back home, but Young says that’s not true in all cases.
“Recently, I got a letter from a fan back home saying ‘I haven’t talked to my dad for probably eight years. And if I hadn’t heard your songs, I would have never talked to my dad,’’ Young said proudly. “It’s something that means more to my heart. It means more than selling eight million records or even getting a Grammy.”
For many bands, earning platinum plaques and accolades would be its main aim or indicator of success. But for Black Stone Cherry, its direct relationship with the band’s fans is what defines success.
“When we write songs, we ask ‘What’s the most real things we can say?’ Young said. “It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you’re from, or what color you are. Honest to God, everybody loves music, especially heartfelt music.”
Black Stone Cherry has been on the road with rock supergroup Chickenfoot, which has former and active band members from Van Halen and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Its last stop will be in Los Angeles, but Black Stone Cherry will continue to tour throughout 2012 in Europe.
“We’re always going to be playing, but hopefully we can take six months off and write our new record,” Young said.
Black Stone Cherry will perform at the Greek Theatre on Sunday.