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Black Stone Cherry

Black Stone Cherry

Kings of Kentucky Southern Rock

By Jason Ashcraft

It's not to often that a band from Kentucky gets to take its music far outside the Bluegrass state, especially when gas is $4 per gallon. Most Kentucky rock bands just don't have the means to reach an audience much farther than their nearby backwoods Eastern Kentucky honky-tonk, Louisville live music landmark or Northern Kentucky rock joint. There are so many choices for listeners and fans on the Internet that if you can't manage to tour, then you can't make a career out of music, which seems to be a predominate ambition among many Kentucky-based rock bands.

All that may change soon for Edmonton, Kentucky natives Black Stone Cherry (BSC). BSC is tearing up the live concert scene with relentless national and international touring. On August 19, they released their second studio album, Folklore and Superstition, on Roadrunner Records. Black Stone Cherry is John Fred Young, drums, Chris Robertson, guitar and vocals, Ben Wells, guitar and Jon Lawhon on bass. John Fred Young is the son of guitarist Richard Young and nephew to drummer Fred Young, Richard's brother, co-founders of The Kentucky Headhunters.

Black Stone Cherry. Photo by Laura Roberts

Playing a collection of hard-hitting, energetic, and in-your-face Southern rock songs, BSC plans to refocus the national industry's (such as it is attention to all Kentucky musicians, who have largely been ignored in recent years. They mix guitar-fueled hard rock with a post grunge era sound and, at times, a touch of metal. Like most country boys, when they are not kicking your ass onstage, they're off-stage attitude is one of the best in the industry: classic Kentucky charm and utter sincerity.

It was May of 2003 when the boys, along with father, mentor and manager Richard Young, came up to at a Silvertide show at Jillian's in Louisville. They had just recently started frequenting Louisville in an effort to promote their music to the Louisville rock scene. Since none of them were even close to 21 at the time, they had limited access to Louisville music venues; Richard Young was got them past that barrier. A copy of their first recording was passed along to me.

Like The Kentucky Headhunters' records, their first EP, Rock ‘n' Roll Tape, was recorded at Barrick Studios in Glasgow, Kentucky andwas released in 2003 on their independent label, Black Stone Cherry Records.

The intensity of the songs' was immediately apparent, particularly on "Sissy Bitch," "Redneck," and the anthemic "America," a testimony to their overwhelming appreciation for the country.

It should come as no surprise that their music is very positive, given that they were mentored by their "family," The Kentucky Headhunters, the country rock band that received a flurry of awards in the late Eighties and early Nineties, including a Grammy. Not many bands get that kind of leg up.

Going Down South

My first trip to Edmonton, in Metcalfe County, to watch them rehearse came shortly after receiving the copy of Rock ‘n' Roll Tape. It turned out to be more than what was anticipated. After the rehearsal, they decided to head out to the cow pastures for some photos. At the first group of cattle, they jumped out of the car and got as close to the cattle as possible, as quickly as possible. John Fred casually said to hurry and take the pictures "before they get pissed off." To make matters worse, one of the bulls wasn't fully polled. Grabbing my camera, I started shooting as the bulls breathing got harder and heavier. That shoot ended pretty quickly, as I wanted to get back to the safety of the car before there was a reenactment of Pamplona, Spain's most famous tourist attraction.

We wrapped up the interview with dinner at their favorite Mexican restaurant in Glasgow, where the waiting staff greeted them upon arrival. Our waiter even inquired about when they were going to play a live show in their parking lot.

Back Then

John Fred Young's first memory of music was when his father sat him in front of a TV to watch cartoons with Motown music, while Dad wrote and played his music. On the same subject, Chris Robertson said, "I remember quitting it, then hating it, then picking my guitar back up."

Black Stone Cherry. Photo by Laura Roberts

John Fred and Chris have been friends from kindergarten and played together growing up. Ben Wells, also a native of the Glasgow area, started playing music with Chris and John Fred early in their teens. Jon Lawhon moved up from Jacksonville, Florida in 1998 and shortly met up with John Fred, Chris and Ben. Black Stone Cherry was officially formed on June 4, 2001, Chris' 16th birthday.

After they formed the band, they took over the Headhunters' famed practice house and began cranking out heavy Southern rock with a twist of post-grunge tunes. Many of the songs on Rock ‘n' Roll Tape could have gone straight to radio.

They have quite a catalog of excellent tunes, including "Bulldozer," which was written early in the life of the band, and which has yet to appear on any studio album and has been absent from any live performance. An infectious tune, it instantaneously draws the listener in, feeling the flow of the song with its melody. Maybe they will break it out one night, or perhaps there is a "B" side recording; BSC records a lot.

With all of the songs they were writing and the increasing buzz circulating among their hometown fans, naturally they began to attract the attention of record labels. BSC also landed quite a few notable opening slots, appearing in front of Lynyrd Skynyrd and Ted Nugent, garnering the attention and appreciation of older music fans who appreciate their straight Southern rock ‘n' roll.

In addition to the aggressive and relentless touring, BSC began to have chart singles like "Lonely Train," a song that peaked at 14 on the Billboard Mainstream Rock chart; "Rain Wizard," a Led Zeppelin-ish tune and "Hell and High Water," a song with a very poppy chorus.

After considerable interest from several major record labels, they signed a deal with Roadrunner Records, home to Black Label Society, Slipknot and Nickelback, among other current rock acts. In an interview, the Black Stone Cherry boys described the guys at Roadrunner Records as being "cool dudes who just dug music."

After they released their eponymous first studio album in July 2006, BSC immediately hit the road and launched an extensive U.S., Canadian and European tour.

Right Now

BSC has toured the U.S. Extensively; going to Europe has become a yearly habit. Most recently, BSC went out with Def Leppard and Whitesnake on a tour of England and Ireland and accomplished their childhood dream of playing to a sold-out Wembley Arena. BSC also went on to headline their own European tour and got to hang out with rock music pioneers like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. Like such Louisville bands as My Morning Jacket and My Own Victim, these Kentucky boys are even more popular in Europe then they are in their own home state. Back in the U.S., they are no strangers to extensive touring and are usually on the road with bands like Black Label Society, Buckcherry, Hinder, Papa Roach, Shinedown, and Sevendust.

Black Stone Cherry at Waverly Hills. Photo by Josh London

BSC refers to their fellow tour-mates as being their "friends," and open shows for them even though they have surpassed what most of their U.S. tour-mates still aspire to do play overseas where the live music scene is actually a little more "live."

As soon as they arrived back from their last European tour in June, they scheduled their first show back in Kentucky in Louisville, at Headliners Music Hall on July 11.

I caught up with them there for a very brief interview. They were extremely excited to be playing at home again and were happy to answer a couple of questions:

LMN: What has changed since you signed with Roadrunner Records?

John Fred: "Actually, the ability to be able to - or to have an opportunity to - go out and play in front of people and have the chance to spread our music we created, e very since you knew us, even before we had a deal to spread that music to other people, who had never heard it before."

LMN: What is the biggest difference between the European live music scene and the American live music scene?

Chris: "There is not a huge difference, but there is a difference. At home the crowd is often a little more timid because the security is often like ‘if you move, I will break your jaw', whereas over there (Europe the security feels like if they move they will get their jaw broken. So the crowd over there really doesn't care. That's main difference. It has to do with the security guards. It creates a fear in the fans here, They feel if they get a little out of hand they are going to get thrown out, whereas it is exactly the opposite over there (Europe."


So what's next for Glasgow's newest favorite sons? Their new album, Folklore and Superstition, is in stores now and they have already hit the road for another nationwide tour. The closest shows are on September 11, Pierre's in Fort Wayne, IN; September 12, University of Akron, Akron, OH and September 13, Riverfront Park in Nashville, TN.

They head back to Europe again for an opening date in Paris, France, on November 18, so make sure you catch them live while they are still in the States. Also make sure you check out the new video (MTV2 and Myspace) for "Blind Man," the first single from Folklore and Superstition. Staying loyal to their Kentucky and Louisville roots, the video was shot at Waverly Hills Sanatorium in Louisville's South End. The video is very sleek and straightforward, simply proclaiming that they are just some good ol' boys who love their rock ‘n' roll.

On August 24 Folklore and Superstition debuted at #1 on the UK Rock Album Chart beating out industry icons Kid Rock, Linkin Park, Foo Fighters, and Nickelback. Simultaneously Folklore and Superstition also debuted at # 23 on the UK Official Album chart. Quite an accomplishment for some rural Kentucky boys, but not surprising at all given their relentless touring in Europe over the past two years.

Go take over the world boys!