Fred and John Fred Young's top 5 tips for drummers
“It was a full on rock show,” Kentucky Headhunters drummer Fred Young tells MusicRadar hours after the band made their European debut at Sweden Rock festival. “We didn’t know what to expect but people really dug it. I’m looking forward to getting to the UK.”
The Headhunters formed way back in 1968, but leader Richard Young, Fred’s brother, put the brakes on overseas touring due to a fear of flying. But, with his fear finally conquered the band are following up their appearance at the legendary Swedish festival with seven UK dates this summer, including a stop off at the Ramblin’ Man Fair on 24 July. The latter sees the country icons open a bill which is closed by Black Stone Cherry, a band featuring Fred’s nephew (and Richard’s son) John Fred Young on drums.
“We wouldn’t be doing this if it were not for John Fred and Black Stone Cherry,” says Fred. “They have been asking us to come over for so long. Richard made the trip fine and we’re real happy. I think it’s going to open up a new avenue for us.”
“It’s an honour to help them,” John Fred adds. “I was speaking to a management company at Download last year and I was telling them that the Headhunters had never played outside of the US and Canada and the guy said ‘Man, would they let me book them?’ I just had to convince my dad because he has a huge fear of flying. It’s so cool to help them after all they did for us.”
The Headhunters tour kicks off at London’s Borderline on 20 July and comes to a close in Glasgow a week later. That Ramblin’ Man show (with a bill also featuring Airbourne, Thunder, The Answer and more) is sure to be an emotional occasion as the proud oldies watch the young bucks of Black Stone Cherry close the show. Like many great ideas, this one was born during a trip to the toilet.
“We’re doing Ramblin’ Man together, it’s going to be so unreal,” says John Fred. I remember seeing an ad for Ramblin’ Man in a magazine at my mom’s house while I was in the bathroom. I was like, ‘Dude, we have to play this.’ I showed my dad that they’ve got a country stage, a prog stage, southern rock. I told him they need to play this festival and he said, ‘Man, that would be cool.’”
“We can’t wait to see all that countryside and meet all you wonderful people,” Fred excitedly adds. “We’ve known that we needed to come over for a long time.”
But before they do make it over this way we spoke to the drummer uncle and nephew team that is Fred and John Fred Young to get their top tips for drummers.
1. Be positive
Fred: “You need to have a positive attitude about playing. We’re people and we will feel different every night but if you can wake up with a positive attitude then you will play better. Regardless of whether you’ve got a monitor down or whatever, if you stay positive you will play better.
“You put your emotions into your playing so if you have a great feeling and attitude then, to me, no matter what is going on things will go well for you. Having a sour attitude is a real obstacle. That really is the ticket.”
John Fred: “Having a positive attitude is the most integral part of life, not just drumming. Fred is a very positive guy and he’s there whenever I’ve needed guidance. My granddad, Fred’s father, recently passed away and he was the same, he always had something positive to say and some guidance to give in difficult times. In life you have to take every situation and walk away with something positive from it.”
2. Don't stop learning
Fred: “You never stop learning. I have learned so much from John Fred. He teaches me something every day. He can play things that I always wanted to play but I never reached that point where I could do it. I’ve been blessed to be around him.
"It’s great being around somebody who can play like he can. We get into the practice house and I can try to show him something and then he can pull it off. I taught him early on but now he teaches me a lot.”
John Fred: “Fred influenced me since day one. I remember we used to sit in my grandparent’s house and he would teach me rudiments. He said he would teach me stuff and I would absorb it so quick and he had to go back and make sure he wasn’t teaching me something wrong!
“From about five years old I would go out on the road with them. I remember going to New York with them. Fred was supposed to be watching me and somehow I got the bus door unlocked when we got to the venue and I was out on the street. There was a bunch of dudes playing drums on buckets, my dad was like, ‘Where’s John Fred?!’ I was up and down the street watching those dudes play drums on the buckets. My dad was so mad saying, ‘Fred, you’re supposed to be watching him!’”
3. Going into the studio? Leave the flash at home
Fred: “When I was 18 I would have all these chops and all these fills but what you learn in the studio is that it’s not about the licks. It’s great to be able to play the licks, but I’m happier with the feel.
“I’m happy to never play a roll if the song feels good and it reaches people. That’s so much better than playing all these licks but not finding the feel. Drumming is all about making the music feel good.
“You’ll be happier doing something simple rather than playing a lot of stuff that really doesn’t fit. You can play a lot of licks while not really saying a whole lot. Someone like Gene Krupa could play something simple and make it say so much.
“When I’m writing a part I’ll often think what would somebody like Simon Kirke or Charlie Watts do on this song. That’s just me. There’s some guys out there who play all the licks and just smoke it, man!”
John Fred: “The other thing with the studio is like when we did our third record with Howard Benson in Los Angeles. That was crazy, it was so different from everything we had ever done.
“He was a big pop guy. The process was so different, it was like a factory. It was so hard and it restrained me from all of my ghost notes and the outlandish, crazy playing. But I learned a lot from it. I learned how that side of making records is and so that is important to always learn when you go into the studio.”
4. Keep busy
Fred: “You have to be active. When I’m not drumming I’m busy on the farm. You need to stay in shape.
"I’ve been lucky that I’ve not had too many problems with my health. You’ve got to eat right and take care of yourself if you want to stay in shape for drumming.
“As you get older things do change, it’s not as easy as it used to be, it’s not easy to feel like you’re 20 years old at my age.
“You need to be in good shape to be able to play and also to play a solo live every show. I grew up in an era where you had to be able to solo. I grew up with the Ginger Bakers and Tommy Aldridges, Jon Hisemans, all of those cats soloed. The ticket, I think, is the locomotion of it. The chops that I do in my solo aren’t that complex, but there is a locomotion to it. I’ve been doing that same solo since I was about 14 years old, so that makes it a little easier!”
5. Play as a band
Fred: “We’ve been playing since 1968, the three of us and Doug has been in the band since the ‘80s. It’s all about the whole band.
"When you’re playing something you’re playing as a band, it’s not just about you. You need to think about the bass player the guitar player and the vocal. All of that combines to make the song, if you don’t have song you don’t have anything.”
John Fred: “Man, I’m more about playing over the lyrics and playing a drum solo through the whole song [laughs]. No, I'm joking, groove is so important for drummers. As I’ve gotten older I have become aware of where to put fills It takes a long time to learn that.
“I consider myself very lucky to have a band that understands the way I play is a reflection of my inner soul. When I feel there needs to be a roll or the roll needs to be longer my guys are always honest with me and tell me either it’s awesome or it sounds like a grandma falling down the stairs.
“If you’re in a band you’ve got love each other. You’re put in some real situations. We call our bus the 42-foot fart tube. You have to love each other to live like that otherwise you’d kill each other.
“So that means that you need to find people who are driven just like you are, you have to be driven. There are a million other players out there just as good as you are. When you find a group of people to play with you need to cherish that. You’re a team, that’s what a band is all about.”
The Kentucky Headhunters hit the UK in July. For more details head to www.kentuckyheadhunters.net. Black Stone Cherry headline Ramblin' Man Fair on 24 July, for full details check www.ramblinmanfair.com.