Interview by Adrian Hextall
They say chivalry is dead. They also say that rock-stars can be complete asses. Step forward then all members of Blackstone Cherry who are without a doubt the most courteous, polite gents in the world and whilst they can lay waste to 20,000 as headliners at Ramblin’ Man Fair, they leave the rock-star pretensions behind and will be the first to admit that brotherhood and family matter most.
MGM spoke to John Fred as he basked in the warm sun near his grandparent’s farm in Kentucky. Bubbling with enthusiasm and southern hospitality, John Fred took us on a journey through all things Black Stone Cherry.
John Fred: Okay, I am building a house man, in Kentucky on my grandparent’s farm at the end of like where their farm ended. Man, it’s been like a ten-year process. I forgot that I was a musician. When I start to build man and the funds come and go a bit like the weather!
MGM: Its got to be quite satisfying to see it all take shape though hasn’t it ?
John Fred: It really has and I tell you what man and it is one of those things where you just….. there’s nothing like building something close to where you grew up. And that’s for me its been, its been crazy but I’m telling you man it’s…I wouldn’t trade it. We have been through hell and back on it man but its going good. Its going good. So where are you from Adrian? Are you in England?
MGM: I am yes and in fact you will know where I am because I live about ten miles away from where you performed at Ramblin’ Man Fair.
John Fred: Oh Maidstone.
MGM: Oh yeah, we covered the show with MGM and I got some really good shots that day so I was very, very happy with that.
John Fred: Very cool man, very cool. So you shoot a lot of photography, too?
MGM: Yeah it’s great because the photography is the bit to get excited about. You’re always looking for that one shot from the 200 you take that’s just a perfect picture.
John Fred: Exactly, well and that’s just like…. I mean man it’s like when you’re in a band and you are recording music it, it means more to you when your writing that music. All four of us are writers and we all record the music too. We’ve been very fortunate and we grew up together and we…my dad who is in Headhunters [The Kentucky Headhunters’s Richard Young] … man he told us right off the bat, he said, “Dude, do the best you can to always make things equal between yourselves.” And he taught us about writing, about keeping our publishing, doing it all, yeah we all write music and lyrics.
Sometimes you don’t agree on stuff but, but it makes it really interesting to have four different views coming into collaborating on a song. And it means so much more like you’re talking about with shooting and being able to write. A lot of times I’ve seen many times a photographer come in and you’ve got a writer,and sometimes the two don’t even hardly see each other. [laughter] That’s something that it actually can be both.
So absolutely cool man, I know we’re coming over, yeah were coming over in two weeks man [to the UK for a more intimate tour than the recent arena shows], its just like trying to get everything ready for it, it’ll be cool though .
MGM: I can imagine. Just before we talk about the upcoming tour, let me just rewind you back a little bit there to, Maidstone as well because of course the Headhunters came over with you. You were playing on the same bill on the same stage as your Father I mean that’s pretty cool to be able to do that, that must have meant a lot to both of you?
John Fred: It meant so much to both of us, I agree and I tell you, I grew up idolising my Dad and my Uncle who plays drums in the Kentucky Headhunters. When I was five years old I used to skip school and go on the road with them. And my Mom would have to write notes to the superintendent or the principal saying, “It’s an educational trip.” But in the summer time I would always go out and it was fun man. I never knew that growing up that I would fall into the footsteps of that perfectly…. doing what they were doing and…
But I’m really happy I did it, and to be honest with you, our band, when we first started they helped us with everything. I’m talking about knowing how to write songs, how to play music about the music business. I mean that was something that we were so fortunate with. I’ve told many, many people over and over, there’s so many great young bands out and I see them all the time on the road. I can remember some of the first talks that my Dad and Uncle ever had with us was about keeping your band equal.
You know how I was talking to you about, sharing your song writing, sharing….., you need the whole pie and it was also a lot of talks about the record industry and the business and where the Headhunters they were one of the biggest bands in country music in the early 90’s and won Grammys, won CMA awards which are country music awards, a big deal in America. And very highly respected by tons of rock and roll artists worldwide and blues players and… So it’s cool to yeah to got to get them finally over to England man because they were influenced by so many English artists like Cream and the Yardbirds.
So we grew up on my grandparents farm. And my Dad and my Uncle, their Great-Grandmother gave them an old farm house to play music in. Because she was like, “You guys, it will keep you out of trouble.” And that caused more trouble than anything and it was funny because when we got to be 16 years old we took over that house. I was like, “Dad we’re putting a band together with them.” And he’s like, “Oh okay.” I was like, “Can we practice at the house?” And he’s like, “Yeah I guess.”
He thought we were just going to screw around and I think it was probably about two weeks later he was down there with us. And he was like, “Now boys you need to start writing, don’t structure your songs with that… here’s what you got to do.” And he was just funny because he would come in there and try to not to be in the way, nothing to seem he was caring too much. But he obviously knew that we had something, we had a brother who had that as well.. he knows and it wasn’t just the music it was the wolf pack man that’s what we still got. Really we’ve been through a lot and I’ll tell you “we put a band together.”
We’ve been so lucky that we’ve been able to love each other the way we did and become such a small town that we’ve managed to keep it together none of us moved off. And we’re on our fifth record. If you count our record we did in high school it’s six, and the rock and roll tapes. So man I’ll tell you, I sit back sometimes and think about it like when we were at the awesome Rambin’ Man Festival together and… and I’m like, “Man we’re headlining at this…” And the Head Hunters are coming up for us, and it’s one of those things you couldn’t write it, you know what I’m saying? If you told somebody about it years before and just really honoured, honoured to get to do it and we’re coming over to do the experience Kentucky tour coming up. And this is going to be so cool man because we’ve got something really special planned I mean it’s, it’s going to be pretty long set. We’ve never done this before so we’re very excited and I think we’re going to be doing a lot of songs that we don’t normally just do.
MGM: And you’re going back to smaller venues as well, aren’t you ?
John Fred: Yeah, yeah we’re doing smaller venues which I mean it’s funny because smaller venues and then, [laughter] still bigger. Yet the venues we are fixed to play, they’re still bigger than the ones we’re doing in the States. But it’s growing in the States, it’s just taking so long because we have been making a grass roots following. We’re not a huge radio band. We do get some serious radio love, I mean there’s some great stations here in America that just play the hell out of us, and there was some really support, but man I think it’s the corporate world over here. We got some dudes that are way up in the corporate cloud and they’re afraid to really let a bunch of long hair southern rock boys get on the main stream rock radio and take over. So we had to be like cockroaches and crawl around and make fans but it’s tough.
MGM: Does America still see you as not mainstream enough then? Because I would have thought you fit the bill perfectly as to what the younger music fans are looking for these days. Is that not the case?
John Fred: We are so far from mainstream Adrian. It’s like peanut butter and like beef jerky. It’s awful. We were with a record label Roadrunner for years. Man, on the first record they let us do what we wanted to do and that was back in 2006. On the second one we still did what we wanted to do. And we delved into Folklore and Superstition for our 2008 release. We just were like, “we’ve been influenced by so many blues artists and old time singers.”
So we figured “Why don’t we just throw it back man, let’s go to New Orleans, let’s go down there for a little while and hang. We just need fun man.” We had fun and we took our band pictures down there. I don’t know man… we had a one hell of a record. And then the third record is well “We need you guys to try to play this radio game.” We were like, “Man, radio doesn’t want to play us sometimes and we write our our own songs.” We were just in transition and honestly it was cool. We had a good time doing it. We worked with like one of the biggest pop producers in the world. It was great, the only thing was that it caged who we were as artists. And you know, you can’t get to let things be what they are.
Finally we did Magic Mountain a couple of years ago and that was really, really a great record. Had a great time working with Joe Baristia on that. And then yeah, just came back to… well we got fired from Roadrunner and that was the best thing that has ever happened and we were roaming around as free agents as Jerry Maguire would say. But it was pretty cool and scary but it was cool, we were writing music that we didn’t care if it had a radio vibe to it or. We are going to write great songs, we were going to write bad ass riffs, and yeah man we were just going to do it like we did before we ever had a record deal and it worked out.
I think people really enjoyed it . We got picked up by Mascot Records and those guys are… I remember sitting down with Ed [Van Zijl] the owner of Mascot in Switzerland. He took us out for lunch man and first thing he said when he sat down he said, “Man what kind of pickups do you guys use in your guitars? Now if anybody doesn’t know, almost any person who owns a record label wouldn’t know what a pickup is in a guitar much less a guitar itself. So and I am not joking about that man, that’s how disconnected the corporation of corporate people are man in the music industry.
But, so, this guy is a real deal and he loves artist and he puts his own money into his company, and I will tell you, they are the greatest record label on the face of the earth because they are not acting like a record label. He was really putting a lot of emphasis on artist and not trying to find a bunch of artist. They only do maybe two, three tops a year and they are finding stuff that doesn’t sound the same and that’s the deal man. We have been so fortunate to be with him because they were look, we had man, we had probably six to seven labels that we met with in person after we got released from Road Runner. And it was like we sit around and would meet with them and it was not the right home for us.
We could figure that out really quick but with Mascot, man, they had so many great artist. Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes, Beth Hart, some other great American bands too. They’ve done some different stuff. It is not all heavy metal, it’s not all …they have got some classic style, jam band stuff with more and stuff. It has been a match made for us and them and we’re just doing it man.
I think in today’s world people want to see, they want to keep, keep you making albums constantly. So we are trying to write every once a little stuff here and there. And not the some concern when we do have to make another album. And I tell you what man, with us, we go and pull out stuff from years ago that we’ve written, and now it’s like, there is not that pressure to have huge radio gigs. Because like I said American radio, if you are not, if you have a sound like a certain sound, you really, you got to make it on your own. So we are just, we are loving it being able to be who we are . And obviously we have got our amazing fan base in the UK and this Experience Kentucky tour is going to be unreal, cannot wait …
MGM:That’s one of the things I was going to ask you there as well, because of course when you play the Carnival of Madness tour in states, you’ve got Shinedown as the headline act on the bill. Yet when you bring it over to the UK you guys sweep the board and you’re the ones that driving the show.
John Fred: Yeah well I will tell you what, it is just the difference in, really the fans, the fans make it. We are just yeah, I would say, I hate to sound so not removed from it but in a sense we came over in 2007 to UK, and man it was like, we were opening for a some buddies of ours in a band called Hinder that were doing really big in America. And they asked us, they were like, “How you guys want to come over and do this short European, British tour with me.” We were like, “Dude of course.” We were like, so so excited that … we had like a airport shuttle van, we were rolling around in it and the promoters didn’t even know who we were. They had no idea.
We would get there and we would tell them like, “Hey we’re Black Stone Cherry,” and they were like, [laughs] “Who are you?” We were like, “Ah sorry we are going to play tonight so.” But it was fun and we made a lot of fans, and I think for the first time people had seen a live rock and roll band from America. I really, I’m not trying to sound to be for adversary or anything like that but I think it was the first time that man people have been shook up like, “Man there is this crazy bunch of country dudes from the middle of no here Kentucky that have been listening to rock and roll in a farm house.”
Dude I think the energy in the songs and I think too man some of it was probably just because we are down to earth people and over the years we’ve made fans on the ground. And we got lucky too. We did some really big tours. We did get Leppard, I think that tour was unreal. I mean that was amazing. Those guys were some of the nicest guys and getting to play with Whitesnake, and then we went out with Nickleback and that was in 2009.
And dude those guys they had this huge, huge pop song man, the pop rock stuff but dude they are incredible, bad ass rock and roll players and we had a great time with them. And it’s just yeah, were done down low so many times and being able to, man, I look at it sometimes, I’d sit back and go what? How is this for real? We all do on the bus sometimes we sit there like man we’re fixing to go play for this many people, this many miles away from home and so like, we are very fortunate, we are blessed and we worked really hard but we’d also, I think we’d have stuck with it regardless.
MGM: You have got to do it with a smile as well because those memories that you have created can only leave a smile on your face, can’t they ?
John Fred: I will tell you what, If I died tomorrow, I hope it don’t, I got a lot more stuff to do! I have lived incredible life, incredible life. My grandfather he passed away in April of this year. He was the most well-spoken, articulate, just very artistic guy. He wasn’t like an older, he didn’t have a old mindset, he was like 19 or 20. And he just had a old body and I told him all the time I would come in from school and stuff and he would tell me. I would, “Tell me what you saw, tell me about your trip and I would start to tell him and stuff and he said, “You are 20, 25 or 26 whatever year it was I was telling,” And he said, “You say more than most people and you are out there playing music and doing it for the right reasons. You love it and I always think, there is days that are bitter sweet. You get on the road, you miss home and of course hey man we got kids now so that’s a different story altogether. We’re running around like trying to just make sure that we are taking at least two showers a week and trying to just bounce on that.
But yeah you miss your kids, you miss your wife and your buddies back home but I try to put it into perspective all the time of man we are going to do something that, to our music, writing music, sitting around in a room writing songs that connect to people. My Mum’s like, “You got to pay your bills.” Though I’m like, “It is not an amount of money that you could offer me to do something at a high rise desk job anything like that.” Because you got to really commit your life to be a musician. And it is hard sometimes man, you go around and you wonder how you are going to make this work or that work. But it’s being like a magician almost sometimes. You have to pull some magic out of your hat to keep your whole system going. But man it’s worth it because you really get to see a lot of different people. Man the friends we’d made from touring and just doing albums and it’s I couldn’t replace this so we are very, very lucky dudes.
MGM: And what would be nice to see of course is, because I think quite a few of you now have got children as well, if they all end up in the practice house at some point and then it all goes through the cycle again.
John Fred: Well I tell you what, that would be an amazing thing if that happened. I tell you this I have been trying to, I got my little girl a drum set for Christmas when she was a year old and she beats the fire out of it and she is fickle, man. She loves music and hey and I thought it is just different man when you have kids and they are getting into different stuff and you want them to be happy. I named my daughter after Sir Paul [McCartney] and I play her Beatles stuff all the time. That’s my favourite band and it’s crazy seeing her. I remember when my Dad used to make me listen to all the Victor White albums and seeing like ease her singing rocky reckon let me in. So it’s cool man, I am trying to teach her about great English and American rock and roll .
MGM: That’s wonderful. She will thank you for it in years to come. I am absolutely sure of that.
John Fred: Oh that’s right. Yeah man.
MGM: That was wonderful. John Fred, I have plenty of material, thank you so much for taking some time out for me. I already appreciate it.
John Fred: Oh man no problems and I apologize for the ranting man, sometimes I just start talking and I know it’s, I guess it’s better than having to pull questions out of people.
MGM: [Laughs] You have no idea. This is beautiful because I can tell in your voice what it all means to you and that’s so much better than… so you guys got a new album out? “Yeah we think it’s our best one ever and we are going to come and see on tour within five dates” and you think, yeah well give me something but this was a joy. Thank you very, very much.
John Fred: Well thank you Adrian. I really appreciate it man and that means a lot to me. What will you be coming out to one of the shows to do some pictures or stuff?
MGM: One of my colleagues is. So we split the load between us. My colleague Robert’s coming out to do the London show.
John Fred: Well make sure he came in and say hi and we are always up for adult beverage after show, hang out. The thing I’m looking forward to with these smaller venues is that it’s easy to lose yourself in the city. I get up first thing in the morning just start walking and sometimes I don’t know where I am going man and I feel like you meet, you just suck more of the city in………..it’s beautiful.
The ‘small’ venues are the following
An Evening With Black Stone Cherry
TUE 22 NOV 2016
Wolverhampton Civic Hall
THU 24 NOV 2016
O2 Apollo Manchester
FRI 25 NOV 2016
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
SUN 27 NOV 2016
Newcastle City Hall
MON 28 NOV 2016
Sheffield City Hall
WED 30 NOV 2016
THU 01 DEC 2016
Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
FRI 02 DEC 2016
MON 05 DEC 2016
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
TUE 06 DEC 2016
O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire
THU 08 DEC 2016
Norwich UEA NRLCR