Interview by Mark Lacey
The kings of Kentucky are back. With their UK tour due to start later this month, Black Stone Cherry’s wild drummer, John Fred Young, teases us with news of a new album to come.
MGM: The last time we spoke in 2020, the world was in lockdown, and BSC hadn’t played a show in 8 months. Feels like a lifetime ago, right?
JFY: 2020? We refer to it as a bucket of fish kicked over a dumpster fire. It was not the greatest time in the world and definitely it wasn’t great for musicians trying to do shows. But, yeah, it’s kind of crazy, but we are back in the highway of rock.
MGM: Now COVID is no longer such a consideration, your touring schedule looks to be getting back to something close to normal. BSC did maybe 70, 80 shows last year. How does it feel to be back out playing again?
JFY: Well, we’ve been touring for 20 years. I guess when you do something that long …. when you’re halted and you can’t do that, it’s very hard. Now, obviously, we’re back to touring and we’re back to pretty much regular rock n roll schedule. We’re going full steam, man. We’re not stopping. We were off for Christmas but we actually just got back from Canada right before Christmas. We did eleven or twelve shows with our buddies in Steel Panther. So that was awesome. I love those guys to death. they are some of the best musicians and they’re so super talented at what they do, man. We’ll definitely be doing more stuff with them in the future.
MGM: The band have been teasing fans on the socials during the last few weeks with news of a new single, a new video, and album recording sessions. This will be your first album in almost 3 years. How are you getting on?
JFY: Later today I’ve got to head over to Ben’s hometown. Chris and I live in Edmonton, Kentucky, and Ben lives in Glasgow, Kentucky, so they’re right next to each other. We pretty much consider both places our hometowns here. We were looking for a place to do drums, and we brought up the idea of doing it at the Plaza Theatre that we actually do our home shows at. A lot of people from the UK fly over when we do those every two years. But the drums are sounding incredible in there, man. It’s got a really cool throw to it; almost like that John Bonham castle feel. I got done the night before last with all my drum tracking and woke up the next day and felt like a truck had run over me. I was so sore, just from grinding, man. Ben and Chris are tracking some guitar stuff today, and then I’m going to rush over there. And they’re coming back here to my house to do vocals and bass next week, so we should probably have our album done here in about a week and a half. We’ve been teasing around on, socials and stuff. We’ll probably have a song out pretty soon, hopefully for everybody to hear, and maybe we’ll play it on the tour.
(MGM: That new song ‘Out of Pocket’ was released on 12th January)
JFY: So this one is 100% brand new. ‘The Human Condition’ was a very cool record, and it was a lot of songs that we had written before, but maybe they just didn’t make albums. And of course, we don’t write B sides, That’s what we say, right. But there were a lot of gems that we had for years and years and we wanted to see those songs be put on a record. So that was a cool opportunity to get some of those songs released. But this album is all new material. We wrote stuff on the road last summer, all through the fall, and there’s stuff we were working on, whilst on the Steel Panther tour back in November / December. I think people are going to dig it.
MGM: How have these writing and recording sessions compared to the last couple of albums? Obviously, this is the first one that you’ll have worked on with Steve Jewell on bass?
We’ve know Steve for millennia now. Steve is about six or seven years younger than I am …. I’m the oldest in the band. But when we were doing shows around home, I would have been probably 19, he was like 12 / 13? He would always come to our shows, and he started putting together bands around the area. He played guitar in Otis, which was an amazing band. But, man, Steve has been a brother for years and years, so it was really a great fit. He brings so much to the show and so much to our BSC family. He’s an amazing guitar player, but then put him on the bass guitar and he’s like an amazing player and he does really cool stuff. I think it’s neat on stage with he and I too. He’s studied a lot of different genres of music, and when it comes to bass, we do a lot of really cool, percussive stuff together. he’s also a drummer, so that doesn’t hurt. Actually, I think drums were his first instrument. He was like nine / ten years old playing drums, like me when I started. The other night we were in the studio, and we had a song that was more of a ballad style, and I was trying to figure out how to do something, and Steve came up with this part, almost like a Steve Gadd drum part. And I was like “that’s awesome. I’ll do that”. We’re a team, man. The way we record, we do like, a scratch guitar, bass, vocal, and I’ll go up and play drums to those tracks and then everybody gets to listen in the control room, and just beat me to death to make sure everything is perfect. But it’s a big team effort, man. And when we go to do guitars and vocals, I’m in there to give any advice I can. Yeah, man. Steve’s a doll, dude. I love him.
MGM: The first show that a lot of people in the UK saw after lock-down was your show at the Royal Albert Hall. And that was the first time Steve was properly introduced to fans in the UK. He was like a monster on stage.
JFY: Him and Ben get it going, man. And it’s a whirlwind. But yeah, that whole tour was great, but just being able to get back over to you guys, man, and play, it was something really special for us, because that lock-down stuff was hard. Obviously, the world knows it was hard, but getting over there and being able to just see people that we hadn’t seen; it was a special trip, and it meant a lot to all of us.
JFY: Well, I’ll tell you, man, anybody who’s ever seen a show there, I’m sure they could absolutely agree to this. It is such a prestigious place and you do feel a different energy when you walk in there. We’ve been fortunate enough to play a lot of amazing and very prestigious places, even if it’s just some really cool rock n roll dive bar. Sometimes you walk in, you go, oh, this place has got a vibe. But the Albert Hall is different because you think about how many legendary acts have played there. It’s like Hendrix, Cream and Zeppelin. I remember the hair on the back of my neck stood up when I walked in there. It was almost like an air was sucked out of me. It was an honour, though. Unless I’m mistaken, I think we may be the only Kentucky band that’s ever played there. And if that’s true, that’s incredible. That day was just crazy. Everything was going so fast, it was almost like being in the matrix or something. I hope we get to go back there again. I think everybody that came definitely had an amazing night, and I’m so glad we filmed it.
MGM: Kris Barras did an amazing job of supporting as well?
JFY: Kris is awesome. He’s a master guitar player. Love that guy.
MGM: Your UK tour starts in a few weeks, and runs from 28th January to 4th February. Have you started tour rehearsals for it yet? Or are you still in ‘finish the album’ mode?
JFY: No, we’re still in finish the album mode. We’re trying to do so many things at one time because we’re working on the album, and we’re also going over the production side and the touring side of the tour coming up. And that’s a lot to undertake. Doing the arenas is a little bit different because you have to bring in your decking, staging and you have to figure out what PA you’re getting. There’s a lot of stuff that goes into those shows. I think we’re going to rehearse probably two days before, get to the UK early and rehearse a couple of days and then bang, bang, first night, man, when the lights go down. It’ll be awesome, and we get to play with the Darkness too. I love those guys.
MGM: The last time you shared a stage with the Darkness was back in 2012 at the Thetford Forest gig. That may have been the only time you’ve shared a stage?
JFY: To my knowledge, that is the only time that The Darkness and us have done a show together, but I’ll tell you a cool story. When they came out, they blew up everywhere, right? But in America, I remember I was at my mom and dad’s house with Ben and we saw that video on MTV, and it was like, wow, what is this? There was nothing like them on TV at that time. It was just killer. I felt like, this is what rock and roll was supposed to be about. It just had the classic rock flair to it. We were instantly big fans of what they were doing, and then they played Nashville in 2004 and we drove down to see them. We didn’t have a record deal or anything. We’re just trying to get something going, and I remember we snuck around back, and we were trying to get backstage and meet them, and be like, “hey, dudes we’re in a band, here’s our CD”. They killed it that night, and the Wildhearts opened. It was a great night. On the way home we were just talking about how killer the show was. But getting a chance to really hang out with them over the past summer was awesome. We came to the UK to do a screening for the Royal Albert Hall DVD at a theatre in London with a Q&A afterwards, which was really cool. I got to hang out with some people and the next day us and The Darkness did promo for the tour at the Hard Rock in London. So we got to hang out with those guys and it was first time we’d ever spent any time with them. They’re awesome, dude. Cool dudes, and looking forward to having one hell of a tour together. And Danko Jones is also on the bill.
MGM: How did the idea for the co-headline come together.
JFY: We have wanted to play together with them for a long time. And it’s hard, man, because you have a band that you want to tour with, or maybe a band wants to tour with you or whatever, and you’re on different album cycles. It’s like one band may be in the studio and they’re locked in there and you may be out touring live, and then when that turns, it’s like, oh, now you’re out touring live and they’re in the studio. So sometimes it takes a little while for the cycles to catch up. But we finally got it, man …. the stars aligned.
MGM: You’ll have spent a bit of time with Rufus Taylor, but have you had the chance to meet his dad?
JFY: I haven’t ever met Roger Taylor. But Rufus is a cool, dude. We did a zoom a couple of weeks ago, and yeah, man, what a monster drummer? Good Lord. Obviously his dad’s royalty, man, but Rufus is a sick player, man. I told him, I got to get on a treadmill, do some push-ups and work out, bro. He plays some great stuff. I finally got a chance to watch that tribute they did to Taylor Hawkins and saw him and obviously Taylor’s son Shane play. Dude, that was heavy, man. Definitely got a little choked up watching that. But Rufus did a fantastic, fantastic job at that. And I told him that was really cool, man; he’s got such a cool style, and those guys …. they’re all great players and of course, Justin is a monster singer. So I think people are going to really have a great time, and I think that it will be a tour that we look back on and go, man, that was one you put up on the shelf.
For more information
From 28th January to 4th February, Black Stone Cherry embark on a massive co-headline UK tour with their friends in The Darkness. Support comes from Danko Jones. Limited tickets still available.
Sat 28th Cardiff Motorpoint Arena
Sun 29th Liverpool M&S Bank Arena
Mon 30th Glasgow OVO Arena
Tue 31st Birmingham Resorts World Arena
Thu 2nd Manchester AO Arena
Fri 3rd Leeds First Direct Arena
Sat 4th London Wembley OVO Arena
To coincide with the UK tour, Black Stone Cherry have released a brand new song, ‘Out of Pocket’. The track is out now via Mascot Records/Mascot Label Group and is available on all streaming platform