John Fred Young of Black Stone Cherry Interview

February 25, 2009

Black Stone Cherry was in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on February 9th in support of their sophomore album ‘Folklore & Superstition’, which debuted at #28 on the Billboard Hot 200 last August. Since releasing their debut CD in July of 2006, the band has toured the world with the likes of Aerosmith, Whitesnake, Def Leppard, Black Label Society and Buckcherry. They’ve quickly earned a reputation as a ‘must-see’ live band, and the fans were not disappointed. Their musicianship and stage presence are far beyond their age, and before the show, Justin “Crash” Crafton sat down to chat with drummer John Fred Young.

John Fred Young

WARNING: The following interview has to have been the most surreal experience I’ve ever had meeting or interviewing a musician, not in a bad way though. Jaylene, Nik, and I met up with Black Stone Cherry’s John Fred Young at the Diamond Ballroom in Oklahoma City for my pre-show interview. John Fred has to be the most down-to-earth person I have interviewed so far, but behind his charm is one helluva comedian. He had everyone in the room in stitches. If the music career sadly doesn’t work out, he would definitely succeed in comedy. For those who are not aware, John Fred’s father and uncle are Richard and Fred Young of The Kentucky Headhunters. He is just as much a madman behind the kit as he was in the interview. Watching him perform brings to mind such drumming legends as Tommy Aldridge, Tommy Lee, Shannon Larkin and Animal of The Muppets.

We set up in the venue’s ‘green room’ and John Fred was ever gracious in helping find an electrical outlet for the camcorder. After being attacked by a 10 foot Ficus plant and checking the room’s lighting levels, John Fred handed over the reigns to Nik to film the impending interview. John Fred kept insisting this had to be on YouTube (I am working on getting it transferred, as it is classic).

Sleaze Roxx: This probably won’t end up on YouTube so I wouldn’t worry too much about the lights!

John Fred Young: Well hell, everything I do has to go on there. I’m on a signed record company contract with YouTube! I’ve got my own reality show. Y’all right now are on film and you don’t even know it. Hey Shep (Black Stone Cherry road crew member who was in the room), move that camera over there. It’s crazy ’round here and we don’t even do drugs. WE DON’T EVEN DO DRUGS AND WE ARE CRAZY! Awww man, I am just kidding. Thank y’all for coming to my crib…now get the hell out! (laughs)

At this point John Fred takes a look at my interview sheet and I asked if he just wanted to read them and then answer them?

Black Stone CherryJohn Fred Young: Nah, you tell me. We will just act like we are on some kind of James Bond movie. Like we are planning some kick ass war thing! Let me shut this door, I’d hate for someone to come in and ruin this movie spectacle.

As John Fred shuts the door he yells at Crooked X, who are sound checking…

John Fred Young: We are shooting a pornographic DVD in here if you want to be in it!!

John re-enters the room and states…

John Fred Young: Crooked X, they are about 15 years old and they rock. They are like four foot tall. They’re going to have women all over them!

Jaylene replies, “Especially the lead singer!”

John Fred Young: Yeah, he is cute, that’s the one I like. They’re good boys. OK, let’s go!

Sleaze Roxx: You kicked off this leg of the U.S. tour on January 29th in Dallas. How has this leg been so far? Any highlights stick out in your mind?

John Fred Young: It’s going good. I think the best part about doing this tour is actually just being back on the road and being back in the United States because we’ve been to the UK and all throughout Europe that we actually haven’t paid much attention to our home country. Last time we played America was in October (2008) in Orlando at the House of Blues with Theory Of A Deadman. We kicked it off in Tyler, Texas. It was Tyler right? Somewhere in Texas, Texas is a big place. We kicked it off down there, that was great. Love playing Texas. Stayed in Texas about a week. We went to San Antonio, Houston, Dallas and another place I can’t think of right now. Ahh, Beaumont. Then we went to New Orleans, Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Jackson, Mississippi and right now we are in the big OKC today! Rockin’ and rollin, jammin’ it out.

Sleaze Roxx: “Please Come In” was recently released as the second single and video from ‘Folklore & Superstition’. How has the response from radio and video outlets been?

John Fred Young: I haven’t heard the song yet! I was told I played on it and they told me I did well!

It is doing really good. I think the radio reception’s been really well in America. Like anything, we would like it to be #1. Maybe it will get there. We don’t try and rely on radio too much. WE ARE A LIVE BAND! If they play it, GOD bless them. If they don’t, that is ok because what we do is a live show, it’s a circus if you will. I think kids, people my age, my parent’s age and my grandparents age like our band because we are different, and the live show with most bands is dying out. You get a band that has a great album on the charts and sound great in the studio then you get them out live and they can’t play or can’t play the songs like they have on the record. Due to? There are a lot of reasons. It is a dying art form to have a great live show. It is a dying breed of musicians and we are here to hold the torch!

“Please Come In” is out, the video is out for it and it is ridiculously psychedelic. It’s great and we are really proud of it!

Sleaze Roxx: After “Please Come In” runs its course, has the band decided what the third single and video will be or what would you like to see released as the next single?

John Fred YoungJohn Fred Young: You know what, me personally, I would think “Peace Is Free” would be it, but there are things on there more geared for Rock Radio. I think people that come to the shows are going to hear the rock songs. For us, I think it’s about making sure the songs like “Please Come In” and “Things My Father Said”, those two songs especially have to be pushed at radio harder than anything because “Peace Is Free” is probably one of the best songs written in the last 50 years about World Peace. That is not just because I’m in the band and helped write it. Honestly, I’ve seen what it does to people. No matter how old you are what race, male or female. I’ve seen people in Europe, the UK and in the States cry and have a great emotional attachment to it.

That is the biggest thing I’m proud of with this band is that we got to write that song. Also, with “Things My Father Said”, that song, we’ve had a ton of people write or email us that that song really means a lot to them because their father passed away. I remember we got a letter from a guy in Scotland who never really had a good relationship with his Dad but he heard that song and he called his Dad and said, “Dad, I need to tell you that I haven’t been really close to you but I want to tell you I love you and lets go out and play some golf!” So, they went out and played golf. His relationship with his Dad, he started building it back up and his Dad passed away three months after that. He wrote us a letter and said if it wasn’t for the song, he wouldn’t have reached out to his Father before passed away.

Things like that mean more to us here (touches heart) than a Grammy or whatever we could achieve one day or multiple radio success. I do hope those two songs, more than anything on the album, get pushed really really heavy. I’d love to have “Please Come In” go #1, just like any band would, but I would rather have it go away and those two songs go cause they’ve got such a huge emotional attachment with people. Hopefully they’ll do great things!

Sleaze Roxx: At what age did you start playing drums?

John Fred Young: My Uncle Fred of The Kentucky Headhunters got me a set when I was five. I beat the hell out of them! I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just crazy everywhere! My Dad and Uncle Fred, when I was 16, asked me if I wanted a car or a drum set for my birthday. I was like, get me a drum set and I will be fine. I remember, he sold a…do you remember the old Bel Air cars? He had a custom guitar, the fin of the Bel Air was up here and if you pulled out the tone knob the taillight would blink. It was awesome, it was so cool. He sold that guitar and he and my Uncle helped me get my first Ludwig kit. I will never forget that. That is the kit I’ve used on both albums and I will record every album with it. That is my Black Classic Maple, five piece Ludwig kit. It’s just like what I play live except the live kit is green sparkle. I love playing drums, it’s great! It is the best job in the world. Actually, it is not a job. I get to make music with Chris, Ben and Jon, my brothers, everyday of my life. It is an honor. I get to hit stuff, just bash around!

Sleaze Roxx: And not go to jail!

John Fred Young: Yeah! And not go to jail! (laughs) I’m proud to be doing what I am doing. Each day, I try not to take advantage of it. I try not to sleep too late, I sleep too late, a lot! Just like these kids out here, Crooked X. They are good kids, good musicians, they’re real humble too. They’ve got a real good family background as well. I was just talking to them and they’ve been doing some TV stuff like Jimmy Kimmel. I told them I was real proud of them. They’re young. They’re like 15 years old, which is two years younger than when we first started. They’re really good players. I’m really looking forward to watching them grow up…not too fast though, but grow up and do some great things for the music world. Maybe we can get them on tour now that their CD is out, so be looking for that.

Drums are great! I tell everybody, any kid, anybody who hasn’t played before and any 60 year olds who want to start playing. It is a great instrument, it takes a lot of stress off you. It doesn’t matter if you are playing for 70,000 or 7 people, it is all in how you do it.

Sleaze Roxx: You’ve stated in other interviews that your main influence as a drummer is your Uncle Fred. Who are some of your other drumming influences?

John Fred YoungJohn Fred Young: My drumming influences…well, besides my Uncle Fred of The Kentucky Headhunters, would be John Bonham. Bernard Purdie is a big influence of mine. He was one, well he is still alive and I hope he stays alive for a long time. He is one of the greatest R&B, Shuffle, Funk, Country and Rock drummers. He did everything. He played on so much stuff. He really showed me a lot about groove. Of course Ginger Baker from Cream, Mitch Mitchell, who recently passed away. I like Keith Moon a lot, I liked what he did. I like a lot of stuff people wouldn’t think I listen to, for instance, Baby Dobbs, one of the great early New Orleans drummers. I’m pretty sure he was from New Orleans. I know he was from that area. He was playing in a lot of those marching bands that were real Cajun like mambo flavor. Like Papa Jo Jones is another. Both were great black drummers I grew up listening to with my Uncle.

Of course it goes back to Fred, because everything, if I wasn’t inspired by, he showed it to me. If it wasn’t Fred who I learned it from, it was Fred who showed me it. Tommy Aldridge is another one. I haven’t pinned Tommy down yet. I’ve met him once, just briefly. I want to just talk to him, hang out with him, but he always seems to be in a rush all the time but he is a great drummer. Joey Kramer from Aerosmith is another great drummer I’ve got to meet, he was really cool. Buddy Miles who played in the Gypsy’s with Jimi Hendrix, he passed away this year too, he was a great drummer. I know I’m leaving out tons.

As far as Jazz drummers, my all-time favorite would be Buddy Rich, then Gene Krupa. Buddy was like a psychopath, cussing out his bandmates and throwing stuff. He was a great drummer. As far as new guys. Morgan Rose from Sevendust, he is a great talented drummer and a great hearted guy, he is my brother. Xavier Muriel from Buckcherry is a great drummer and a great friend of mine. Chad, he’d kill me, I can hardly pronounce his last name, Szeliga. He is a polish boy but a great drummer. There are so many great drummers that are out now that are just great dudes and always want to show each other stuff. I’m proud to be friends with a lot of these new guys.

I think what I bring to the table, the circle of drummers, is I’ve learned a lot from Fred and Fred’s teachings over the years. He sat me down as a kid and showed me rudiments and things like that. I owe him a lot. He is my star in the dark. One other drummer that I really love to death is Rick Allen from Def Leppard. I got to be really good friends with Rick over the summer of 2008 when we did the Def Leppard tour. Rick is one of the most down-to-earth, big-hearted guys. To go through the tragedy of losing his arm. To overcome that, he is so positive and charming. He’d come down everyday during soundcheck and just peck around. He was always like, “Your drums sound great!” I was always so thankful. I’m like, “Thanks dude!”

I’ve been very fortunate to meet some great drummers and a lot of them are some of the greatest people you would ever want to meet. It is always nice when you meet your idols or your peers and they are just great guys. I know I am leaving tons of guys out. Neil Sanderson from Three Days Grace is a good drummer and a great guy. I hate to leave anybody out! There are so many of them. They’ll be like, “Dude, you didn’t say my name!” and I’ll be like, “Ahhhh, I am sorry!” (laughs) Any band we play with, I always try and hang out with them and have a good time on tour.

Sleaze Roxx: Black Stone Cherry formed in 2001. How did the band form and where does the name Black Stone Cherry come from?

Black Stone CherryJohn Fred Young: We got together, Chris (Robertson, the singer) and I went to kindergarten together with each other. We’ve known each other a long time. His Dad and my Dad were real good friends. I always knew his Grandparents, he knew mine from Boy Scouts and stuff like that. He used to beat the absolute hell out of me everyday on the playground. He played football and was bigger than I was. Than I got tall and he stopped that real quick. We met Jon (Lawhon), our bass player, he moved up from Jacksonville Florida when I was in the 8th grade. We were in a school band is how we all met. We were in drumline together and Jon could read music so he was bossy and would tell us what to do. I would listen to him because I was like, I’m playing snare drum, kiss my ass! He was trying to be ‘Mr. Seniority’ but he could read music. I have no idea, I can’t read music.

We met Ben (Wells, guitar) from our former guitar tech David, who is back in Kentucky becoming a cop, serving the community, protecting the innocent and killing some people on the weekends. We miss him a lot! David introduced us to Ben through our practice house on my Grandparents farm in Metcalfe County Kentucky. We used to have parties there all the time and too young to really know what the hell we were doing! We used to drink a lot when we were young, like when we were 16 or 17. We drank a lot of whiskey and crazy stuff. I’m glad we did because when we got out on the road, we were like, alright, cool. Let’s go rock! We got it out of our systems. We had a lot of great parties there, just a lot of great friends and families. We have a lot of great friends and families, our Mothers and Fathers, they’ve supported us so much. We’ve been fortunate to have families who didn’t say cut your hair, get a job and get the hell out of my house. They are so great…I love you Mom! It helped because my Dad is a musician but my Mom probably knew that I was going to do something crazy like he did.

Back to meeting Ben. Hell, I get off subject so easy. There was a party one night. He came down there and sat in playing guitar. We knew right then that he was way better than we were so we knew we needed him in the band. He could play super fast so Ben joined the band. So on June 4, 2001 we started the Black Stone Cherry crazy circus that it is and that is Chris’ birthday. He turned 16 that day and now he is 23, so we’ve been together…let me count ’em up (sarcastically counts on his fingers), seven years. I knew, I just wanted to make sure. We can count in Kentucky…only to ten! (laughs) This summer will be our eighth year and Chris’ 24th birthday. Man it is great, I couldn’t ask for anything better.

Back to how we got our name. Blackstone Cigars, you can’t sue us, I hope you don’t. They are cherry flavored, vanilla flavored and something else. We used to go around and smoke all the time cause we were little hoodlums. We thought, “What are we going to name our band?” We had all these names and they were horrible. We looked at that Blackstone Cherry package because we were smoking them and thought, just put a space between Black and Stone and put Cherry after it and maybe we won’t get sued. I hope we don’t get sued. That’d be bad on their part because we’ve done a lot for their cigar company. People bring cigars all the time like, “Man I smoke these all the time!” and I am like, “You know how many headaches I’ve gotten smoking those cigars?” I used to smoke the hell out of them!

At this point, Black Stone Cherry’s guitar tech Kevin comes in to inform John Fred that dinner was done!

John Fred Young and the gangJohn Fred Young: Kevin! Come here and be on TV. Look here y’all, I’m going to introduce you to Kevin, this man right here is my co-pilot, he never lets you down and he is a guitar playing extraordinaire (Kevin rolls his eyes) and he will tell ya when Showtime is. Are we about to grill out?
Kevin: Yeah, we are about to dazzle them. Black Stone Cherry is going to take over the damn world! I’ll do everything in my power to bring them up to wherever they need to get to. To perfection is what we are working for, we may never get there…
John Fred Young: But we are gonna try! We are gonna dazzle them on the way!!
Kevin: You are damn right! And since Ben is my cousin, I am gonna have to keep him under. Where I am from we got tators and wieners. We can’t ever forget that Moonshine and all that!
John Fred Young: And you know, mayonnaise!
Kevin: Pizzas, egg sandwiches!
John Fred Young: Frog legs, collared greens, fried squirrel, squirrel brains, and you got deer back strap! I can gut a deer in less than seven minutes!
Kevin: I make the best homemade wine anyone has ever run their lips across!
John Fred Young: WE ARE OUT!

Sleaze Roxx: In 2003, you issued ‘Rock N’ Roll Tape’ independently. It is now long out-of-print and highly sought after by fans. Is there a chance of the band ever re-issuing that album?

John Fred Young: We had us a little CD back in 2001 called ‘Rock N’ Roll Tape’. We did it independently, we didn’t do it on a record label. We see them go on eBay for $700 a piece, just kidding, that is an exaggeration. They are about $100, still it makes you feel good. It is a great CD! Ben was 15, Chris and I were 16 and Jon was 18. We will eventually, one day, re-issue that album, hopefully! One of the tracks off the new album (Folklore & Superstition), “Sunrise”, is off that album and “The Key” is actually a riff called “Walkin” off of ‘Rock N’ Roll Tape’. You beg, you borrow and steal and take what you can get. If you can find that album, hold onto it!
Kevin: Thirteen Thirteen!
John Fred Young: Thirteen is the magic dazzle number, 13 is the equivalent of Rock N’ Roll, believe it or not!
Special Thanks to Amy Sciarretto and Chris Torres at Roadrunner Records, and BSC Tour Manager Joe Miller for all your help

Extra Special Thanks to Nik Peters for all your input into the interviews and for shooting some Spielberg like footage and to Jaylene Duncan (of Hippie Visions Studio for your input as well as for the amazing photography and for always being there for me

Thanks to Justin “Crash” Crafton and John Fred Young