The Kentucky Headhunters’ New Song ‘Susannah’ Has a Levon Helm Connection [Exclusive Premiere]
The Kentucky Headhunters know life on the road isn't only tough for those who live it — it can be equally hard for those left behind. The band's new song "Susannah," premiering exclusively on The Boot, is an ode to a woman who loves a travelin' man.
"Susannah" draws its inspiration from another song titled after a woman: the Band's "Ophelia." That Robbie Robertson-penned classic finds the titular character as the one who's left town, though, whereas in "Susannah," it's the man who's "been gone too long / Away from home."
"[Levon Helm, the Band's drummer and vocalist] and I were both born in Arkansas, and I always felt a connection to him because of that," Kentucky Headhunters member Doug Phelps explains of his musical influence-turned-friend. "It hit me pretty hard when I heard of Levon’s passing, and I just kept hearing him sing "Ophelia" in my head.
"That led me to singing "Susannah" in its place," Phelps continues, "and once that started, the story fell into place for me and I couldn’t write the lyrics down fast enough!"
"Susannah" is one of 12 songs on That's a Fact Jack!, the Kentucky Headhunters' forthcoming new album. Due out on Friday (Oct. 22), it's their first record of new material in five years.
"If you ask me, this is modern-society southern rock 'n' roll," says Headhunters member Richard Young of the project. "It’s for the times and the people. It’s all the influences and all the things we love, all the things with no borders or worrying about what doesn’t fit.”
After the COVID-19 pandemic caused the cancellation of their 2020 tour plans, the Kentucky Headhunters retreated to Mama Effie's Practice House, where they've played together for decades. "Then we figured we might as well go into the studio," Young explains, "but instead of having an agenda or some idea of what was this supposed to be, we all looked at each other and went, ‘Well, what do you do?' No discussions, no trying to be something — just ‘What do you want to play?’”
Among the dozen songs on That's a Fact Jack!, which the band recorded at Barrick Record Studio in Glasgow, Ky., is "Shotgun Effie," the first single Young, his brother Fred Young and cousins Greg Martin and Anthony Kenney released — while still in high school — as Itchy Brother, the band they formed in 1968. They became the Kentucky Headhunters in 1986, and Phelps joined the group when Kenney retired in the late 2000s.
The Kentucky Headhunters released their debut album — the Grammy-, ACM- and CMA-winning Pickin' on Nashville — with Mercury Nashville in 1989. That's a Fact Jack! is their 12th record.