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A year after Kentucky HeadHunters guitarist Richard Young suffered a heart attack, the band is celebrating with tattooed outcasts and fire-breathing go-go girls in - of all places - New York City.
The HeadHunters are at Hogs & Heifers, a notorious biker bar - and celebrity watering hole - in Manhattan's meat-packing district. But the boys are here on business - they're filming a video for "Louisianna CoCo," a swampy country-rocker from their latest album, Songs From The Grass String Ranch.
But while the distractions are many inside the legendary closet-sized establishment, the HeadHunters' minds are on something else: the one-year anniversary of Richard Young's new lease on life.
"When I was lying in that emergency room, I knew I was dying," recalls Richard, standing outside the bar next to a row of glistening motorcycles. "I even left this earth for a brief time. The boys were around me all crying and hugging each other, and I just thought, 'Oh my, this is the end.' "
But fortunately for Richard and his bandmates - brother Fred, cousins Anthony Kenney and Greg Martin, and longtime friend Doug Phelps - the heart attack was treated quickly, and the band was back on the road after a couple of months. "If anything had happened to him, there would be no band," declares Doug. "This is a special day for us."
Richard, 46, is now trying to live a healthier lifestyle. He stopped smoking, but as he munches on hot wings and fried corn fritters during a break in the video shoot, it's clear he hasn't given up everything. "I want to live my life, and not take away everything that makes me happy," he explains.
"Today is amazing, when you think that just a year ago was the scariest day of my life," admits Fred, straightening his trademark coonskin cap. "Being here today has special meaning - first, because my brother is with us, and second, because it's just such a cool place!"
In fact, the HeadHunters are far from strangers at Hogs & Heifers. "We've been coming here for years," admits Richard. "It's filled with outcasts, so we can certainly identify." In fact, the video's cast is made up of Hogs & Heifers bartenders, bouncers and regular customers - mostly ornery-looking guys, and girls in fringed leather halter tops.
Doug points out the resemblance of the bar to the practice house on the Youngs' Edmonton, Ky., farm. "It's the same type of look, all sorts of posters and stickers," he says. "This is a very comfortable place for us to play."
The atmosphere at the bar also suits the song to a tee. " 'Louisianna CoCo' is about these free-minded, free-willed, free-spirited girls we meet all over the country who love bars like this and love to dance," explains Richard.
Today is actually the second day of shooting for "Louisianna CoCo." The video's plot - which has the band going from one New York tourist landmark to another, looking for the bar where they're scheduled to play - required a previous day's shooting all over the city. The guys crossed Times Square in imitation of the Beatles' Abbey Road album cover and strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge. "I never thought I'd be walking across the Brooklyn Bridge a year after that heart attack," laughs Richard.
The boys have also spent time in New York hanging at other local bars, jamming with local blues musicians and checking out their friend Charlie Daniels, who was playing uptown. It's pretty clear the HeadHunters - who have never made a video outside Kentucky before - are making themselves at home in the big city.
"This is so ironic," says Richard. "Our music is rural, our lyrics are rural - but this place is as authentic as any place down south. Man, am I glad to be here."
- Robbie Woliver