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Kentucky Headhunters honor Johnnie Johnson with latest album

The Kentucky Headhunters first met the legendary, late pianist Johnnie Johnson at the Grammy’s and they became fast friends.

By coincidence, the Southern blues and rock band had spent the bus ride to the awards listening to Johnson’s latest album.

“We were bouncing off the walls all the way to New York City going to the Grammy’s listening to this thing,” said Richard Young, Headhunters’ guitarist and vocalist. “It was just fantastic. Johnnie just shined all the way through it. We get to the Grammy pre-party ... and we look over in the corner and there sits Johnnie Johnson at a table by himself. I think we scared the man to death. We went running over and became famous friends by the end of the night.”

That meeting led to a collaboration that lasted for years. Last fall, at the urging of Johnson’s widow, the Kentucky Headhunters pulled out some old sessions with Johnson and soon will be releasing a new album “Meet Me in Bluesland.”

Friday night, the Headhunters will play a show at the Cox Capitol Theatre in advance of the album’s June 2 release.

“We’re going to be playing all of the songs that brung us to the dance,” Young said. “We’ll be doing them and we’ll be throwing everybody a few curve balls.”

The group hit it big with their 1989 debut album “Pickin’ On Nashville,” which featured the single “Dumas Walker” and covers of “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Walk Softly on this Heart of Mine.”

The album went on to win the 1990 Grammy for Best Country Performance. The group has since released eight other albums, selling more than six million records.

“You wouldn’t want us to come down there and not play ‘Dumas Walker,’” Young said. “We play all the familiar favorites. We do a lot of Headhunter album covers.”

This includes their 1993 album “That’ll Work,” in which they first collaborated with Johnson.

“We just love playing together with him,” Young said of Johnson, who died in 2005.

Johnson rose to fame playing with Chuck Berry but left the life of the road to become a bus driver in St. Louis. His music career took off again with the release of the Chuck Berry documentary “Hail! Hail! Rock ’n’ Roll” and Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

It was early 2003 when Johnson was in Kentucky again for one last collaboration with the Headhunters.

“When we finished those tracks ... I took them home and stuck them under the bed,” Young said. “They had been in my house with other tracks for 10 years.”

Young said the group has been playing a lot of the songs that will be on the album for years but they wanted to release them as a tribute to Johnson.

“The most fun we ever had was when Johnnie Johnson was on stage with us,” Young said. “He just made us into something bigger than life. That’s why I know the (Rolling) Stones, Chuck Berry, (Eric) Clapton ... wanted to play with him.”

When: 8 p.m. May 29

Where: Cox Capitol Theatre, 382 Second St.

Cost: $25 general admission or $480 for an eight-seat box

Information: 478-257-6391; www.coxcapitoltheatre.com

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