When it comes to evaluating the artistic integrity of country bands, one usually has to consider Waylon Jennings' question: "Are you sure Hank done it this way?"
With the Kentucky HeadHunters, who stray far from country convention, the answer might lie with an old line from Martin Mull: "I hate to disillusion ya, honey, but it's just licks off of records that I learned."
At least the HeadHunters deserve some credit for having a wide-ranging record collection from which to swipe their licks. Their show on Friday at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim covered or quoted Hank Williams as well as Cream, Bill Monroe as well as Led Zeppelin, Don Gibson as well as Norman Greenbaum--not to mention some rinky Farfisa-organ Tex-Mex music and an Aerosmith-style bang-it-with-your-bare-hands drum solo.
The HeadHunters (who will headline at the Greek Theatre on Friday) also get points for an interesting, unaffectedly eccentric ensemble look, and they showed they could crank like crazy on Southern-fried rockers. What they didn't show was much originality or depth of feeling. As they spun out all those licks off of records, the HeadHunters lived up to the bar-band ethic of loud, raucous fun and catchy, familiar tunes, but that's all.
The HeadHunters' debut album, "Pickin' on Nashville," has sold more than 1 million copies, and the just-released follow-up, "Electric Barnyard," is on the charts as well--proving either that the door is never really closed for a potent bar band with a rootsy sound, or that the old British-Invaders-go-to-Dixie style exemplified by Lynyrd Skynyrd is back in fashion.