CANCELED: Sundance Head to perform at Rocky Mountain Country Fest
Editor’s Note: Rocky Mountain Country Fest has been canceled because of coronavirus concerns.
KEYSTONE — Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” changed Sundance Head’s life. The soul country singer-songwriter was 9 when his older brother Michael Head died in a car crash at age 21. No one could go into Michael Head’s room for about half a year or more, until one day his mom let Sundance Head in. He immediately gravitated toward his brother’s record collection and Led Zeppelin was the first he played.
“I couldn’t wait to come home and go straight to the record player,” said Head, who previously was scheduled to perform at the now canceled Rocky Mountain Country Fest in Keystone this weekend. “It’s kind of how it all started for me.”
He turned to music as an outlet and transformed his experience of loss into two songs — “The Walker Song” and “Last Call” — that deal with Michael Head’s death as well as Sundance Head’s friend and mentor, Kevin, who killed himself when Sundance Head with 25. “The Last Call” refers to the fact that Kevin called Sundance Head before taking his own life and is his favorite song he has ever written.
Having that innate love and rock ‘n’ roll naturally made performing “Detroit Rock City” and “Rock and Roll All Nite” with Kiss on NBC’s “The Voice” a highlight of Sundance Head’s winning season.
“It’s like the hottest chick in school actually giving you a chance,” Head said.
Head was a semifinalist in the sixth season of Fox’s “American Idol” in 2007 and wasn’t keen on returning to reality television since they were getting booked enough to pay the bills. But his wife, Misty, who is also his manager and convinced him to try out for “American Idol,” talked Head into giving it a shot to see if it would lead to a booking agency and a national tour.
While being crowned the champion of “The Voice” in 2016 came with a record deal and a chance to tour with his coach Blake Shelton, life after the show wasn’t what he thought it would be. The program had him sign with New York City’s hip-hop-focused Republic Records, and Head said that they couldn’t find him a country music partner, so he had three albums shelved like his “American Idol” record.
“The whole thing got squandered, dude,” Head said. “It sucked. I never made the record, never followed it up with anything. I just toured forever. It’s still all I do, just tour three or four nights a week.” Head said his story of mismanagement isn’t uncommon with winners of the show.
“At this point I don’t think it really matters anymore,” Head said about “The Voice.” “You do two (seasons) a year, and nothing happens to the winner. What’s the point of watching it? What’s the point of doing it? There’s nothing special about it. You get to go on TV. Then you get your ass kicked, and you go back on to the real world.”
He said he was lucky he was playing music in a touring band in between the shows and therefore had a steady music gig to return to. Though he didn’t get serious about his career in the industry until he was 33, he still has the passion to pursue it after the false starts.
Sundance Head wasn’t pressured into the family business, even with his father being Roy Head, who had an international hit with “Treat Her Right” in 1965 that reached No. 2 on the Billboard charts behind The Beatles’ “Yesterday.” Yet being surrounded by the sounds certainly helped.
“I didn’t know that people had other things to do other than play music,” Head said. “I was really fortunate to be able to hang around and learn and listen. I really just thought that this was something that everybody did.”
Head recalled running around the woods by his home in Texas singing all day and sneaking into his father’s rehearsal room when the band was on breaks to play various instruments. He never learned to read music and absorbs the melodies by ear. In his 20s, he had multiple odd jobs such as being a carpenter, selling vacuum cleaners and working in a machine shop. Eventually he considered being a blues musician.
“But it’s really impossible to be a blues artist and to be young,” Head said. “I found that out the hard way. You can be the most badass guitarist in the world, but you won’t have the respect of your peers because they won’t actually believe that you went through that.”
Flash-forward to the past decade when Head met iconic songwriter Dean Dillon, pre-“The Voice” fame, and later on Dillon reached out to him to make a record. The writer of songs such as “Tennessee Whiskey” and “The Chair” approached Head with roughly 200 songs written by him or others that were then narrowed down to 13. Head was trepidatious at the start since it would become his first record where he or his band didn’t play any instruments, he didn’t produce it himself, and he didn’t write all of the songs. Titled “Stained Glass and Neon,” it released in January 2019.
“I really had to take a step back and trust the process and let Dean do his thing,” Head said. “But when I heard these songs I was totally blown away.”
He managed to get two of his own tracks on the album — “Drive Me to Drinking” and “Close Enough To Walk” — and he’s grateful Dillon and his crew welcomed him into Nashville, Tennessee, despite the fact that he doesn’t look like the stereotypical resident.
“I don’t wear skinny jeans, I don’t have a pop haircut, and I have a 28-inch inseam,” Head said about fitting into the Nashville scene, laughing.
With most of songs not written by him, Head discovered that he’s a “method vocalist” who can get in the right headspace to perform a song as if he wrote it, like a method actor becoming a character. For example, when singing the song “Showing Off,” he imagines the lyrics are about his own children.
“I thought unless it was a personal experience, I couldn’t tie myself to it, but I was able to do it through meditation and playing those songs and instinctively knowing each chord progression and allowing those songs to become part of my heart before we recorded them,” Head said. “Then it was as if they were my own songs.”
The tour in support of “Stained Glass and Neon” has been going well, and according to Head, the album has sold over 500,000 physical copies. He’s aiming to make national radio.
“It takes so much money, and there’s so much grease that has to go on the wheel in order to get on the radio nationally,” Head said. “I was so naive before, I thought it was all about talent. … I spent half my life waiting for someone to walk into the bar and discover me, and that’s my fault.”
Head is scheduled to release a new single Sunday, March 15.
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