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`HIPPIE' HEADHUNTERS, COWBOY HANK ROCK CROWD

More than 2,000 fans gathered Friday night at the Salt Palace Arena to hear Hank Williams Jr. and the Kentucky Headhunters give one of their best performances of country, bluegrass and rock sounds.

Opening for Hank Williams Jr. were the Kentucky Headhunters, an impressive country and rhythm-and-blues band from Glascow, Ky., who look like hippies from the '60s and nothing like cowboys.These guys have long hair, look more like Van Halen and have awesome guitars. They convinced mild country fans that even though they are very un-Nashville, they are creative and original with their music.

They delivered several boogied-up versions of country classics, as well as a couple of other songs from their 1989 "`Picking' on Nashville" album, including "Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine," an update of an old Bill Monroe song.

Their tunes ranged from breezy lyrics to humorous songs such as "My Daddy Was a Milkman."

About 9 p.m., the man with the dark clothes, cowboy hat and sunglasses came on stage, driving the crowd crazy.

Hank's performance was fabulous, according to several concertgoers who expressed delight with his "Lone Wolf" tour.

He began his performance with a few soft songs, more of his own than his father's, which he seems to do in other concerts.

Then he delivered a series of rock 'n' roll classics, including "Great Balls of Fire" and "Rock around the Clock," while playing the keyboard and teasing the crowd with his musical abilities on the piano. "My father taught me how to play with every part of my body," he quipped, while the crowd roared with laughter.

His performance was perfectly choreographed, accompanied by a high-tech slide show that used great lighting effects of a black wolf whose eyes turned into red flames while wild habitat changed colors. Hank also showed pictures of James Dean, Elvis Presley and others. The younger concertgoers seemed to love it.

Williams' band, which included two excellent saxophonists, a drummer, guitarists and a keyboard player, also gave a superb performance.

Williams also showed he doesn't need much musical backup to prove that he can sing country and add a gut-bucket thump to the typical mushiness associated with certain country classics.

He also is a lady's man. I mean one that can capture any female's attention with lyrics that appeal to their sensitivities, as well as making statements for the male audience, such as, "Anyone that doesn't like country can . . ."

Toward the end of the concert, Williams, in a surprising move, invited the Headhunters to play with him. The gesture showed he's also a down-to-earth country singer who doesn't feel threatened by the success the Headhunters are enjoying, with their latest album hitting the No. 2 spot on the country charts.

He even praised the Headhunters for their efforts to break away from the typical country sound of soft melodies and Southern sounds.

It was obvious that both groups enjoy a certain type of chemistry and are able to work together, since they have played together more than once.