The Headhunters set to bring 50th-anniversary tour to Ithaca
Marking 50 years of honing their pioneering fusion of jazz, funk, and rock, the Headhunters will bring their anniversary tour to Deep Dive on Thursday night.
The band’s last visit to Ithaca was in 2010 when it performed at Castaways – the same venue space that Deep Dive currently occupies.
Founded in 1973 by legendary keyboardist Herbie Hancock, the Headhunters had a huge impact on jazz, with their first two albums, “Head Hunters” (released under Hancock’s name, and the first platinum jazz album), and 1974’s “Thrust,” winning them a worldwide following.
The band carried on after Hancock’s departure in 1975, releasing several more albums, including its latest, “Live from Brooklyn Bowl,” which was recorded in February 2003.
The current Headhunters lineup includes another founding member, percussionist Bill Summers, and drummer Mike Clark, who joined in 1974. Three veteran New Orleans musicians – saxophonist (and NEA jazz master) Big Chief Donald Harrison, pianist Kyle Roussel, and bassist Chris Severin, who replaced founding member Paul Jackson Jr. after his passing in 2021 – round out the band.
“It's been quite a ride,” Summers said in a recent interview, reflecting on the Headhunters’ 50-year run.
Is he surprised that the band has lasted so long?
“Not really," he said. "I was surprised to see how successful the record started to become back in the 70s. But I think that's the nature of things – no one knows what's going to be a hit.”
“It’s the luck of the draw,” he added. “Doing an album back in the day was, and even today, like putting a giant token in a big slot machine, and you just yanked the handle and hope that you win.”
Summers and Clark have been the core of the band since 1974. “We’re the original ebony and ivory,” Summers said. “We've been together so long, it's ridiculous. I mean, if I was blind and couldn't hear I could still play with Michael. We’re connected at the hip.
“Michael is one of the best drummers on the planet,” he added, “so it makes it a perfect match for us to work together. We know how to lock together and we know what to do to keep the groove going and not interfere with each other.”
As evidenced by the track list on “Live from the Brooklyn Bowl,” the Headhunters still play some of the band’s classic hits, such as “Watermelon Man” and “Chameleon.” But they also rework New Orleans funk favorites such as the Meters’ “Hey Pocky A-way” and play recent originals such as “Rocking at the Mole House.”
“On a live set, that tune really comes to life, and also has a nuanced vibe to it,” noted Summers of “Mole House.”
Even though Summers is 75, he’s still excited about hitting the road with the band. “Somebody asked me a couple of weeks ago when I was gonna retire, and I said, ‘Are you crazy? Why would I retire from having fun?’ That doesn't make sense. If you want to retire, you got the wrong job!”
“I tell people, ‘I'm not a musician. I'm a physician.’ We heal people,” he added. “That's what we do. We make life better for people. And we make them happy when they are sad and desperate. We have a big role in keeping the planet peaceful.”
If You Go
Who: The Headhunters; The Comb Down Trio (drummer Ashley Ickes, keyboardist Jon Petronzio, bassist Andrew Battles) will open the show
What: 50th anniversary tour
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 26
Where: Deep Dive
Cost: $35 in advance, available online here; $45 day of show