Rock/Country Showman Roy Head Dies At 79

Rocker Roy Head, who later forged a long career in country music, died Monday morning (Sept. 21) at age 79.

Head is best known for his 1965 pop/rock hit “Treat Her Right.” He was a wild, unpredictable showman whose stage performances were legendary. Between 1974 and 1986 he placed 24 singles on the country charts.

He grew up in East Texas, influenced by the musicians in the Black community around him, his mother’s Ernest Tubb records and the weekly broadcasts of The Louisiana Hayride.

Head recorded a few rockabilly tunes, then broke through with the R&B barn burner “Treat Her Right.” The single rose to the upper reaches of the charts, prevented from hitting No. 1 by The Beatles’ “Yesterday.”

The song became a big country hit for Barbara Mandrell in 1971. “Treat Her Right” was also covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy “Crash” Craddock, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Mae West, Robert Plant, Tom Jones, Otis Redding, George Thorogood, The Box Tops, Doug Sahm, Sandy Nelson, Joe Stampley and Los Straightjackets.

Head’s version was heard on the soundtracks of the 1991 movie The Commitments and Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

“Apple of My Eye” was the follow-up top 40 hit in late 1965. A string of releases on Back Beat, Scepter and Mercury ensued in 1966-71. Future rock star Johnny Winter got his start in Head’s band The Traits.

It was during this time that Roy Head built his reputation as a microphone-slinging, frantic, manic, back-flipping, leg-splitting stage wild man. Vocal shrieks and enthusiastic shouts accompanied his gymnastic dancing. Head’s offstage exploits were equally colorful, and Head’s re-telling of them was invariably embellished.

When his pop/rock career faded, Head turned his attention to country music.

He made his debut on the country charts with Mickey Newbury’s tune “Baby’s Not Home” in 1974. The following year, he scored his first country hit, “The Most Wanted Woman in Town.” It cracked the top 20 and became a top 10 hit on the Canadian country charts.

Head had his two biggest country hits in 1977-78, “Come to Me” and “Now You See ‘Em Now You Don’t.” Both were top 20 hits on ABC/Dot Records.

Other notable singles included his country versions of Rod Stewart’s “Tonight’s the Night” (1978) and Loggins & Messina’s “Your Mama Don’t Dance” (1983). Roy Head remained a Houston music legend into the 1990s and beyond. He retained his reputation as an electrifying showman into his senior years, and continued to be an entertaining raconteur.

Son Sundance Head was a finalist on American Idol in 2006, then won on The Voice in 2016. That led to the top 10 country hit “Darlin’ Don’t Lie” and a remake of his father’s “Treat Her Right” as a duet with Blake Shelton.

Roy Head was inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of fame in 2007. He is survived by his wife Carolyn, son Jason (Sundance), daughter-in-law Misty, and three grandchildren. Funeral arrangements have not been announced.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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