When Sundance Head was chosen to be on this season’s American Idol, he ran to a telephone to call his best friend—his dad, Roy Head. At first Roy was puzzled. His son hadn’t told him about the audition. Only a few days before, Sundance had left Porter, Texas (pop. 15,982), telling his parents that he was going to see his grandmother in Memphis, Tenn.
“You’re not mad, are you?” Sundance recalls asking his father. “I was afraid that I wouldn’t make it and you’d be disappointed.”
On the contrary, Roy and his wife, Carolyn, were thrilled. Although they never pushed Sundance into show business, they were aware that he dreamed of being a recording artist like his father, a very successful hitmaker himself.
“Singing in my family is like breathing,” says Sundance, 28. “I’ve idolized my dad since I can remember. All my life I’ve walked by his gold record hanging in the entryway. And I’ve wanted that for myself, too.”
During the show’s introductory segment on Sundance, American Idol showed a clip from a Roy Head performance in the 1960s. It introduced a new generation to a Texas music legend whose dance steps ranked with the great James Brown. Like Elvis Presley in his early rockabilly days, Roy was electrifying on stage. His fast footwork, joint-defying splits and swinging microphone captivated crowds.
Roy, who began singing at age 16 with his first band, The Traits, is best known for the 1965 crossover hit “Treat Her Right.” The single sold more than 1 million copies and was a worldwide hit. Before The Traits stopped touring, Roy had scored seven Top 40 hits. The versatile Head did it all—pop, R&B and rock ’n’ roll. In addition, from 1974 to 1985, he had 24 singles on the country charts.
Today, he performs 30 dates a year, mostly at casinos and festivals where oldies music is popular. Amazingly, at 66, he’s still doing the splits and flipping off the stage into the audience.
Although Sundance didn’t inherit what he calls “the dancing gene,” he did inherit his father’s love of music and performing. “The first time I remember singing with his band I was about 5,” he says. “Dad called me on stage and took his gold chain off and put it around my neck. He let me play the air guitar.”
Friends and family recall what Sundance was too young to remember. The boy was singing as soon as he could talk—and his first words were “rock ’n’ roll.”
Don Hutchko, a band member of Roy’s for 30 years, can’t recall one show when Roy didn’t bring Sundance onto the stage. Sundance’s mother, Carolyn, Roy’s wife of 32 years, remembers Sundance as a toddler putting on headphones and singing into the cord like it was a microphone.
Roy also remembers that his son’s musical talent surfaced early. “He started playing on a pot with spoons, so I got him a drum set,” Roy says. “Pretty soon he got a keyboard that he taught himself to play.”
Today, Sundance writes songs and plays the drums, piano and guitar. “Give him a subject or a title and he’ll sit down and have you a song in just a few minutes,” Roy says.
The Heads are a tight family. Growing up, Sundance always accompanied his parents wherever Roy performed. When he reached adulthood, Sundance moved away from the family homestead briefly, but ended up moving back.
“It’s a very large house,” he explains, “and there’s so much to do, with a river, a lake and woods on the property. Besides, Dad’s my best friend and we do everything together—we fish, hunt and build shelves, cabinets and sheds. Why would I want to live anywhere else?”
When Sundance met his wife, Misty, she laughed when she learned that he still lived with his parents. But after spending a week with the family, she didn’t want to leave. Today, Sundance and Misty occupy the upstairs of the house with their 6-month-old son, Levi. Carolyn and Roy reap the benefits of their son’s proximity, playing with their grandson every day.
Being away from his family while performing on American Idol wasn’t easy for Sundance, who called his father daily. “I didn’t want to be cut,” says Sundance, who was among the Top 16 finalists before being voted off the show in March, “but I’d never been away from my family that long. And I hadn’t seen my baby for months.”
Sundance wasn’t home long, though, before being flown to Los Angeles for talks with record producers. “What’s happening in my life now I owe to American Idol,” he says. “Most of all, though, I’m grateful to my dad. He’s teaching me what he only learned in hindsight.”
Roy smiles, positive that his son’s success is on the horizon. “Sundance wants the top of the mountain like I did,” he says. “I got my dream—now I want him to have his.”