The Kentucky Headhunters
Thursday, March 22 at 8 p.m.
"We are a band of many styles: rock, blues, country, jazz, bluegrass, rockabilly, and other roots music. That is the foundation of our sound. Johnnie Johnson once told me "Music has no color. If I had to color the Headhunters, I'd color us music with a feeling.”
Back in 1968, in Metcalfe County, Kentucky, Richard and Fred Young, together with cousins Anthony Kenney and Greg Martin, set out to conquer the world by creating their own brand of rock and roll. Armed with a pickup truck loaded with amps, drums, and guitars they called themselves Itchy Brother and later (with a few line-up changes), The Kentucky Headhunters.
Itchy Brother, though touring the rock club circuit successfully in the 1970s, had failed to achieve national fame and the bandmates sought other opportunities in the Nashville recording scene.
Then, by the early 1980s, there was a roots movement starting to happen, and though Nashville didn't know it yet, the "No Depression Era" was on the horizon. Itchy Brother’s time was coming, but not necessarily under that name.
When Anthony left the band, and Doug Phelps joined, the band needed a new name. Says Greg Martin, “At the time, I was reading a book called Deep Blues by Robert Palmer. It spoke about the head chopping ritual and the fact that Muddy Waters band was nicknamed the Headhunters. I told the other guys about the story and it struck a nerve with all of us.”
“We were determined to create a whole new sound just like Itchy Brother had in the ’70s. For me, it was magic from day one.” recalls Doug Phelps.
Later, Doug’s brother Ricky joined up, and as Richard observed at the first rehearsal, “the room literally went neon.” A month later, as The Headhunters, the band recorded demos of “Walk Softly,” “Dumas Walker” and “Oh Lonesome Me.”
After that, The Headhunters started playing more gigs, but it was after playing a live broadcast of The Chittlin’ Show on WLOC that the band’s local fan base really developed. By 1989, The Headhunters had recorded eight tracks of the album Pickin’ On Nashville and landed a deal with Mercury Records. At that point, The Headhunters officially became The Kentucky Headhunters.
Pickin' On Nashville came out in October 1989 and as Richard puts it, “blew up like an atom bomb and changed our lives forever.” But, after the release of the band’s second album, Electric Barnyard, Doug and Ricky Phelps left to start a duo career, leading longtime friend and cousin Anthony Kenney to join and play bass, while buddy Mark Orr was recruited for vocals. "It felt good to have Anthony back in the band, and we were proud to have a great blues rock singer like Mark Orr," say Fred, Richard, and Greg.
In 1993, The Kentucky Headhunters returned to their blues-rock roots, releasing Rave On, and the critically acclaimed blues record That'll Work, recorded with legendary blues pianist and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Johnnie Johnson.
The nineties saw another line-up change as Mark Orr left the band, only to see the return of Doug Phelps.
The band kept rolling, and in 1997, The Kentucky Headhunters released Stompin' Grounds, a trek back to the Headhunters country roots. In 2000 and 2003, the band came back with two of its best records ever, Grass String and Soul, lauded by many to be The Kentucky Headhunters at their best since Pickin' On Nashville and That'll Work. In 2006, Flying Under the Radar was released and then, in 2007, Anthony Kenney chose to retire from The Kentucky HeadHunters.
Fred, Doug, Greg and Richard found themselves right where they were when The Kentucky Headhunters started, a four-piece band. They made a pact with each other that this was the way the band would stay.
In 2009, a landmark live album was released by Universal Records on the prestigious "Live Bootleg Series," that had previously spawned great live albums from the likes of Muddy Waters and many others.
After many years of recording for major labels, in 2010, the boys formed their own record label, "Practice House Records," and headed out to record, for the first time, in the "Practice House." The result was Dixie Lullabies, released in 2011.