Headhunters will headline Foothills

Posted October 2, 2019 at 8:40 am


It’s been almost 30 years to the day, 30 years and one day to be exact, since the Kentucky Headhunters released its first album and performed at the Foothills Festival for the first time as the Kentucky Headhunters.

“In 1988 they were here as Itchy Brother over between the bank and the Klassic Shop,” Music Entertainment Director for the Foothills Festival Randy Speck said. “We knew they were going to be morphing into the Headhunters. Jerry Perdue booked them again for the next year. In July of 1989 they signed with Mercury Records and on October 17, their album (Pickin’ on Nashville) came out. Richard Young says they were the first concert after the album came out.”

One of the main reasons for booking the Kentucky Headhunters is to help the band celebrate the anniversary of its first album, which came out 30 years ago.

“We like to lay claim to them because we were there with them,” Speck said. “It’s more like a homecoming. They’ve been here a number of times over the years, about four times total.”

Speck is optimistic there will be huge crowd on hand to welcome the Kentucky Headhunters to Albany once again.

“It should be pretty good,” Speck said.

The Kentucky Headhunters will preform on Friday night following the parade at 7:15.

For those who don’t know the history of the Kentucky Headhunters, Speck, who is also known as an author on his blog, The Notorious Meddler, wrote a brief history on the band and where they started …

The year was 1968. The band was called Itchy Brother. The place was a farmhouse on Richard and Fred Young’s family farm in Metcalfe County, Kentucky. Together, with cousin’s Anthony Kenney and Greg Martin, something special began taking place.

Itchy Brother began performing on the local and regional rock and roll club circuit. They never made it to the big stage, but instead of giving up they headed to Nashville, Tennessee also known as Music City, USA.

Nashville was only 85 miles from Edmonton, but it seemed a million miles from where they started. Greg, then Fred, later took jobs as sidemen for country singer Ronnie McDowell and Richard started hanging out with songwriters.

In 1981, the boys were signed as writers to Acuff/Rose Publishing Company.

In 1986, Greg introduced Richard and Fred to Doug Phelps. Prior to this, the plan had been to record an Itchy Brother album and go for it again, but Anthony declined. Doug was asked to take his place.

“We couldn’t see using the Itchy Brother name without Anthony. 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,” Martin said.

The Headhunters started rehearsing in Greg’s basement in March of 1986, then moved to the practice house when the weather warmed up.

“We were determined to create a whole new sound just like Itchy Brother had in the 70’s. I knew there was a true passion from the first rehearsal and the fact the other three were relatives, and had spent their whole lives playing together, made it like a fast-drying glue. For me, it was magic from day one,” Phelps said.

“It started to gel from the first rehearsal. When you can’t put a label on it, even when you create it, you know you’ve got something special,” Richard said.

Doug had a brother who also loved music.

“He had moved to Nashville to try his hand as a country songwriter/performer, and like the rest of us, wasn’t having much luck. I suggested he should ride up to Kentucky with me and jam with our band, the Headhunters, for kicks,” Doug said.

Richard said the band gelled almost instantly.

“When he came up and jammed with us the first time and we put those brother harmonies with our rock and roll music, the room literally went neon,” Richard said.

Ricky Phelps joined the band, and the very next month the guys recorded a demo of “Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine,” “Dumas Walker” and “Oh Lonesome Me” at Acuff/Rose’’s Hickory Records Studio.

“After that, we started playing more and more gigs locally, but it was really our live radio broadcast, The Chitlin’ Show, on WLOC in Munfordville, KY, and the Practice House that brought it all together,” Martin said.

In the early part of 1988, the Headhunters booked time at the Sound Shop in Nashville where they recorded eight tracks. It was on October 22, of that year, the band first performed at the Foothills Festival.

Jerry Perdue knew the group was about to go bigtime, so when the show ended that night, the festival committee booked them to appear at the 1989 festival.

Sure enough, nine months later – in July of 1989, as Jerry had predicted, the Headhunters signed with Mercury Records, but not before “Kentucky” was added to the band name. When the Kentucky Headhunters performed in Albany on October 21, that year, their debut album, “Pickin’ On Nashville,” had only been released four days earlier. It blew up like an atom bomb, as Richard Young said, and changed their lives forever. Here is what happened:

“Pickin’ on Nashville” peaked at #2 on the Billboard Top Country Album chart and #41 on the Billboard 200 chart in 1990. To date, it has sold over two million copies and is currently certified double-platinum. It won a Grammy Award at the 33rd Annual Grammy Awards in 1990, three CMA Awards, including CMA Album of the Year in 1990, an American Music Award and an ACM Award.

It spawned four consecutive Top 40 country hits: “Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine,” “Dumas Walker,” “Oh Lonesome Me” and “Rock ‘n’ Roll Angel.”

So here we are in 2019 and after fifteen albums and sales of over 11 million records worldwide, the Kentucky Headhunters: Richard Young, Fred Young, Greg Martin and Doug Phelps, are coming back to the Foothills Festival. They were with us in the beginning when they took the music world by storm, and now they are coming back on Friday, October 18, 2019 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Pickin’ on Nashville.” The concert, which begins at 7:15 p.m., will take place on the stage beside the food court and admission will be free.

Bring a lawn chair, but don’t expect to be in it very long as you’re sure to be rockin’ into the night with those boys from Metcalfe County who became known around the world as The Kentucky Headhunters.

Taking the stage before the Kentucky Headhunters, will be The Georgia Thunderbolts at 6:15.

“The Georgia Thunderbolts are partly managed by Richard Young, so we booked them and got a real good deal on them,” Speck said.

Speck said he wants to utilize the existing crowd from the parade in order to kick off the concerts for that night.

“There won’t be a crowd there until the parade is over,” Speck said. “They got the long hair and they are kind of like the Georgia Satellites. They are high energy Southern Rock type band. I’m hoping we can book them and somewhere down the road they make it big also and we can say we had them here.”

Speck said he is looking forward to seeing the Kentucky Headhunters back in Albany again.

“It’s perfect timing to celebrate that first album,” Speck said. “It’s a major album for them. I think it’s pretty special. Richard Young was jumping up and down when he heard the dates. I didn’t plan it that way, but I think it was just meant to be.”