headhunting we will go



kentucky headhunters: greg martin, doug phelps, fred young and richard young. photo by ash newell.

Richard Young was doing some dusting in the beloved “practice house” that has long been a refuge for the veteran Metcalfe County rockers of The Kentucky HeadHunters. For over four decades, from the days when the band was known as the roadhouse rock troupe Itchy Brother to the Grammy winning ‘80s beginnings of the HeadHunters to today, the practice house is an almost purposely primitive homestead for guitarist/vocalist Young and his mates (drummer Fred Young, guitarist Greg Martin and bassist/vocalist Doug Phelps).


Calling the practice house rustic doesn’t begin to convey its homey appeal. It’s a farmhouse near Edmonton with no running water, no insulation and only a few oil heaters to provide a sliver of warmth. Nonetheless, the HeadHunters convened last year at the practice house two days after Christmas to be begin work on their 12th album, Dixie Lullabies. The album, due out next month, will be introduced when the band plays its first Central Kentucky show in years at the weekend-long John Michael Montgomery Country Fest in Winchester’s Lykins Park. (Montgomery, along with Jamey Johnson, Montgomery Gentry, Exile, Colt Ford, Jake Owen and many others will also perform).

“We’re very lucky to have this place,” Young said of the practice house’s role as the recording setting for Dixie Lullabies. “It’s just an old, rundown place. But to us, it’s like a boy’s tree house.

“We’ve wanted to make a record here all of our lives. There is just something that comes across in the music when we’re in this house. It’s a little hard to portray to the audience. But we’re never uptight here. Studios are great things, but it makes a difference when you have a little hideaway. We’re home when we’re here.”

The HeadHunters had the benefit of a few modern gizmos to help make the record, like a portable Pro Tools kit. There was also some tweaking done in a Nashville studio. But the bulk of the recording process was gloriously low-tech.

The vibe Young speaks of has always been present in Headhunters hits like Dumas Walker and its gleefully electric makeovers of the Don Gibson hit Oh, Lonesome Me, Bill Monroe’s Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine and Norman Greenbaum’s Spirit in the Sky. But on Dixie Lullabies the mood abounds during the Rolling Stones party charge of Tumbin’ Roses and the Lynyrd Skynyrd-flavored, guitar-drenched Little Miss Bluesbreaker.

“We put a bass amp up in the attic for Doug and out some pillows and mattresses around it,” Young said. “We put one guitar amp in one room and one guitar amp in the other. And in the main room where we usually rehearse, we set up the drums. From there, we just played these tracks and sang with them as we went along. This created a real homey feel.

“The record portrays the whole spectrum of where we’ve been, from that Itchy Brother sound of the ‘70s on through the early HeadHunters music. But there are also some surprises to show people just where we’re going.”

The Kentucky HeadHunters perform at 6 p.m. Friday as part of the John Michael Montgomery Country Fest at Lykins Park in Winchester.  Tickets are $20-$40. For a complete festival schedule go to http://jmmcountryfest.com.

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