“Don’t you lie to me, you damn hillbillies,” said Richard Young of the Kentucky HeadHunters when asking for a show of hands this afternoon in the parking lot of CD Central of those who had ever enjoyed wine of, shall we say, modest and economical vintage. The song that triggered the inquiry was a tasty bit of blues-basted fun called Boone’s Farm Boogie and the occasion was a brief afternoon set at CD Central that served as both a celebration of Record Store Day and a warm-up to a full length headlining show at the Frankfort Convention Center.
Of course, Young’s outburst was purposely playful and the term “hillbilly,” in this instance, was one of mutual endearment. As the pride of Metcalfe County, the HeadHunters remain unspoiled ambassadors of rural country gusto, the kind of party music that owes more to vintage blues, boogie and juke joint R&B than anything remotely Nashvillle oriented. Similarly, Young’s vocal growl during Boone’s Farm Boogie recalled blues groove giant Slim Harpo more any vintage country stylist.
It was a short but merry set, one that didn’t strip the band’s sound down to the sort of unplugged setting one might expect at a record store engagement. The set opening Dixie Lullaby sported a lean but loose electric sound that fell between T. Rex-style crunch and groove and Wet Willie-inspired Southern soul while the punctuated Bo Diddley rhythms during My Daddy Was a Milkman were so prevalent that the HeadHunters tossed in the celebratory chorus from Hey! Bo Diddley as a bonus.
Still boasting four of the five members responsible for the HeadHunters’ Grammy winning debut album Pickin’ on Nashville, the band continually enhanced its well spring of roots music sources. At the musical helm were drummer Fred Young, who shifted from efficient blues-soul fills to grooves that regularly suggested swing, and guitarist Greg Martin, whose solo during the Freddie King blues classic Have You Ever Loved a Woman sailed from subtle, elegant lyricism into a rootsy tirade. Countering all that was the singing of bassist Doug Phelps, who ignited the blues backdrops on the HeadHunters’ signature hit Dumas Walker with a vocal lead as cordial and bright as the brilliant spring sky the band played under.