23 Sep Friday, October 18, 2019 – The Kentucky Headhunters at the Foothills Festival With The Georgia Thunderbolts
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 if giving up they headed to 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,” said guitarist Greg Martin.
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 that 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,” said Phelps. “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,” said Richard.
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,” says Doug. “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,” observed Richard.
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,” remembers Martin.
In the early part of 1988, the Headhunters booked time at the Sound Shop in Nashville where they recorded eight tracks. It was on Oct. 22nd of that year that 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 Oct. 21st 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, Oct. 18, 2019 at 6pm to celebrate the 30th anniversary of “Pickin’ on Nashville” as we also celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Foothills Festival. The concert 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.