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Music / The Kentucky Headhunters

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From left: Richard Young, Fred Young, Doug Phelps, Greg Martin. Photo by Brad U. Wheeler.
A Country Music and Southern Rock band which, as indicated by the name, hails from Kentucky.

The band began in The '60s as Itchy Brother, which consisted of brothers Richard (rhythm guitar) and Fred Young (drums), along with their cousins Anthoney Kenney (bass) and Greg Martin (guitar). After some local success, they were almost signed to Swan Song Records, owned by Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham, but the deal fell through when Bonham died.

After their initial breakup, the Young brothers and Martin created what would become The Kentucky Headhunters by adding brothers Ricky Lee (lead vocals) and Doug Phelps (bass) to the lineup. Some local radio support led to them creating a demo tape, which wound up being released by Mercury Records as their 1989 debut album Pickin' on Nashville. The album sold double-platinum, producing their most famous song "Dumas Walker" along with a successful cover of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me". After an unsuccessful second album called Electric Barnyard, the Phelps brothers both quit to form Brother Phelps, a more mainstream country duo. At this point, Kenney returned, and Mark S. Orr took over on lead vocals. The first album with Orr, Rave On!! was a commercial and critical flop, as was a collaborative album with Chuck Berry's pianist Johnnie Johnson. After a Greatest Hits Album, they ended up leaving Mercury.

Orr quit in the mid-1990s, causing Doug to break up Brother Phelps and rejoin the Headhunters, this time as lead singer. The group did a single album for BNA Records in 1997, which was launched by a commercially unsuccesful cover of "Singin' the Blues". Further albums in the 21st century pushed the band's sound beyond its Southern rock roots, with several bluegrass-flavored tracks on Songs from the Grass String Ranch in 2000, and several soul and blues influences on Soul in 2003. An independent label released the covers album Big Boss Man in 2005, followed by a second greatest-hits package in 2007. Mercury released a live album in 2009 to honor the 20th anniversary of Pickin' on Nashville, right as Kenney quit the group and Doug once again became bassist. Later albums have also pushed for the occasional lead vocal from Richard.

Despite their lack of long-term commercial success, the band has frequently been cited as one of the frontrunners of the hard-rock influences inherent in 21st-century country.

Richard's son, John Fred Young, is drummer for the rock band Black Stone Cherry.


  • Greg Martin - lead guitar, vocals (1968-72, 1976-82, 1986-present)
  • Doug Phelps - bass guitar (1986-92, 2008-present), lead vocals (1996-present)
  • Fred Young - drums, vocals (1968-82, 1986-present)
  • Richard Young - rhythm guitar, vocals (1968-82, 1986-present)

Former members

  • James Harrison - lead guitar (1972-76)
  • Anthony Kenney - bass guitar, vocals (1968-82, 1992-2008)
  • Mark S. Orr - lead vocals (1992-96)
  • Ricky Lee Phelps - lead vocals (1986-1992)


  • Pickin' on Nashville (1989)
  • Electric Barnyard (1991)
  • Rave On!! (1993)
  • That'll Work (with Johnnie Johnson) (1993)
  • The Best of the Kentucky Headhunters: Still Pickin' (1994)
  • Stompin' Grounds (1997)
  • Songs from the Grass String Ranch (2000)
  • Soul (2003)
  • Big Boss Man (2005)
  • Flying Under the Radar (2006)
  • Authorized Bootleg: Live – Agara Ballroom – Cleveland, Ohio (2009)
  • Dixie Lullabies (2011)
  • Meet Me in Bluesland (with Johnnie Johnson) (2015)
  • On Safari (2016)
  • That's a Fact Jack! (2021)

Tropes present in their work:

  • Anti-Christmas Song: "Let's All Get Together and Fight" is about a family fighting with each other during a Christmas gathering.
  • Ascended Extra: After "Louisianna CoCo", Richard began singing lead with increasing frequency to the point that the band can now be considered a Vocal Tag Team.
  • The Band Minus the Face: After the Phelps brothers quit, Mark S. Orr became the new lead vocalist. His style was seen as a poor fit by nearly everyone, even the band themselves.
  • Band of Relatives: Richard and Fred Young are brothers, and Greg Martin is their cousin. The Pickin' on Nashville-era lineup also featured a second set of brothers in Ricky Lee and Doug Phelps.
  • Bisexual Love Triangle: "Great Acoustics" implies that the narrator's wife is cheating on him with another woman:
    The great acoustics in this room
    They done went and told on you
    They tell me of a girl somewhere
    With ruby lips and long blonde hair...
  • Cheating with the Milkman: "My Daddy Was a Milkman" reveals that the narrator was born as the result of this: the mom had and affair with the milkman while her husband was off at war. This leads to the son becoming the sole heir of the milk company when said milkman dies.
  • Cover Version: All of their albums except That'll Work, Songs from the Grass String Ranch, and Dixie Lullabies have featured at least one cover song. Big Boss Man was entirely a covers album.
  • Credits Gag: The cassette version of Pickin' on Nashville had the sides labeled "Over Here" and "Over Yonder" instead of 1/2 or A/B. Also, Rich Ripani is credited as playing a "cheesy organ" on "Oh Lonesome Me".
  • Epic Rocking: "What You See Is What You Get" ends on a nearly three-minute, two-part instrumental coda (a drum solo called "Give Me Some Skin" followed by a hard blues outro called "Kentucky Jam"). Said drum solo tends to run even longer in concert.
  • Fake-Out Fade-Out: "Smooth", the fifth track on Pickin' on Nashville, fades out and then fades back in for a solo.
  • I Can't Believe It's Not Heroin!: Played with on "Dry-Land Fish". The title mushrooms are morels, which are perfectly edible, although the song jokingly pretends that it's a different kind of mushroom.
  • Lead Bassist: Doug Phelps has been one ever since Anthony Kenney quit.
  • Lead Drummer: Fred on "Dry Land Fish", "Cup of Tea", and "Cheap Tequila".
  • Lighter and Softer: The Phelps brothers quit in 1992 because Ricky Lee wanted to sing more mainstream-sounding country instead of Southern rock.
  • Long Runner Lineup: They were Richard Young, Fred Young, Greg Martin, Doug Phelps, and Anthony Kenney from 1996-2008, and no other lineup changes have ensued since Kenney's departure.
  • New Sound Album: Soul features horn sections and heavy Hammond organ alongside the band's usual Southern rock fare.
  • Rearrange the Song: Meet Me in Bluesland features a re-recording of "Stumblin'", a song previously found on That'll Work. Similarly, the band re-recorded their Itchy Brother single "Shotgun Effie" on That's a Fact Jack!
  • Shout-Out: The band's original name of Itchy Brother was derived from a character on King Leonardo and His Short Subjects.
  • Spelling Song: "Beaver Creek Mansion" spells out "K-E-N-T-U-C-K-Y" in the chorus.
  • Step Up to the Microphone: Songs from the Grass String Ranch employed this for the first time, as Richard sang the verses to "Louisianna CoCo" and Fred sang "Dry-Land Fish". Richard got an increasing amount of turns on lead vocals on every subsequent album, to the point that Dixie Lullabies and On Safari are split about 50-50; the former's title track even features Richard and Doug singing a unison lead vocal. That's a Fact Jack! takes this a step further, as Doug sings only six songs, Richard sings three ("That's a Fact Jack", "Watercolors in the Rain", and "Let's All Get Together and Fight"), Fred sings two ("Cup of Tea" and "Cheap Tequila"), and Greg sings "Shotgun Effie".