At The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., July 22, 2016

Greg Martin, Doug Phelps, Richard Young from THE KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS (Live at The Sage, Gateshead, U.K., July 22, 2016)
Photo: Mick Burgess

Seeing The Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan show back in 1964 lead to a lifelong dream for guitarist Richard Young to play in the land of the Fab Four. That it took well over half a century to realise that dream was down to a chronic fear of flying restricting live performances to his American homeland.

The roots of The Kentucky Headhunters goes way back to 1968 where brothers Richard and Fred Young along with guitarist Greg Martin formed the wonderfully named Itchy Brother and toured hard until 1982 when the band folded. In 1986 along with bassist Doug Phelps, the band was resurrected with the now familiar Kentucky Headhunters name.

With a Grammy award under their belts following an impressive debut album there was nothing stopping The Headhunter’s becoming one of the leading players alongside the Southern Rock elites of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchett.

Yet the fear of flying was never to fear away. A lucrative stadium tour of Europe with Dire Straits was all set up and ready to go with Richard Young travelling by boat but those plans were scuppered by the Gulf War. Young remained philosophical and acknowledged that all things happen for a reason.

It wasn’t until another Young appeared on the scene that things changed. Richard’s son, John Fred, drummer with Black Stone Cherry had just completed a headlining arena tour of the UK and finally talked his father into taking The Kentucky Headhunters to the skies.

As part of the internationally renowned Summertyne Festival that over the years has seen such legends as Solomon Burke and Booker T Jones make rare appearances to the region, The Kentucky Headhunters took the late night closing slot.

It’s taken the neck end of 50 years to make it over here so there was no messing as The Headhunters rolled up their sleeves and dived straight into Big Boss Man, a song that epitomises their style, hard edged Blues with a Country tinge. The imposing Doug Phelps gravel hewn, whiskey soaked voice together with the dual guitar attack of Young and Martin brought a muscular punch to the festival and the crowd lapped it up.

Decades on the American touring circuit has certainly done the trick and it’s easy to see why they are so rightly revered back in their homeland. The Rocked up Bill Monroe cover, Walk Softly On This Heart of Mine was given a new lease of life particular with the rousing guitar finale which saw the guitarists trading solos, aligned at the front of the stage evoking memories of the great Lynyrd Skynyrd in their prime.

Richard Young’s take on the Freddie King classic Have You Ever Loved A Woman captured the passion of King’s version to perfection with Martin’s tasteful solo adding to an already stunning cover.

Drummer Fred Young, sporting a Davy Crockett hat together with sideburns that would have made Amos Brearly green with envy, laid down a slamming groove to My Daddy Was A Milkman while Martin’s demonic slide work on Walking With The Wolf was suitably down and dirty.

Making two albums with Chuck Berry’s legendary piano player, Johnnie Johnson, was a dream come true for the band and their latest album Meet Me In Bluesland featured throughout the night drew on those great influences particularly during Martin’s explosive solo during Stumblin’

With the curfew looming there was space for Don’t Let Me Down, their nod to The Beatles who initially inspired their dream of playing in the UK and Chitlin’ Time that kept the band rocking until midnight.

It may have taken them half a century to get here but it was well worth the wait. The Kentucky Headhunters kicked up a storm, the crowd loved it so don’t be surprised if their return comes a little sooner than 2066.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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