Kentucky Headhunters are the most underrated southern rock band. They have won a grammy released a double platinum album. After 31 years they are still rocking with no end in sight. The band have released a new record On the safari. The first single Deep south blues again is out now. They plan to be out on the road this year to play for their fans and keep rocking as hard as they have. I was able to catch up with Doug Phelps to talk about the album and tour.
Angel Alamo: How did the band record this album in three days?
Doug Phelps: Well, we had most of the songs already written, but we had started writing the songs a year prior, when we got a call from Francis Johnson, Johnnie Johnson's wife, letting us know that she was ready for us to release the project we had written and recorded with Johnnie back in 2003. Johnnie passed away about a year and a half later, and we had just been sitting on the project until we got the word from Frances. So we stopped working on the new tunes and concentrated on getting the HeadHunters/Johnnie Johnson album released, called "Meet Me In Blues Land". That was a fun project that we also recorded in three days! That release debuted at #3 in Billboards Blues Albums charts and did very well! So, needless to say, our current release "On Safari" got put on hold until "Meet Me In Blues Land" ran its course! When it was finally time for us to record the new project, Richard and Fred's dad, James Howard Young, had been ill and passed away just as it was time to start recording, so we skipped the first two days in the studio and by the third day, Fred told his Brother, Richard, that we needed to go ahead and go into the studio because it's what their dad would have wanted us to do! We had three days left on what we had initially booked, time wise, and so, we dusted off the practice house tapes from when we originally started writing the tunes, and everybody listened to them before we commenced to recording! We definitely didn't over rehearse the tunes, and they had a very natural feel to them. And of course, it was a very emotional thing for us to be in their recording, with James Howard's passing, but we felt his Spirit with us and it added an emotion to those tracks that made it very special for us! There's something to us recording projects in three days......"Pickin' On Nashville" was recorded in three days as well!
AA: How did the band come up with the name On Safari for the new album?
DP: Well, the artwork for the album definitely influenced where the title came from. The drawing of the four of us as shrunken heads was originally a poster artwork for a show that we play every year over in Maryville, Tennessee, at smoky mountain Harley Davidson. David Glover is an artist that does work for Harley Davidson any does artwork for the shows at Smoky Mountain Harley-Davidson. We have always loved that particular poster of us, and finally reached out to David to see if we could use it as our new album cover. He was most gracious to allow us to use it and ended up doing all of the artwork for the album. :-) Richard came up with the title On Safari, and we all immediately thought it was a great match! You never know whereheadhunter music will take you, so it's always a musical safari with us! Ha ha!
AA: How was making On Safari different from your previous albums?
DP: Well, on most of the other projects we've done over the years, we rehearsed a little more before going in to the studio, but once in the studio, we've always approached it, pretty much the same way. There was something special about that raw emotion and raw energy going into this project because of the circumstances.
AA: Has the band decided on a second single for the album?
DP: At this point, it looks like it will probably be Beavercreek Mansion. And there's talk of a video to go along with it as well.
AA: How did the song Deep South Blues again come together? I do hear some AC/DC on that song!
DP: Yes, you do hear a little AC/DC influence on that one, and a Little Creedence Clearwater Revival, as well! Richard brought that song to the band and we tore into it right off the bat! A song that touches on life in the south!
AA: How did God Loves a Rolling Stone come together?
DP: That particular song goes a long ways back. Many years ago, Richard was a writer and Acuff/Rose publishing company in Nashville. Richard wrote this particular song thinking he would pitch it to Waylon Jennings, but that never happened and he just hung on to the song. We actually worked it up a few years ago, thinking we were going to record it for one of our prior projects, but we ended up with more songs than we needed and never recorded it! When Richard mentioned recording it on this particular project, it made perfect sense! Even though it's one of the more country sounding songs, the message fits the album very well!
AA:Which songs proved to be the biggest challenge to record?
DP: Well, really, none of them ended up being a challenge. We flowed from one song to the next, with many of the tracks on the record being first take! We had just buried the patriarch of the Young family and the emotions were flowing through us, into the recording! It was like a healing process for us.
AA:Did anyone produce this album?
DP: We produced this album. In fact, we've produced every album we've ever recorded, all the way back to Picking On Nashville!
AA: How was it, playing to audiences in Europe? Does the band plan on going back overseas?
DP: The European audiences were awesome to the KentuckyHeadHunters! We had an absolute blast playing overseas for some great music fans! It only took us 27 years to get there! Lol! It's been a well known fact that Richard was afraid of flying and had not been on an airplane in 34 years! But the combination of his and Fred's father passing, who was a great historian himself, but never really traveled, and the fact that his son, John Fred Young, drummer for Black Stone Cherry, who has had great success overseas, finally corned his dad in the old practice house in the fall of 2015 and told him it was time for him to put up or shut up! Haha! Black Stone Cherry had been talking us up for years over there and John Fred and the boys knew it was time to get us over there! We definitely plan on going back sometime this year. And we are looking forward to it!
AA: What are the bands touring plans this year?
DP: The Kentucky headhunters will tour from top to bottom and east to west in the US this year, and will perform in Canada as well, and at some point later in the year, we will be flying back across the big pond and meeting our friends overseas!
AA: How do you decide which new songs to play?
DP: Well, it's a combination of the ones we feel will fit in the set, and that the audience will dig!
AA: After so many years of playing together, what keeps the band going?
DP: First and foremost, it's the mutual, shared love of music! Secondly, it's a family out there and we have to pull for each other and support each other! We are very fortunate boys to get to do what we do, which is play music for a living! :-) The HeadHunters have been around for 31 years and with each passing year, we have a greater appreciation for what we get to do! We love playing music together, and we love playing for the fans! It's a great give-and-take!
The new album On Safari is available online at amazon.com and iTunes.com
Photo courtesy: Joel Kinison, Rock Legends Cruise V, January 19-23, 2017