“It’s magic, man,” says Richard Young, vocalist and rhythm guitarist for The Kentucky Headhunters, referring to the Practice House, an old farmhouse he inherited from his grandmother. This humble abode, which sits out on a creek, is where the Southern rockers have written about 90 percent of their songs, going back to 1968, when they were known as Itchy Brother until they became the Kentucky Headhunters in 1986. Young says, “It’s a farmhouse. To look at it from the outside you’d go, ‘That’s where they do this?’ But when you walk inside and turn the lights on, it transforms into this psychedelic shack and has a funky guru mojo.” Virtually all of the Kentucky Headhunters material, including the group’s 1989 album Pickin’ on Nashville, which scored the band a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and put them on the map, was conceived and rehearsed at the Practice House. Surprisingly they’ve never recorded there—until now.
Dixie Lullabies, The Kentucky Headhunters latest release, is the first album the band has recorded at the Practice House. “Originally we were thinking about going back to Nashville to do this album,” says lead guitarist Greg Martin. “About this time last year, we did some dates with Jamey Johnson and his rhythm guitarist, Wade Battle, had written a song with Richard. He came to the Practice House and was amazed by the history, the acoustics, and just the vibe of it, and offered to work with us. About the day after Christmas, Wade brought up Pro Tools and some microphones. We always thought it was a great idea to record there because that’s where most of our music came together.” And with that, the floodgates opened for the Headhunters’ future endeavors. “I doubt very seriously we’ll ever do another album in a big studio because we’ve kind of come full circle,” Young says. “We always wanted to record here since we were kids.”
We caught up with Young and Martin, a bona fide tone freak—there’s a song called “Les Paul Standard” on the new album and Gibson will be releasing a limited run of Greg Martin signature models, if that tells you anything—to get the scoop on Dixie Lullabies and talk gear.
Why did it take so long between Dixie Lullabies and the last album of originals, 2003’s Soul?
Martin: We were a five-piece band at the time and then we did another album in 2005, Big Boss Man, but that was cover material. Anthony Kenney (bass player from 1992) left the band sometime around 2007 and we had to get our bearings together as a four-piece band. The first year or two we were just out there redeveloping and redefining our sound.
Greg Martin’s Gearbox
1958 sunburst Gibson Les Paul Standard w/ PAFs, 1957 Fender Stratocaster, 1963 Les Paul SG Standard, Gibson Acoustics, 2011 Gibson Les Paul Standard (Greg Martin prototype No. 1), 1955 Gibson Les Paul Goldtop Standard w/P90s, 1956 Gibson Les Paul Jr. (open-D tuning), 2006 Dan Armstrong Plexi (clear acrylic)
1969 Marshall Super Lead 100-watt head (with two EL34 power tubes pulled),
Two 1971 Marshall 4x12 cabinets with 30-watt Celestion Greenback speakers
Rocky Martin Slides Swamp Frog
Richard Young’s Gearbox
1952 Fender Telecaster “Danny,” 1958 Gibson Les Paul Jr. double cut-away, 1963 Fender Telecaster, 1959 Guild acoustic, 1938 Gibson L-OO
Fender Bassman reissue with Eminence speakers, 1957 Fender tweed Deluxe
What brought about the new album?
Young: It was all about the way the air felt, man. When we started out, we wanted to be the biggest English rock band in Kentucky, in America, in the world. Even though we’re a Southern rock band, obviously, we had our success through country music. When you see guys like Robert Plant coming out and you see the Zac Brown Band in country music then you start to realize that these things are being accepted. We’ve been watching for the past few years.
So the timing was right.
Young: Yeah, the timing was right. Also we’ve had something great happen in our family. My son has this band, Black Stone Cherry, and I was instrumental in helping them get started. They also work in the Practice House.
Do you guys get exposed to a new audience through Black Stone Cherry?
Young: Yeah. It brings an audience to us and then through that curiosity they start listening. A kid from London who reviews records said, “You know, I picked up this Headhunters record because of Black Stone Cherry and I gotta tell you I was blown away.” It made me feel good that our music is still viable even with young rock audiences.
Are you aiming for a new fan base or is this record for your loyal following?
Young: We always call it our baby Grateful Dead following, although it’s by no means that feverish or that large of an audience. But it’s people that started with us, that stayed with us, and all of a sudden their children start liking us.
Let’s talk about some songs from the album. “Tumbling Roses” is a great one with really tasty guitar work throughout.
Martin: Well thank you. That’s my favorite track; I really love that song. The guitar work I’m doing on that one is almost like soul guitar. It’s coming from Muscle Shoals and Stax and it sounds a whole lot like the Stones on Some Girls.
Young: That’s a song that I really enjoyed writing and singing. Doing that song live, you can tell that the minute we kick into it that it transcends into something. That’s when you know you’ve got a good one.