Keeping things authentic, loud and fun are the best ways to describe The Kentucky Headhunters. They formed in 1986 but several members played together as far back as 1968 when they formed the band Itchy Brother. I had a chance to ask Greg Martin about some of his earliest influences, touring non-stop, side projects and so much more...including being on the other side of the microphone as host of his own radio show for the past 10 years.
You guys really ushered in a new country/rock/blues sound in the late 80's that sort of kicked off a lot of what we hear on the radio today. Recent albums have continued this great sound and maybe even more blues influenced but also a bit under the country radio radar. "Great Acoustics" (available now on iTunes) is the first single from your upcoming album, Dixie Lullabies (releasing October 18th), and feels a bit more country radio friendly. Was that done intentionally or did that just happen naturally?
Our roots are Rock N' Roll, through that we discovered Blues, R&B, and some Jazz. Of course, growing up in Kentucky in the 50's, 60's and 70's, you couldn't escape Country Music. Even the larger Rock AM stations in Louisville, WKLO & WAKY, would play Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Eddie Arnold alongside The Beatles & Rolling Stones. You got to love that kind of radio programming. It was all about the music. Our old band, Itchy Brother, was a stone Rock n' Roll band in the sense of Led Zeppelin, lots of heavy Blues/Rock. With that said, being rural people with big city aspirations, we always had our own sound and did things our own way. When The Headhunters were formed in 1986, it was at a time we were studying Blues, R&B and Rock-A-Billy. We were students. We also embraced "real" Country Music; it had soul. When Pickin' On Nashville was released in 1989, the grounds were fertile for a roots revival. Steve Earl was making waves in Nashville, and the Georgia Satellites were busting out of Atlanta, a music scene we'd always admired from our youth. I can't say that the new LP was intentionally done for country radio; we just did what we normally do. We hole up in the practice house, write some tunes and make a CD. It's a natural process. We just throw it out there and hope it sticks to the wall.
The band has always toured extensively over the years. Have you seen new generations of fans discovering your music?
Touring has been our bread and butter from day one. Touring and video broke the band in the early 90's when radio wouldn't embrace us. We kept on playing live, and continue to play around 75 dates a year. Playing livemakes a band real to the fans'. You can't fake it in front of them, they know the deal. It is cool after 21 years to see grandparents, parents, and children in the crowd grooving together. It's just amazing. We've noticed a lot of young children are in the front row at many shows these days and we must look like the Muppets or something. In a nutshell, we are very lucky guys to still have a fan base and it continues to expand.
How have the new tracks gone over live?
The audiences have embraced the new tunes very well. The new songs are fun to play and the fans can sense when we're into it and not phoning in our parts.
Anyone that really digs into your catalog and sees you guys live knows how much the band digs into its musical roots....rock, country, soul, rockabilly, blues, etc. Who are your early musical influences?
I can say collectively, The Beatles would be our biggest influence. Of course Elvis, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Cream, B.B. King, Albert King, Freddy King, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, Moby Grape, NRBQ, Carl Perkins, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin' Wolf all made an impact in our musical maturation. Personally speaking, The Beach Boys, The Lovin' Spoonful, Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac, early ZZ Top, Robert Johnson, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, The Byrds, Gram Parsons, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers, Johnny Cash, Johnny Burnett & The Rock N' Roll Trio, Gene Vincent with CliffGallup, Buffalo Springfield and Bob Dylan all made an impression on me. My list of inspirations could go on forever.
You've toured with and played live with some music icons like Hank Jr., Carl Perkins, Johnnie Johnson (pianist on all the great early Chuck Berry tunes) and so many more. You've even filled in on guitar for Lynyrd Skynyrd on tour. Have there been some moments that really stand out to you?
I've been very blessed over the years. Music has taken me places I only dreamed about in my youth. Playing with Johnnie Johnson has been a highlight for the guys and me. Playing with Johnnie made men out of us. Personally speaking, there's been so many great moments...jamming with Danny Gatton, jamming with Billy Gibbons in a dressing room, jamming with Ronnie Montrose, Brian Setzer, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Warren Haynes, James Burton, Scotty Moore, The Lovin' Spoonful, RL Burnside, Sonny Landreth, Jack Pearson, Jimmy Hall, Sam Bush & New Grass Revival and others.
You're never one to have too much free time on your hands as you also have side projects like the gospel-blues band The Mighty Jeremiahs and a heavier rock band Rufus Huff. What are you planning this Fall and in 2012?
The Headhunters are always my priority from a music standpoint. The side projects are a way to stretch out. As for 2012...touring with The Headhunters and finishing up a CD we started with Johnnie Johnson before he passed away. I plan on starting another side project...more blues and jump into some vocals. I've never aspired to sing, but why not? I also have plans to expand my radio show, "The Lowdown Hoedown,” and plans for a new website. At this point in my life, it's about enjoying life. We've had the good fortune to make a living at something we dearly love. The Guitar has been very good to me. I thank God everyday for His blessings. In the big picture, God gets the glory.
Of course if all those bands weren't enough, you also find time to host a great weekly blues-roots radio show (The Lowdown Hoedown) on D93 WDNS in Bowling Green, KY (www.wdnsfm.com/). How has that experience been to be on the other side of the microphone?
Ever since the early 60's, I was infatuated with radio. I grew up in Louisville and we had two great rock stations, WKLO and WAKY. In 1965, I used to take a bus downtown to Chestnut Street and watch the DJ's do their thing at WKLO. They had a cool show case window. Radio was a big part of my education, and doing my radio show is way to give something back to a younger generation of musicians. I've gotten some wonderful letters from kids that have discovered B.B. King or Robert Johnson through my show. Sometimes I go back to my youth...listening to WAKY, WKLO, WLS, WCFL on an old table radio with the lights out or in my father's Ford Falcon. Radio was magic. It was the theater of the mind. I celebrate 10 years at WDNS this November and it's been a joy!
What have been some interesting interviews you've done on your radio show?
Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbons, Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple & Trapeze, Steve Cropper, Dion, John Sebastian, Peter Frampton, John Oates, Clarence "Frogman" Henry, Jonathan Edwards, Ronnie Montrose, Delaney Bramlett, Warren Haynes, Tommy Emmanuel, Marty Stuart, Little Milton, Harvey Mandel, Charlie Musselwhite are a few. There have been so many interesting interviews over the years; many are archived at my site.....www.lowdownhoedown.com
For news, concert dates and music visit http://www.thekentuckyheadhunters.com/
Preview Dixie Lullabies here-
The making of Dixie Lullabies-
with Johnnie Johnson "Sunday Blues"
"Louisiana Co Co"
"Big Boss Man"