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Kentucky HeadHunters arise out of the ashes

By Brian Wahlert, May 1997

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"So it was fun to go off and make a blues album, which I don't think we'd have been able to done with the Phelps boys, but we could do it with Mark Orr. I don't think we'd have gotten to play with Johnny Johnson in Central Park in New York City two years ago July fourth with the Phelps boys," Young says.

Still, something was missing, and all the parties involved knew it. "For three years, I've got on stage, man, and the vibe wasn't there for me either. Just like it wasn't for you listenin' to it," he says.

"It was a dumb thing for this to all happen in the first place, for the split to happen. And the Phelps boys, they were burning up videos and they were on the radio, but they weren't selling any records. The HeadHunters were over here playin' July fourth in Central Park, but we weren't sellin' alot of the records...By 1995 it was obvious that Mark was wantin' to do somethin' else because I'm sure he was terribly tired of havin' to rehash or try to sing 'Dumas Walker' and that sort of thing because he's an R&B singer. And that's what he's supposed to be doin'. And so I called up Doug Phelps in August of '95 and I said, 'Doug, you know, we'd like to invite you back to the band, you and your brother.' And he and I talked for a few minutes, and he thought it was a good idea."

Judging by the results, HeadHunters fans would have to agree. Even though Ricky Lee Phelps chose not to rejoin, "Stompin' Grounds" is certainly their most consistently good album since "Pickin' on Nashville."It seems to combine the great party feel of the best HeadHunters music with the more traditional country elements of Brother Phelps's work.

Young explains the Phelps' influence by saying, "A lot of what seemed was goin' on with those guys was things that was goin' on in the practice house that never got on a record. When the HeadHunters were rehearsing, our favorite thing to do was not rehearse and play every Beatles song we knew. So, I'm sure a lot of that influence probably started in the HeadHunters."

"If I could go back and change the way things happened in 1992, it wouldn't be right because too many good things came out of that. See? God, man, I wish I could go back to 1991 and slap someone in the band and make him a different person. You know? But I can't do that. But then I'll turn around and look on the wall, and I'll see a picture of me and Chuck Berry and Johnny Johnson, and I'll go, 'That wouldn't ever have happened if I hadn't been through all that.' And I'm a real firm believer in the spiritual stuff, man. I really think that we kinda got the raw end of the deal, and I think the good Lord just said, 'Let these boys survive.'"

Survive, they have. Like the mythical phoenix, the Kentucky HeadHunters have risen from the ashes to fly again, hopefully back atop the country charts.

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