By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
An estimated crowd of 275 braved Friday’s cold and rain to see an energetic old-style rock-n-roll show as the Kentucky Headhunters brought power-trio guitar riffs and a 16-and-a-half minute drum solo full force to Hempstead Hall.
The veteran group, which celebrates its 51st year this year, consisting of brothers Richard and Fred Young along with Greg Martin and Doug Phelps, proved to be both entertaining and highly competent musicians as they belted out standards like Ragtop Automobile, My Daddy was a Milkman and Back to Memphis. Fred Young, the drummer, donned a Davy Crockett-style coonskin cap, and he later hypnotized the crowd with a stirring 16-and-a-half minute drum solo, reminiscent of 1970s-era rock shows. After the concert, lead singer Phelps joked “Yeah, he gave us time to get some water and catch a nap.”
Their level of skill and showmanship also pumped new energy and soundwaves into covers of classics like 1969 Norman Greenbaum hit, Spirit in the Sky, and the Animals 1964 standard, House of the Rising Sun.
Phelps, who was born in Leachville in northwestern Arkansas, also had a special following in Hope on Friday as a contingent of fans and old classmates made the four-hour drive to see him. Living close to the Missouri border, Phelps actually graduated school in Cardwell, Missouri, where some of the fans traveled from. After the concert, Phelps met with the gathering backstage.
With nary a keyboard in sight, the three guitarists lead by Martin, Phelps and Richard Young had a sound and feel of 1970s vintage ZZ Top, while Phelps vocals harkened back to the sound of 1980s vintage Georgia Satellites. With their Southern-style licks, this incarnation of the Headhunters could have well covered classics from any of their brethren, Molly Hatchet, Lynard Skynard, or the still-revered Allman Brothers, but their pure power guitars could put them in the league of early heavy metal pioneers like Iron Butterfly or Nazareth.
Along the way, however, the Headhunters had fun and showed their humor, engaging the Hempstead Hall crowd, and placing various sounds of fan familiar “Easter eggs” in their cords.
Richard Young, the group’s co-founder, told a story of a broken washing machine at his home in rural Kentucky wasting several gallons of water.
Snippets of Led Zepplin’s Stairway to Heaven as well as 1960s TV themes like Gilligan’s Island, Andy Griffith, and Green Acres made their way into introductions or riffs in other songs. And, there was a full guitar-driven instrumental of Beethoven’s classic Ole to Joy blasted for eight minutes in sort of a Christmas-meets-Freebird sort of way.
After the concert, Phelps said, “We had a ball; we had a great time here tonight,” and Phelps added that he enjoyed seeing his old classmates backstage.
“My dad still lives in Paragould, Arkansas now,” Phelps said. The band sang a “Happy Birthday” song to his dad, who turned 90 on Friday.
Richard Young said one of the Headhunter’s early influences was Black Oak Arkansas, the legendary Southern rock band named after their hometown of Black Oak, Arkansas.
New Hempstead Hall Director Amanda Lance said “It was a very enthusiastic crowd, and those who were here seemed to enjoy the show. The Headhunters did a fantastic job, and they were great to work with. We were happy to have them in Hope for the first time.”
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor