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“We’re Tickled To Be Here”

Kentucky Headhunters Grant Exclusive Interview With Doug Phelps to The Edina Sentinel

By Echo Menges

The well-known band, the Kentucky Headhunters, packed the Hurdland Park on the Fourth of July for Hurdland’s 149th Annual 4th of July Celebration. Band members Fred Young (drums), Richard Young (rhythm guitar), Greg Martin (lead guitar) and Doug Phelps (bass guitar) pleased the crowd with new and classic songs.

In the past, it was very common for the band to mix and mingle with their fans, however, the pandemic changed a lot of things, and they were unable to host a meet-and-greet before their Hurdland concert. The band did grant The Edina Sentinel an exclusive interview with bass player and Missouri native Doug Phelps.

Phelps was warm, upbeat and down-to-earth. Here is the conversation that took place behind the stage during the annual fireworks display between Phelps and this reporter.

Interview with Kentucky Headhunter Doug Phelps on July 4, 2021 in Hurdland, MO

Menges: Where are you coming from and where are you going from here?

Phelps: We played Bismarck, North Dakota, last night for a Fourth of July weekend festival. We were just off the water. We had people in front of us on the ground and in boats out on the lake, so it was a fun show, but it got up to 106 (degrees Fahrenheit) yesterday, which set a record for them. So, really hot. You know there’s a lot of hot stuff going on up in that northwest area. In Missouri and Tennessee, Kentucky – where we’re all from (temperatures are) in the 80s. So a little bit of flip-flop thing going on (with the weather), but great people. We had a good time. That’s where we were.

As soon as we get everything loaded, we’re taking our Stage Manager to St. Louis, dropping him off at the airport. He has rescheduled this vacation that he’s got with his honey three times because of all the COVID mess this past year and a half. So, it’s a race to get him there in time.

And then from there, we’re headed back to South Central Kentucky and then I’m in Hendersonville, Tennessee, which is about 17 miles north of Nashville. Everybody else is (in) South Central Kentucky. That’s kind of where we’re based out of.

Menges: Do you get to take a break?

Phelps: Oh no. No, it will be just a few days. Then, we head to Texas next week. So, that’s where we’re going to. We’re going to Ranger, Texas, which is (on the) other side of Fort Worth. So, that’ll be our next week gig.

Menges: Somebody told me earlier that you guys were touring for 50 years straight.

Phelps: Richard (Young) and Fred (Young), who are brothers, and Greg (Martin) is a cousin – they had another cousin that they formed Itchy Brother (with) back in ‘67 and that’s a long time. And, they got close to a couple of record deals over those years. Something always happened. It was going to transpire and it didn’t. Everybody kind of parted ways in ‘80. (In) ‘80, ‘81, Greg, our lead guitar player, and I – from Southeast Missouri – I’m a Missouri Boy – I had a keyboard player friend of mine that moved to Nashville and got with a country artist by the name of Ronnie McDowell who had a bunch, a string of hits during that time.

I auditioned, got the gig as a 20-year-old-kid. Greg auditioned, because they kind of split up and everybody was doing their own thing during that time. Me and Greg ended up with Ronnie for a few years. They got to kind of get to put something back together again. And their other cousin had just got married and had a baby on the way. He didn’t want to do it.

I’d already met him and said, I’ll bring Doug up to the practice house, the old farmhouse on Richard and Fred’s farm. The very first time was in Greg’s basement because it (was) winter time. The second time we got together was at the old practice house, and we put the Headhunters together – the four of us that are still doing it to this day.

We put the Headhunters together in March of ‘86, so for us it’s 35 years. We signed our first deal in ‘89 and that’s when picking in Nashville came out, when picking went crazy. And (we) sold a few million records, and we won a Grammy, and CMA Awards, and ACM. I mean, it was crazy. It was a little crazy there for about two or three years. And then, of course, things kind of settled back down.

You know, the original four founding members of us are still getting to do this, 35-years later.

Menges: That’s amazing.

Phelps: It is. We’re blessed and fortunate.

Menges: Okay, this is one of my favorite questions. I actually stole it from the internet. If you never got into music, what would you be doing right now?

Phelps: I’d be a farmer or a coach. I was good at basketball and baseball. I was going to college to be a coach.

I grew up on the farm, chopping cotton, ditching watermelons, big wheat and beans, stacking hay. All that (was) down in the bootheel there.

Menges: What town are you from?

Phelps: Cardwell. It’s a little bitty town in the very bottom left-hand corner of the bootheel.

When I was growing up, it had about 870 people. It’s maybe a little over 700 now. It’s a farming community is basically what it is. That’s where I grew up. That was my hometown. My dad and mom moved 12-miles west into Paragould, Arkansas.

Our little town of Cardwell, if you look at the little boot down there, the very bottom left-hand corner is Cardwell, all the way down, three miles south or three miles west – you’re in Arkansas. That’s how far down it is. All of that is a part of the Delta Region, so it’s really good for cotton, soybeans, corn, rice – all that stuff. It’s a lot of farmland. That’s what I did growing up. I worked on farms.

Menges: What do you want your fans in this crowd to remember about tonight?

Phelps: Live music is still alive, and that really is kind of our bread and butter. We love playing in front of people. That interaction between us and the crowd is – there’s no substitute for that. We make records, and it’s great when we sell records and all that stuff, but the live show is still one of our favorite things to do.

Menges: This event is the biggest event we’ve had in Knox County since the beginning of the pandemic.

Phelps: We’re tickled to be here. Like I said, Rich and Fred are from the country. They’re from their family farm. It has been in their family for generations. Greg, although he was born in Louisville, he moved to South Central Kentucky when he was in middle school. My hometown of Cardwell is farmland. We really are rural. We’re country boys. But we like (to have long) hair. We like to rock, but we like country, and blues, and bluegrass, and all that other stuff. So we really relate and I really relate to the small towns because that’s how I grew up. And, sometimes those are the best.

Menges: What’s the difference between playing a small hometown setting like this compared to a huge arena?

Phelps: Well, there’s a different energy at the huge arenas, the big outdoor festivals and all that stuff. A massive amount of people have a certain amount of energy. Sometimes, they’re a little far away.

The connection you have even in the smaller venues, the clubs and some of the smaller theaters, the connection is a little more intimate I think. Between those settings, small town festivals, city festivals, county fairs, that kind of stuff – are some of our favorite things to do.

Menges: Did you get any specific vibe off of this crowd?

Phelps: I saw many people out there singing – especially the older stuff, the older hits that we had early on. And saw some jumping up and dancing and having a good time, and that’s what it’s about. Kind of forgetting about the everyday life for a little while, coming out, and having a good time – especially for Fourth of July, Independence Day.

I wanted to make sure I mentioned a special thanks to the past and present military. My dad served in Korea. He was on the front line for about 18-months over there. Greg’s dad was in World War II. I think he was a Gunner Sergeant in a tank and so he was over there in the middle of it too. (We have) a special place in our heart for those past and present. Freedom ain’t free. There’s a cost to it. I’m thankful to be where we are.

Menges: We sure appreciate you coming out here for our Fourth, one of the biggest celebrations we have around here every year.

Phelps: We appreciate you having us. We love, love getting to do settings like this.

Menges: Thank you so much.

Phelps: You’re very welcome. Thank you. Appreciate your time.