The Kentucky Headhunters

Authorized Bootleg: Live - Agara Ballroom - Cleveland, Ohio May - 13 1990

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The Kentucky Headhunters, in their original lineup comprising the Phelps brothers, Doug and Ricky Lee, the Young brothers, Fred and Richard, and Greg Martin, begin this archival live recording with a version of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues" played as if it were "Honky Tonk Women," and that's pretty much the band's MO. Whatever they play, whether it's nominally a country song, a pop song, a blues song, or one of their own cross-genre originals, it comes out sounding like gutbucket rock & roll in a Rolling Stones vein, even if the voices have Southern accents. If the Headhunters had happened along in 1969 instead of 1989, they might have joined the Macon, GA, Capricorn Records contingent of acts like the Allman Brothers Band and others in the Southern rock movement. Twenty years later, their option was to go to Nashville and have Mercury Records try to market them as a country act. Half a year before this show, Mercury had released their debut album, Pickin' on Nashville, featuring the country chart hits "Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine" (by Bill Monroe) and "Dumas Walker" (an original), to be followed into the charts by a version of Don Gibson's "Oh Lonesome Me" and the Chuck Berry-like original "Rock ‘N' Roll Angel." All are performed at this show, along with renditions of the Sir Douglas Quintet's "She's About a Mover," the Cream arrangement of Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," and Norman Greenbaum's "Spirit in the Sky." That's a fairly eclectic repertoire, but in the hands of the Headhunters, everything gets a hard blues-rock treatment. There isn't much Tex-Mex left in "She's About a Mover," for instance, but there is some intense lead guitar work, and "Spirit in the Sky" is less suggestive of the fruity original version than of, say, ZZ Top. The crowd at the Agora in Cleveland is adoring from before the first note of the first song, willingly singing much of "Dumas Walker" itself, and it's easy to guess that that's the kind of response the Kentucky Headhunters got as a live act night after night, even if the record business couldn't figure out how to handle them at the time.

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