For My Friends who know this story about the Kentucky Headhunters and me, well you know. This is a study for those who don’t. This is a collection of Kentucky headhunters songs and my own personal story about playing guitar with the Kentucky Headhunters.
I’ve had many highlights in my career and have had many interesting opportunities as an Opening act for The Late Jani Lane Of Warrant, Country Legend Martina McBride, Guitar Legend Neil Zaza, and a few others. As you climb the Ladder of a musician you are often going to find that you are just there to do your 45 minutes and many times the main act doesn’t care who you are.
The money is Great, the interactions are awkward at times. Talking Jani Lane down from a flip-out was a test of my willpower as a representative of the Hometown. Many folks have to remember they are not doing the enormodome and the Stadium and nothing is ever perfect.
I’m not speaking ill of the dead here. I’m saying we are all human and prone to bad days. The Audience has no idea what happens before the Venue Doors open. They see the Headliner smiling and being professional. The opening act sometimes knows more about the reality of dealing with a Rock Star in a bad mood. Things don’t always go well. Then you get a show that does and it’s a gift.
The Kentucky Headhunters – Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine (Official Video)
The Kentucky Headhunters were a gift. I’ve been a fan since they broke through to worldwide fame in the late 1980s and played many of their Hit’s in cover bands and Showbands all across the midwest the first half of my career. I never ever saw it coming that I would be called to actually work a show with the band and get paid to present my own songs to their audience. I was already truly honored to just have that laid on the table.
I assumed it would be like most of those shows I had done prior and expected nothing more. I was in for a whole different experience.
I arrived at the Oktoberfest early in the day knowing my setup would be simple, an amp, a couple of guitars, and a vocal mic. I saw the Tour bus parked and thought well the band is at the Hotel and I’m not here to bother anyone so I made contact with the event organizer and he said “I’ve got someone I want you to meet.” and brought me to the soundboard. He told the Soundman I was Jimmy Fleming and then said “This is Steve Wilson, He worked for Stevie Ray Vaughan and I’m sure you two have plenty to talk about.” Mind Blown.
Steve was one of the nicest people on Earth and we talked for 30 mins or so about shows I had been to and some specific events like Stevie getting that scooter he loved so much, and that he had run over a friend of mine on the thing. The guy didn’t care as SRV helped him to his feet and asked if he was ok and he said “I don’t care if I am or not, you are Stevie Ray Vaughan!”
Steve asked if I wanted to soundcheck and I looked up at the stage and said “ I see Greg Martin’s 1959 Gibson Les Paul on the stage and I’ll gladly sound check AFTER you put that thing in a case because I’m not going near it!” Steve Laughed and agreed. I went up a few minutes later and out of nowhere, I have Richard Young and Brother Fred Young onstage too. I apologized and began to move my Guitar cases out of Richards’ way. He then said something that spoke volumes about their Humble nature. “This is as much your stage as it is ours.”
Greg Martin and Bassist and Lead vocalist Doug Phelps were actually at the Hotel so I got drafted to not only get my sound but to soundcheck with them. That’s a surreal experience to play and do the vocal check and be a Headhunter by proxy. I saw Richard was being approached by a young man and young Lady so I thought ok this is a private matter so I’m going to step off. Richard says “Hey man come back here, check this out.
I want your opinion.” What was happening was he was being delivered a Stratocaster style guitar he had ordered a few years prior, made from wood cut from his family farm decades earlier. This was no little project, he had cut the wood himself and let it sit for a very long time so it was a very sentimental and deeply heartfelt piece of his life now being seen for the first time by just the two of us and the Luthier. Then He hands me the thing to play and seriously wanted my thoughts. I was speechless. Yet I managed a response of the beauty of the work and the sound.
Soundcheck was done and we walked back behind the stage and talked about Family and our roots in Kentucky and Virginia and our mutual Love of Waylon Jennings and The Rolling Stones. He then said, “well I’m gonna hit the bus and have a power nap, I’ll be listening when you hit it and have a good show..see you after this Horse Race is over.”
The Kentucky Headhunters perform “Oh, Lonesome Me” Live at the Shed
I had very little time to get my head around what just happened in the last couple of hours and I still haven’t even thought of playing, which was the only reason I was there, to begin with. I had noticed a few folks coming in 30 mins prior, and took another look and I am now seeing a sea of people. I asked my friend how many this was roughly and his response was “Oh somewhere around 2 thousand, AND… you are onstage in 10 minutes.
You are as the Great Ronnie Hawkins would say “In the BIG TIME JIM”. Grammy award winners, people you watched on television and this may be your stage too, but it’s their audience. You have a carnival going on, crowd noise, announcements, games, and sonic chaos. Then You realize “I can’t think of the first words to the first song and I wrote the thing!!” The only thing I could do was lock myself in the Porta-John and stick my fingers in my ears and think hard. You are opening with “Bottled Devil Blues”, what is the first LINE?
BOOM “ ‘I have a Darkness stalking doing that high step walking “ OK. The door opens annnnnnd “You are on”.
That set flies by, 45 seems like 10 minutes. Yet you made it through.
It’s sadly a rare thing to be treated that well and respected as an equal by the Legends, but thank Goodness there are bands like the Kentucky Headhunters who treat you the way they do. If you find yourself discouraged in the business by dealing with a run of ego trips as a support act, remember it’s part of the program that if you endure, you’ll get a Blessing as I did. If you are an established act the single best thing you can do for yourself and your Legacy is remembered when you were starting out, Treat your support with respect and Remember your Roots. It means everything.
Documentary about the Kentucky headhunters
By The way…..Ole Fred the