MRM recently had the chance to interview Greg Martin of the Kentucky Headhunters. Martin spoke about his origins, career, new album titled “….That’s a Fact Jack!” and upcoming show at Harley-Davidson of Greenville in Greenville, SC .
MRM: Where are you “calling” us from today?
Martin: Greetings from Glasgow, Ky, about 30 miles from the Corvette plant in Bowling Green.
MRM: How have you been holding up during these crazy times? I guess we are close to the finish line!
Martin: Things are certainly looking up, we’ve been slowly crawling out of the 2020 pandemic wreckage. We played about 10 shows in 2020, managed to play 45 dates in 2021, plus managed to record and release a new album last October. I had my bout with covid in 2020, I came through that fine. Richard and Fred had it last year, we all made it through fine. We’re back out on the road touring, and by the grace of God, 2022 will be a good year. But, to answer your question, we’re all holding up well, looks like the doors are opening back up.
MRM: Who are your influences?
Martin: Oh man, there’s so many! 60’s Louisville bands such as Elysian Field, Soul Inc, The Rugbys, Steve Ferguson, plus The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Lovin’ Spoonful, Brian Wilson, ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck Group, Spirit, Nazz, Mike Bloomfield, BB King, Albert King, Freddy King, Albert Collins, Danny Gatton, Merle Travis, Chet Atkins, NRBQ, Allman Brothers, Ernest Tubb and The Texas Troubadours, Mountain, Ronnie Montrose, Cream…there’s not many that haven’t touched me in some way. The same goes for our band, collectively we’ve listened to and studied a lot of music over the years. Music is a deep well, you never stop making new musical discoveries.
MRM: How did you start in the music business?
Martin: Music was more of a life calling than anything. I grew up around a musical family, my father and Uncle Wade Martin, older brother Gary and cousin Larry all played guitar. I saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivan in 1964, saw The Lovin’ Spoonful in 1966, which made a huge impact. The big ‘lightbulb’ moment was Oct. 1968, seeing Elysian Field in Louisville. They were local legends, a power trio with a great guitarist named Frank Bugbee. Seeing them sent me on a lifetime quest to become a guitarist and chase a sound. About a month later after seeing Elysian Field, I met Richard and Fred through a 4-H talent show, the rest is history. I started playing in bands in 1968, and except for a small break between 1974-1975 to manage an electronics/record store, I’m still out there chasing that same sound I heard many years ago.
MRM: Other than the Kentucky Headhunters, what is Edmonton, KY known for?
Martin: Lonzo and Oscar, Blackstone Cherry, Otis all came out of Edmonton. There’s one traffic light, and late at night you can actually hear it blinking! All kidding aside, Edmonton is a great town, it’s nestled in a farm community, a great place to grow up in. If my father hadn’t moved us there in 1966, I wouldn’t have met Richard and Fred.
MRM: Is it true that Itchy Brother was almost signed to Swan Song Records? Did you get to meet anyone from the Led Zeppelin camp?
Martin: We became friends with Mitchell Fox, who worked for Swan Song in the 70’s. Through a series of events, Mitchell became our manager in 1978, we were courted by Swan Song. Mitchell took our tapes to England for meeting with Zeppelin manager Peter Grant, which never happened. Unfortunately, after John Bonham passed, things at Swan Sing went into a state of limbo. We never got to meet anyone from Led Zeppelin in the 70’s, we did meet Robert Plant in the late 90’s.
MRM: How did your gig with Men Without Hats come about?
Martin: Awww, not many folks know about that album! That came through meeting Mountain drummer Corky Laing at the 1990 Farm Aid Show in Indianapolis. He was playing a set with Tom Keifer of Cinderella, and happened to catch our set. At that time he was working A&R for Polygram Canada. After hearing me play, we exchanged numbers, and one day he called me about the Men Without Hats project. He asked if I’d be interested in playing on some tracks, I said yes. I ended up adding guitar to 4 tracks on the album ‘Sideways,’ which was a lot of fun. I still communicate with Ivan, they were great guys.
MRM: How was it playing with Lynyrd Skynyrd filling in for the injured Ed King?
Martin: That was a great experience! I met Ed at the 1992 Dallas Guitar Show, we became fast friends. I actually own a 1958 Les Paul Standard that belonged to Hank Williams Jr and Ed. Before the guitar show was over, we exchanged numbers, and he called me out of the blue one afternoon around May 1992 about me filling in for him. He had broken his finger and could only play slide. I ended up doing 8-10 shows in the Spring of 1992, it was a great experience. Gary called me in early 1994 and offered me a full time gig, but I had my own band and they had another course to follow. After I politely declined, Mike Estes took the job. All in all, a great experience and career highlight.
MRM: Do you have any wild stories from out on the road? The raunchier the better! haha
Martin: Nothing raunchy to tell, we were pretty isolated from the fans. We’d play the shows, and immediately be whisked off in a van to the hotel. During the rehearsals outside Jacksonville in early May, I drank too much one night and missed a flight home. Let’s see, our bus broke down one night outside Atlanta after a show. We were taken to the airport and flown to North Carolina. We all sat in the normal seating with everyone else. I remember Leon Wilkeson sitting between two elderly ladies, he was trying to explain what he did in the band and what a Bass Guitar was. It was a very sweet moment, he was a great guy, they all were. I wish I had some more crazy stories to tell, but there’s not anything too crazy.
MRM: What did it mean to finally win a Grammy?
Martin: It was very surreal, we never thought it was ever obtainable. Like everyone else growing up, we watched the Grammy Award shows, it just seemed like a different world. The guys and I never got into music to win awards, but we’re grateful for each and every one. If anything, the Grammy was an affirmation that we were always on the right path, and that all the years of struggling were not wasted.
MRM: How was it making your Grand Ole Opry debut late last year?
Martin: It was another amazing experience for the guys and I. Doug, Fred and I had played the Opry with different artists back in the 80’s, but never with The HeadHunters. A few years ago we were asked to play, but told we couldn’t use our own gear, we politely declined. I figured at that point it would never happen again. We were asked last Summer to do it, we talked about it and decided it was time. As a musician, it was another affirmation moment for sure. My parents grew up listening to the Opry, so doing it was a great honor and experience. I know our folks would have been proud.
MRM: What kind of equipment are you using these days? The gearheads want to know.
Martin: On the road, I’m currently taking 3-4 guitars. A Gibson ‘Ronnie Montrose’ CC #28 Les Paul, Gibson ‘Greg Martin’ CC #15 Les Paul, Fender ’53 Telecaster relic and a Fender ’50 Esquire No-caster relic. For my main rig, I’m using a Germino Headroom 100 head and Mojo 4×12 cab with old Celestions and Eminence speakers. I use a Amprx Brown Box to power the amps. For strings, I use a D’Addario 10-46 set and RMS slides. I also have a 1975 Marshall 100 watt head as a spare. In the studio, I still use the vintage gear. On the last album I used the 1958 Gibson Les Paul Standard, 1957 Fender Strat, 1962 Gibson ES-335, 1964 Gibson ES-335 , Gretsch Silver Jet reissue. For amps, I used two 50’s tweed Fender amps chained together a 1969 Marshall Super Lead head and 1967 Marshall 4×12 cab. I rarely use effects, did use a Geoffrey Teese Real McCoy Wah-Wah pedal.
MRM: What can you tell us about the recently released album “That’s a Fact Jack!”?
Martin: It’s a very electric album, while retaining the Kentucky HeadHunter sound, it takes in a lot of different sonic landscape. It’s basically our crawling out of the 2020 wreckage album, and in my opinion, a very solid album with solid songs. It’s the best representation for this HeadHunters lineup to date, everyone contributes writing wise and vocally. Considering we hadn’t played much in 2020 or done any pre-production, it came out really well. We’re all pleased with it, it sure covers a lot of styles and subject matter.
MRM: Man, that “Shotgun Effie” really rocks. How was it revisiting that song after all of these years?
Martin: Thanks! The origins of “Shotgun Effie” go way back to 1973. I wrote most of it during the Summer of 1973 while living in a friend’s basement in Memphis, Indiana. It was an ode to Richard and Fred’s grandmother, Mrs. Effie Young. She was a huge supporter of our music growing up, helped us in many ways, gave us the old Practice House to rehearse and write in. We got together in the Fall of 1973 and recorded the first version at a small studio in Burkesville, Ky. It was released in 1974 as an indie single on our own custom label, King Fargo Records, in 1974. The flip side was a song written by Richard called “Rockin’ Roller.” We actually recorded a new version of that one on “Meet Me In Bluesland.” It was great revisiting “Shotgun Effie” after all these years. I hadn’t sang it since 1974, so it was a shock to my system and vocal chords. It’s a snapshot of who we were, and what we’ve since become. I don’t sing much, my aspirations to be a lead vocalist went away in the early 70’s, so it was a challenge. But, the song is a big part of our past history, I’m ecstatic that it’s been brought forward.
MRM: What can everyone expect from the Kentucky Headhunters at Harley-Davidson of Greenville in Greenville, SC? Looks like it’s a free show with Blackfoot supporting y’all!
Martin: It’s going to be a blast, we’re looking forward to it! If folks haven’t seen the Kentucky HeadHunters live, it’s a great time to see us. I feel like we’ve grown a lot as band over the past 3-4 years. The albums are one thing, but the magic really happens in a ‘live’ situation. We really look forward to playing with Blackfoot, it’ll be be too much fun to be legal!
MRM: Thanks for the interview! Anything else you would like to add?
Martin: Thanks for having me! I also host a weekly Blues radio show on WDNS out of Bowling Green, Ky each Monday night from 7:00-10:00 CST called The Lowdown Hoedown. The station and show streams live at www.wdnsfm.com. For all the guitar freaks, I do a guitar livestream for 2GTHR twice a month, usually on a Sunday afternoon. Charlie Starr, Audley Freed, Greg Koch, Josh Smith, Kirk Fletcher and others are involved. Check out www.2gthr.co for more info. Music has been a wonderful journey, we’re very grateful to still be doing it. We hope to see everyone in Greenville!