Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

March 16, 2012

Arkansas-born musician is a real Kentucky HeadHunter

Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — Before Doug Phelps became a Kentucky HeadHunter, he was an Itchy Brother; something a lot of people probably don't know.

Itchy Brother was a band composed of Richard Young, his brother, Fred and their cousins Anthony Kenney and Greg Martin. 

Doug joined them in playing the band's last gig.

“I did one show and I think it was the very last one that they did,” he said.

Doug was already a member of the Kentucky HeadHunters at that time.

The HeadHunters formed in 1986, six years after Itchy Brother went on hiatus.

 Itchy Brother missed out on a recording deal with Swan Song record label, created by Led Zeppelin. The label closed following the death of John Bonham, Led Zeppelin's drummer.

“That's kind of when everybody went, 'Well, what are we going to do next?'” Doug said.

Itchy Brother continued to perform some, but Martin was playing guitar for country recording artist Ronnie McDowell, as was Doug, while Fred Young was drumming for country recording artist Sylvia. Richard Young was a songwriter for Acuff-Rose Music in Nashville.

“Everybody was doing something different for a while, but would still do the occasional Itchy Brother gig,” Doug said.

Greg invited Doug to join the Kentucky HeadHunters.

Doug knew Greg through their work with McDowell.

“Greg and I auditioned on the same day and we both got the job,” Doug said. “That's how I met Richard and Fred, through Greg.”

Doug had an opportunity to play for Marie Osmond about the same time Richard, Fred and Greg began talking about getting another band together.

“I knew it was time to get something going or we'd never play together again,” Greg said. “I invited Doug up to jam with Richard, Fred and I. Our first jam took place at 103 Withers St. here in Glasgow in the spring of 1986. From that first jam, Doug became part of our family.”

Richard recently recalled what it was like to hear Doug sing for the first time.

“I thought Doug had great possibilities for a Kentucky singer,” he said.

He described Doug as having “a very Arkansas sounding voice.”

“It's like a rockabilly-type voice. Doug has a very clean and sweet voice. I think he's a great singer,” Richard said. “I love writing songs for him to sing.”

Doug also plays bass for the HeadHunters and Richard said he is “a fabulous bass player.”

“Doug has great timing. He's a simple bass player, but it's very effective,” he said.

In the beginning, the band played local venues and did the “Chitlin' Show” on WLOC-FM in Munfordville.

“Originally, it was just the four of us for the first six months and I talked my brother into coming up in maybe September that year,” Doug said. “He was just going to come up and check out what we were doing. There were no plans for him to come up and join or anything.”

The band members talked Ricky Lee Phelps into joining the band.

“I think the very first song we ever did was 'Honky Tonk Blues,' a Hank Sr. tune. We just rocked it up. As Richard described it, the room just kind of went neon when it happened,” Doug said.

Ricky Lee joined the band in September 1986. The Kentucky HeadHunters signed their record deal in 1989 and won a Grammy in 1991 with their first album “Pickin' On Nashville.” The album also earned the band several awards from the Country Music Association, including Vocal Group of the Year in 1990 and 1991 and Album of the Year in 1990.

Ricky Lee left the band in 1992, taking Doug with him to form Brother Phelps.

“I ended up going with him mainly because he is my brother,”  Doug said. “Ricky and I got to do a thing just as brothers and made a couple of albums.”

Kenney and Mark Orr, who both played with Itchy Brother, joined the Kentucky HeadHunters.

 “When Mark was getting back off the road, Richard called me up, I guess, it was the summer of 1995 and wanted us just to all get together and talk. I knew I was rejoining immediately and Ricky just wasn't ready to come back,” Doug said.

He rejoined the band 17 years ago. A highlight of his career with the band has been winning the Grammy, which he describes as a “surreal moment.”

“Every award we won, and we did win quite a few there for a couple of years, every one of them was a surprise,” he said.

The Kentucky HeadHunters recorded their latest album, “Dixie Lullabies,” at their practice house in Metcalfe County in December of 2011 with only kerosene heaters to keep them warm.

A single from the album,  “Great Acoustics,” was recently released and the music video for the song has been featured on YouTube, as well as CMT’s website, CMT Pure and GAC.

“Dixie Lullabies” is an artist statement-type album, however, if the band were to win an award or two for  the single or the album, its members said that would be OK.  But if it doesn't happen, all band members have said they are OK with that, too.

“That's the way we've always kind of looked at it,” Doug said.

When he's not traveling with the Kentucky HeadHunters, he's busy with a few side projects, including a southern rock band called Dixie Tabernacle.

Doug recently joined Greg in working on the album “Tribute to J.J. Cale.”

Doug had already recorded “Lies,” a Cale tune, just for fun with some friends. Two months later he was invited to be a part of the tribute project and ended up recording a couple of tracks on the album.

He also writes music with his 23-year-old son, Josh, who is the Kentucky HeadHunters' stage manager, along with other side projects.

The HeadHunters perform 75 to 80 shows a year, usually from March to October.

Doug anticipates the band releasing another single or two from the “Dixie Lullabies” album before coming back to the practice house to record another album.

“We will figure out the timing a little bit better this time,” he said. “Hopefully, it won't be 28 degrees again and snowing.”