In preparing for Friday night's induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, members of the Kentucky HeadHunters knew they were still a few steps behind a formative, homegrown inspiration.
"We took our families up to the Hall of Fame awhile back," said HeadHunters co-guitarist and co-founder Richard Young. "We already had a pretty cool little booth there. But to be honest with you, Exile had a magnificent booth. We knew we were not going to be able to outdo them. Let's just say they had some pretty trendy outfits over the past 50 years."
As luck would have it, Exile will be inducted into the Hall alongside the HeadHunters. And while one would think this would be the ideal time for Young to crow about the "electric barnyard" music that defined HeadHunters hits like Dumas Walker and the rockish honky-tonk transformations of such traditionally minded classics as Oh Lonesome Me and Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine, the guitarist can't suppress the thrill of being honored in equal terms with Exile, the Kentucky pop, rock and country ensemble that Young, brother and drummer Fred Young and guitarist Greg Martin championed as teens coming of musical age in Metcalfe County. Bassist and singer Doug Phelps completes the HeadHunters lineup.
"Seeing Exile back then was the closest thing you could get to seeing the Rolling Stones," Young said. "We paid five bucks to see the band and drink beer. We didn't have a whole lot of outlets for modern music when we were growing up. If we didn't see them on The Ed Sullivan Show or Hullabaloo or some of those TV shows, it was hard to find that music.
"Greg's brother lived in Louisville. He was older, and Greg would go up and stay with him and bring back these slews of albums — Cream and Moby Grape and all these things. So we were very fortunate to have that outlet."
There was another means of experiencing the daring new pop music of the late '60s for Young and his pals. But the location and its hosts were equally unlikely rock 'n' roll representatives.
"We had this place in Glasgow called Rice's Radio and TV Service," Young remembered. "Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Rice who ran it were some Jewish folks that lived in New York but moved down to Kentucky. Well, every Saturday, we couldn't wait to go over there. He had all these great Fender guitars hanging up and amplifiers. Mrs. Rice, on her counter, had one of these old time gray turntables. She turned us on to Jimi Hendrix's Purple Haze. Can you imagine a middle-age woman turning a bunch of kids onto Purple Haze? She would say, 'I've got this great new album from England by this band called The Jimi Hendrix Experience.' So naturally, she sold us a copy of it.
"The first time I ever heard Exile was when I went in there one Saturday and Mrs. Rice played this great single. She said, 'Boys, you've got to play close attention. Finally, we have a band from Kentucky that's stirring up some dust.' And it was Exile. I was maybe 14 at the time.
"So we latched on to Exile because they were kind of like our big brothers from the state. They made us hopeful that we could one day do what they did and have a career in music. We always looked up to them. So you've got to know this is a double whammy for us. Not only are we going into the Hall of Fame, we're going in with some of our heroes."
Walter Tunis is a Lexington-based writer and critic.