You probably know Greg Martin as the lead guitarist for the Grammy Award winning Kentucky HeadHunters, but he’s a lot more than that! Possessing what I believe to be the absolute best Les Paul tone I’ve ever heard, he’s also involved in some killer side projects and even hosts his own radio show. I was lucky enough to get the chance to talk with Greg recently, and we talked about these things and so much more. He is one interesting cat!
“Yea, though you have walked through the valley of solid state, you will fear evil tone no longer, for brother Greg Martin continues to see the light and spread the word of hot hands, warm tubes, and smokin’ speakers… surely honest to goodness slide tone and merciful blues riffs shall follow us as we listen to “songs from the grass string ranch”… – Ronnie Montrose 5/30/2000
I know you love Telecasters and other guitars too, but you’re mainly known for slinging a Les Paul, what lead to you being a “Les Paul guy”?
In 1966 I saw The Lovin’ Spoonful in concert at Memorial Auditorium in Louisville, KY. John Sebastian was playing the first Les Paul sunburst I ever saw, I pretty much fell in love with the looks then and there. I also remember looking at photos of John in Hit Parader Magazine playing that Les Paul, I was smitten with that Guitar. Fast forward to 1968, I heard Michael Bloomfield on “Super Session” and “The Electric Flag,” I then fell in love with the Les Paul tone. When I heard Billy F. Gibbons, Peter Green, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Jimmy Page, Paul Kossoff, Phil Keaggy, Ronnie Montrose and others play a Les Paul afterwards, it changed my life.
How did the Kentucky HeadHunters come to be… and were you surprised at the success?
I met Richard Young of The HeadHunters in the Fall of 1968, we played a 4-H Talent Show at our High School. After the show, he told me he had a band with his brother Fred and cousin Anthony Kenney, they were called The Truce. He invited me to jam with them, that was the start of a long musical journey. We played off and on till late 1978, I then got married, had to get a job. I worked at a printing company for a few months, but when offered a job playing music full time, I jumped! I played with a Funk band out of Nashville for about a year, then Country artist Ronnie McDowell for nearly 9 years. About 6 years into my tenure with Ronnie, in 1986, Richard, Fred, Doug and I put The HeadHunters together for fun. Doug and I were both playing with Ronnie, we needed an outlet for our original songs. We added Doug’s brother Ricky Lee Phelps a few months later, by 1989 we had signed a deal with Mercury Records out of Nashville. When the band took off, we were all surprised, but we all knew “Music” was our life, we had been going to school in the trenches for years, so we were ready.
Last year the HeadHunters were inducted into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. What did that honor mean to you guys?
Being inducted into The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame was a huge honor for the guys and I. We absolutely love Kentucky and it’s musical heritage. It brought things full circle for us, it’s amazing that the guys I started with in 1968 were able to go in together.
On a normal Headhunters’ gig, what are you using- guitar, amps, pedals?
My main ‘stage’ Guitar is prototype #1 of my Greg Martin Gibson Collector’s Choice #15 Les Paul, a copy of my 1958 standard. For open E slide, I use a 1955 Goltop Les Paul, and a jacked up 1964 Melody Maker with a Humbucker for open A slide. I plug straight into a 1974 100 Marshall head and Mojo 4×12 Marshall style cab with Eminence and Celestion speakers.
What was it like when you found out that Gibson was honoring you with one of their Collector’s Choice signature models?
It absolutely blew me away, I’m still pinching myself! The genesis of the project started around 1994, Gibson master finisher Tom Murphy planted the seed. It took many years for it to actually come to fruition, and at one point, I had pretty much given up. Being a Les Paul fan, it’s one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received. A big thanks to Rick Gembar, Pat Foley, Edwin Wilson and the gang at the Custom Shop.
In addition to the HeadHunters, you’re involved in some killer side projects. Can you tell us a little about Rufus Huff and The Mighty Jeremiahs?
The Kentucky HeadHunters is my main gig, and of course my priority. The Mighty Jeremiahs was a more or less a CD project that took many years to complete. Besides myself, it involves Jimmy Hall of Wet Willie, Phil Keaggy, Danny Brooks, Bonnie Bramlett, James Lewis of TSO, Darrell Mansfield, members of The HeadHunters, Taildragger and a few others. It’s a Blues/Rock Gospel project, it started in 1992, was finally released in 2005. It went out of print for 2-3 years, I recently had some reprinted last year, and can be ordered online.
Rufus Huff is a four piece Blues/Rock group, features Jarrod England on vocals, Dean Smith on Bass, Chris Hardesty on Drums and me on Guitar. It’s like ZZ Top & Cream on steroids. We released one CD on Zoho Roots in 2009. Rufus Huff is currently on sabbatical, Jarrod has a new project on Grooveyard Records, Black Mountain Prophet. Dean is also Taildragger, and Chris is with The Fender Benders out of Bowling Green. You never know when Rufus Huff might pop back up for another gig or CD.
I’m currently doing another side group with Dean Smith of Rufus Huff, drummer Steve Holmes, and vocalist Thane Shearon, The Greg Martin Group. It’s more Blues based, has a lot of English Blues sound to it.
Who are some of the guitarists that you listened to early on that helped contribute to your sound?
Ronnie Montrose, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Billy F. Gibbons, Peter Green, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, Michael Bloomfield, Jeff Beck, Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Steve Cropper, Curtis Mayfield, Al McKay, Bruce Conte, John Sebastian & Zally of The Lovin’ Spoonful, Frank Bugee of Elysian Field, Steve Ferguson of NRBQ, Paul Kossoff, Phil Baugh, Les Paul, BB King, Albert King, Freddy King, Earl Hooker, the list goes on forever!
Who are some of newer guitarists that you dig?
Jack Pearson, Warren Haynes, Joe Bonamassa, JD Simo, Rick Vito, Derek Trucks, Vince Gill, Steve Wariner, Tommy Emmanuel, Marty Stuart, Kenny Vaughan, Greg Koch are a few…
Of all the people you’ve been able to jam with, who are a few of your favorites? Anyone out there that you’d like to jam with?
I’ve had the good fortune to play with some great players over the years. The Headhunters and I had the honor of playing and recording with the great Johnnie Johnson, pianist on all the great Chuck Berry Chess Records. The guys and I have also played with Kim Wilson, Bill Monroe, Danny Gatton, Lonnie Mack, Travis Wammack and Bobby Whitlock over the years.
I did three weeks of dates with Lynyrd Skynyrd back in 1992, it was a thrill hanging with those guys. Ed King is a great player, he’s been very good to me over the years.
Joe Bonamassa, Warren Haynes and Gov’t Mule, Sonny Landreth, Marty Stuart, RL Burnside, Bobby Rush, Ronnie Montrose, Delaney Bramlett, Dan Toler, Brian Setzer, Rick Vito, Jack Pearson, Charlie Daniels Band, Delbert McCLinton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Roy Parnell, James Burton, Johnny Hiland, Jamey Johnson, Hank Williams Jr, Phil Keaggy, Albert Lee, Everly Brothers, Steve Wariner, Cyril Neville, Sam Bush, Jimmy Hall, Arlen Roth are a few that I’ve jammed with over the years. I played on a Men Without Hats CD in 1991, one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever done!
I’d still love to jam with Eric Clapton, Willie Nelson, The Allman Brothers, Hall & Oates, BB King, ZZ Top, Derek Trucks, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, The Rolling Stones. I don’t ask for much do I? (Laugh)
One of the things I’ve always like about you is the fact that you’re not just a Country and/or Rock guy. You’re really into good old Soul, blues and R&B stuff too. Which leads me to your cool radio show. Tell us about The Lowdown Hoedown.
I grew up listening to AM radio in the 60’s and 70’s, it was a big part of my life. I was always infatuated with hearing stations drift in from Chicago, Nashville, Ft. Wayne, New Orleans, Cleveland and many far away places. In the mid 60’s, I used to watch the DJ’s work at WKLO in Louisville, through their showcase window on Chestnut Street. in the back of my mind, I wanted to do a radio show. In 1986 I started my first Blues show at WLOC in Munfordville, KY, that was where The Lowdown Hoedown started. I did it till about 1988, then The HeadHunters took off, that ended my radio career for a spell. In 1997, after things had slowed up a bit, I was offered a show at WVLC in Cambellsville, KY, so I took the Hoedown there. I stayed till 2000, then went to WDNS in Bowling Green around Nov. 2001, I just celebrated 12 years at WDNS. The show is Blues, with some Soul, Funk and Gospel thrown in for good measure. I’ve had Billy Gibbons, Peter Frampton, John Sebastian, Brian Setzer, Steve Cropper, Glenn Hughes, John Oates, Warren Haynes, Joe Bonamassa, Ed King and many others as call in guests. I’m on every Monday night from 7:00-10:00 (CST), and we stream online…. http://www.wdnsfm.com/
What’s in the future for Greg Martin? Any other projects?
The Kentucky HeadHunters are alive and well, we’ll be starting a new CD early next year. We’ll hit the road again in the Spring and do what we love. As far as I’m concerned, we’re all in this till the end. These guys are my best friends, we are a family, we’ve had a great life in music together.
I have a instrumental 45 coming out on Sundazed Records next year, remakes of “Groovy Grubworm” & “Scratchy.” I’d love to do instrumental and Blues CD’s as time allows. I want to play all I can so when the day comes I can’t, I know I played all I could, and was the best I could be. I’m a Guitarist, God put that calling on my life back in 1968, I had no other choice.
FIND GREG ONLINE:
Greg’s official site: http://www.gregmartin.com/
Kentucky HeadHunters official site: http://www.kentuckyheadhunters.com/ The Lowdown Hoedown Radio Show: http://www.lowdownhoedown.com/ Collector’s Choice™ #15 Greg Martin 1958 Les Paul: http://www2.gibson.com/Products/Electric-Guitars/Les-Paul/Gibson-Custom/Collectors-Choice-15-Greg-Martin-1958-Les-Paul.aspx