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Rufus Huff band a nice break for Kentucky Headhunter

Mar. 14, 2008 @ 12:00 AM

HUNTINGTON --If a good name is worth it's weight in gold, Greg Martin's got a band name worth it's weight in hickory-smoked barbecue.

Martin, the renowned Grammy Award-winning/Les Paul-wielding guitarist from the Kentucky Headhunters, has a top shelf country-and-blues-bruised unit called Rufus Huff, named after two obscure bluesmen, Whistlin' Rufus and Luther Huff.

Churning up an eclectic mix of rock, funk, blues, boogie and "Dixie" through a stack of Marshall amps, Rufus Huff is set to stomp a mudhole into Charleston's live music venue, The Empty Glass, 410 Elizabeth St., today.

Opening the show will be long-time friends and the Headhunter's musical Lawrence County, Ky. cousins, Super Chimp, the Dave Prince-led country-rock crew known in a former life as Night Train.

Show time is 10 p.m.

Martin, who still has a calendar filled with dates with his furry, Metcalfe County, Ky.-based brethren, The Kentucky Headhunters, said it's always a lot of fun to play a rare couple of dates out with Rufus Huff, which features ex-Supafuzz rhythm section Dean Smith and Chris Hardesty and Jarrod England on vocals.

The band hits Richmond, Ky., on Saturday night.

In fact, the last time Martin played the Empty Glass in the early 1990s, it was with another side band he had with Dean Smith called The Crackers that whipped up on the Glass, a night before the Headhunters' "Mountain Stage" gig.

Running the same circles since Martin's days with the Headhunters when they were called Itchy Brother, the guys have put together Rufus Huff to carve up some live music that features Martin's guitar picking, which Andy Ellis of Guitar Player Magazine described as "throaty lines are so stout they sound like he carved them from a 100-year-old oak tree."

Martin, who calls the band a hillbilly version of his friend Warren Haynes' guitar-driven jam-unit Gov't Mule, said he loves getting out and throwing down some of the old-school rock and funk 'n' blues he grew up on.

"For years, you hear something like the Allman Brothers at the Fillmore, and Humble Pie and Cream and you want that tone right there," Martin said. "But you know there's a reason you never sound like that because everybody has their own fingerprint. The greatest thing to happen to me is the guitar chord. There's nothing else between the guitar and the chord. I love effects and use them in the studio but live, I just learned it's best for myself, a Les Paul and Stratocaster and a Marshall amp gave me the sound I was striving for in my head."

That Martin is still striving and hungry and musically searching says something about the music man who turns 55 later this month.

Although he could be chilling in between the Headhunters full plate of gigs, Martin still drives over to Bowling Green, Ky., once a week to host his weekly radio show called The Lowdown Hoedown on WDNS-FM that airs from 7 to 10 p.m. Monday nights.

Martin, who's been doing radio shows off and on since 1986, said it's a great way to get turned onto stacks of music you wouldn't know otherwise.

"It's been a blast," he said. "I don't get tired of discovering music and turning people onto it. It's like inviting people into the living room and discovering stuff. I just got turned onto Jim Ford. He is somebody you've got to check out."

Martin's dialed up a long list of heroes and friends as guests on the show -- everyone from Johnny Winters and Billy Gibbons as guests -- and digs into stacks of roots music from blues and rockabilly to R&B.

"It's all part of my on-going musical education," Martin said.

Armed with his vintage 1958 Les Paul, Martin has gotten a good bit of musical education by paying attention and playing music with his elders.

In fact, the Kentucky Headhunters teamed up with the late, great Clarksburg, W.Va., native Johnnie Johnson for a top-notch CD in 2006 called, "That'll Work."

Martin said it was one of the band's highlights to be able to play with the legendary piano player who was just inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame.

They ran into Johnson at a reception for the 1992 Grammys, and that's all it took.

"We met Johnnie, and we all freaked out and our manager and his manager looked at each other and were going, 'Hey'," Martin said. "The next thing you know, we were asked to participate in 'That'll Work.' He took a band like us and made us sound like a mature band. We have our own groove and as soon as he played, he pulled it back into a real mature thing. It was one of those times you were playing when time stood still."

Martin said they actually still have a lot of other tracks that they cut during those sessions that one day may become another Johnnie Johnson/Headhunters album.

And the Headhunters are also thinking about cooking up a live CD -- something they've never done.

In the meantime, while the boys in the band have all got their hobbies, Martin's out, plugging in and dialing the Marshall amp back to the Fillmore 1969.

"Everybody in the Headhunters have got the things they do," Martin said. "I thought we'd put together a band and express the things I grew up with, the old Cream and Jimi Hendrix Experience and the funk and blues and throw it all together. It's been a blast being able to stretch out."

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