Since SXSW is coming up in a couple of weeks, I have found a story I wrote on another blog three years ago about one of the best musicians there, Redd Volkaert.
If you visit the Continental Club on South Congress in Austin any Saturday afternoon or Sunday night, you are sure to see Redd Volkaert, one of the best guitarists I have seen in a long life. He plays with his own quartet on Saturdays and with his band Heybale! on Sundays. I met him before Heybale!’s concert the last Sunday in March 2010.
Redd Volkaert came to Austin 13 years ago, and immediately after he was instrumental in starting Heybale!. From that same summer, they started their now 13 year tradition of playing every Sunday night at the Continental Club. They have had to cancel a few times, but it should be somthing close to 650 gigs so far.
When you see the band the first time, it is hard to believe that the short, but quite wide guy with caps and solid underarms can do much on the guitar. But guess if you are wrong! You will have trouble finding someone who play as good as Redd Volkaert in the extended country style that is his.
Heybale! play country music, with a touch of western swing, and Redd changes between hard and rocky playing, typical country phrasings, and pure jazz accompaniment in the same style as Barney Kessel and other jazz guitarists. Confronted with this, Redd becomes almost embarrassed.
– No, I am not even close to guys like that. I have listened a lot to western swing guitarists and learned much from them. But I won’t call it jazz.
Redd Volkaert playing with Cindy Cashdollar and his band
Redd Volkaert is the King of the Telecaster in Austin, even if he plays other guitars, too. He also plays with many other artists and when Ray Benson from Asleep At The Wheel celebrates his birthday with a big concert with many musical guests, Redd is part of the band.
In Austin there are somewhere between 10.000 and 25.000 musicians, depending on how you count them. Only a small percentage of these are professional, meaning that they make a living only from their music. Redd Volkaert is one of these. In addition to Heybale!, he also has his own band that plays the Continental Club every Saturday afternoon.
– Usually I play between 5 and 7 gigs every week.
When I talked with him Sunday night at the Continental Club, he was scheduled for three gigs the following Tuesday and many more the rest of the week. It is easy to understand that you must have many gigs to make a living if you live in Austin. Most of the venues pay a fixed salary and a percetage of the door, or you just play for the door. When you know that the Continental Club takes 150-200 people, and the audience pay $8-10 to get in, it is easy to do the math. It is not that they don’t want to pay the bands, but there isn’t that much money to share.
On stage Redd Volkaert is the boss. He flirts with the audience, smiles and laughs and observes everything that’s happening while playing. With Heybale!, Gary Claxton is the lead singer [Gary died in January 2011, after this was written]. Their piano player is Earl Poole Ball who played with Johnny Cash for 20 years. He sings songs from Johnny Cash’s repertoire, and Redd also contributes with songs. For a long time Redd was Merle Haggard’s guitarist, and one of Redd’s best songs with Heybale! is Merle Haggard’s Grammy winning #1 hit, That’s The Way Love Goes.
Merle Haggard performs That’s The Way Love Goes in 2008 with Redd Volkaert on guitar
Redd Volkaert has released some CDs himself, even if none of them has been million sellers. The CDs are well worth checking out, but he is most of all a typical live artist. He is also a good teacher, and has made many pedagogical videos that you can find on his web site. Here you will also find many examples of Redd Volkaert’s humor here. You can also find many of his short videos on YouTube, plus more examples of his playing with Heybale! and his own band.
In 2009 Heybale! played the Norwegian country festival at Seljord. This was the first time Redd played in Norway after he was part of a somewhat unsuccesful tour with a Norwegian country artist some years ago.
– One day we just gave up the whole project, drove to the nearest airport and just went home.
Since then Redd Volkaert has been a bit afraid to come back here. Hopefully he has understood that we wish him welcome back to Norway any time. On the tour in NOrway he learned some Norwegian words that are unprintable here. When he plays the Continental Club and there are Norwegians in the audience, he willingly shares them – happily no one else understands them!
(First published in Norwegian April 4th 2010, updated March 25 with some new pictures)
All pictures are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.