In a city known for live music and GREAT players, Redd Volkaert stands as one of the true giants. It’s always fun to discover a hidden gem in this wonderful nook-and-cranny-filled town of ours. So I invite you to enter The Continental Club (Austin legend in its own right) at about 3:30 on any given Saturday afternoon and prepare yourself. You’re about to meet a legend.
Playing professionally for more than 40 years, he started playing in bands long before he was old enough to drink with them. Names like Brad Paisley, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Dolly Parton, Tim McGraw, Trace Adkins, Vince Gill, Johnny Paycheck, Kenny Rogers and Eric Johnson mark the long list of artists he has shared the stage with (the list is longer, a LOT longer), and he just keeps on going. “I’m always searching, never happy with my sound; I still listen for new licks. There’s always somebody better, and I can learn from them.”
Redd has been playing at The Continental Club pretty much since he first stepped foot in Austin 13 years ago. He has a great band, with Chris Gilson on drums, Nate Rowe on bass and Rich Harney on piano (Nate and Rich sing, too, and Rich has a nice, smooth jazz touch to his voice). Different players sit in occasionally. If you get a chance to hear Redd with Cindy Cashdollar, drop what you’re doing and get there.
What Makes Redd Volkaert Great
That’s all well and good, but let’s get down to what makes Redd so great. Is it licks? Tone? Gear? Perhaps “yes” is the best answer – the mix of everything together that yields the wonderful stew that is the sound of Redd Volkaert.
Start with the tone. Crack the door of The Continental Club, and you’re greeted with a tone that is at once warm, authentic, tight, resonant and punchy. Primarily a Telecaster player, Redd has his own custom guitar he coaxes gorgeous sounds from. Forty plus years in the business, along with a relentless search for better and better tone, have given him a mastery of his sound that few achieve.
It would take an entire dedicated article to talk about his pedals, but I will talk a little about his amp for all the gear heads out there. Redd uses a Grammatico amp, which is a hand-wired tube amp made by local amp maker John Grammatico. This is news, because he has used a solid state amp for most of his performing life. “I have always loved the warmth and sweetness of a tube amp when the volume is on 3, but any higher than that and they ALL break up and distort too much for my taste. It took a few years of messing around with the Grammatico I have now, but John has a magic way of keeping a tube amp clean until you turn it up to ‘You’ll be sorry’. Mine responds like no other tube amp I’ve ever played through, and I have literally bought hundreds of amps over the last 40 years in the quest to find the sound I like.”
Now for the licks (guitar lingo for the combination of notes that mark a particular guitar player). We’ll start with the country licks, because that is the heart of what Redd does. Reaching back to the birthplace of country, he channels any of the greats you might mention: Don Rich, Roy Nichols, etc., but he puts his own touch on all of it. All the lightning-fast speed you could ask for readily yields to right-on-time slow bends and slides that create a sumptuous combination of intertwining tones and timbres that perfectly dress out every song he plays.
Redd’s use of jazz chords bring in a special touch that’s singular in its experience. It’s really more about chords and rhythm (probably the best rhythm guitar I’ve ever heard, just a POUNDING rhythm guitar), where he will insert big, fat jazz chords right in the middle of a standard 1-4-5 country song. It’s so jarring to hear in a song you already know that it can stop you in your tracks. Yet, it’s seamless at the same time. Careful, don’t trip.
Redd plays The Continental Club every Saturday with his band and every Sunday with Heybale!. While Redd is great, he allows the song to be what it is and refuses to overplay it. Even more important (and impressive), he’s a generous soloist, always making sure that the other players get equal time.
Now, in all my reading about him, I don’t remember his voice ever being highlighted, but it’s outstanding. Equal parts Johnny Cash, Don Williams and Bill Anderson, it has great bass/baritone power with really nice whisper overtones.
See for Yourself
He might be the best kept secret in Austin, and is definitely a treasure. There may be only five or six guitarists in the world who can do what he can do. He mixes jazz and country licks so seamlessly that you’re really only aware that something happened, but not necessarily what. Seasoned pros shake their heads in wonder at what he plays.
Danceable music that doesn’t back away from its hardcore country roots is one thing. This is quite something else. Do yourself a favor and go see Redd Volkaert.
Have you ever heard Redd at The Continental Club?
Photos courtesy of ReddVolkaert.net.