by Rick Landers
We met with Telemaster, Redd Volkaert, last year for an impromptu interview after a set he played with slide meister, Cindy Cashdollar, that rocked the Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. We knew Redd to be a master at Tele-Twang, but weren’t aware of his quick self-deprecating wit and in your face good humor. You really can’t help but like the guy, as well as the way he manhandles that custom Telecaster.
Besides being one of the top Austin, Texas twangers, Redd has released a couple of rip it up DVDs including the stompin’ Live in Austin and an instructional fast pickin’ DVD called Stolen Licks. And if you want some finger lickin’ good guitar “pork chop”, then find yourself a copy of his other DVD, Tele Twang to catch the artist at his best.
The Canadian-born guitarist is probably best known for hanging out and playing lead guitar for Merle Haggard’s group. Today, you can catch Redd as he rides a tight Austin circuit of clubs where he chews up the fretboard with his blistering hot licks.
In 2009, Redd shared some honors with Brad Paisley and friends for “Cluster Pluck,” when the tune was awarded the Best Country Instrumental Performance at the Grammys.
Rick Landers: I went to your website and had a look at your bio. Let’s go back a little bit further. Starting from the day you were born and the day you were born as a guitar player, tell us what your life is like.
Redd Volkaert: The day I was born I don’t really remember and I don’t think I was born as a guitar player so… there’s not much to tell there. [Both laughing]
Rick: Then, let’s talk about how you became a guitar player.
Redd: Well it’s kind of a weird sort of a deal. My brother had got a guitar. I’m a year younger than my brother and he got a guitar for his 10th birthday and he plunked on the thing a little bit, he tried some lessons, didn’t work. So he’s, “Nah, I wanna play the drums.”
The guitar sat in the corner. So the next year after he got his drums then I got his guitar for my birthday. It was like, “Hey, you want to play guitar?” I was like, “No.” It was just another hand-me-down I just hated the idea of that, you know, not because it was a guitar or anything about it. I didn’t care one way or another, you know, so I said, “Nah, I think I wanna play the bass.”
He said, “Well, I think you ought to learn the guitar first and the bass might come a little bit easier to you later on.” I was like, “Nah I don’t want the hand-me-down,” but I didn’t say that. I said “Nah, I’d rather play the bass” because I did like the sound of the bass better. And so that was that, so I started.
Dad started me with a teacher and taking some lessons. It wasn’t even three months and the teacher fired me and told my dad, “Forget it. He can’t read. It’s not gonna work”. My dad said, “What’s the problem?” He said, “He watches me play his lesson, the little song that he was supposed to learn, he goes home and he learns it, comes back and plays it perfect, pretending that he’s reading. He’s not learning how to read. He’s cheating, but he’s got a good ear. So you’re wasting your money. Let him go play. Are there any kids around the neighborhood that play?” My dad said, ”Yeah, there’s a couple around there.” He says,”Well, just let him play with them kids and have fun and when he’s ready to read, bring him back.”
So that was that and I never went back, never learned to read after that. I taught myself a couple years later. I bought the first three books of the Alfred’s Guitar course and taught myself how to read. From then on, just so I could teach and make money, you know.
So, I got fired from that, by the teacher. I taught myself later on when I was about 14, 15, I guess.
Rick: Electric or acoustic or?
Redd: Well by then, I was playing electric. So anyway, I learned both books just so I could teach to make some money. I used to ride my bike to the music store after school and bum a guitar there and teach that way. I just kinda stayed one lesson ahead of my students in the books. At that point I was like, “Oh, okay this really isn’t that hard.” And I was playing in neighborhood kids’ bands…
Rick: Garage bands.
Redd: Yeah, that kind of thing. So I was really into playing and using and learning the guitar at that point, so it was ‘Oh, here’s another angle that I can do. I bet I can make money. I’ll do that.” So that’s why I wound up with that.
I learned to read that little bit as far as learning the technical part of music, but notes, I don’t have any theory, know nothing, zero, other than playing in bars all my life and them kind of bands. And asking “What’d you do there? What’d you do there?” to the steel player and guitar player and “Oh, well that’s an E7 flat,” “Oh, okay.” I don’t know why or couldn’t care. It doesn’t matter. If they told me this was that, this was that. So I’m learning some of the names of some of the stuff that way, but no, proper schooling other than the initial, first three month,s then I got fired.
Rick: I’m going to ask about Teles laster, but we met Randy Bachman a few weeks ago; he’s from British Columbia. Do you guys ever meet or play together?
Redd: I never met him. I saw them, The Guess Who, of course, when I was a kid and they were big shot stars and I was just a little kid when they were starting and popular. I was like 13 or 14. So I saw them but just as a dorky kid. They came and played at our high school gymnasium, that kind of thing and never did meet him or run across him, never have.
I think after he left that band and had the other band called BTO [Bachman, Turner Overdrive] that was really popular up there. By then I was working, playing full time in a country band, so it was like different world of people.
Rick: Playing in a different circuit.
Redd: Yeah, that kind of thing, so I never did run into him. I moved to the States, of course, and he’s up there in Vancouver.
Rick: Fender fans call the two main categories: either Strat guys or Tele guys…and the ladies, too. Why are the Tele guys so much smarter?
Redd: What makes them smarter? Nothing.
Rick: Working honky tonks in Texas I think could be pretty…it could call for some quick exits or fast talking to keep out of danger. Any times you had to resort to using your Tele as a weapon?
Redd: No, not in Texas. Nothing at all. In Canada, growing up as a kid, that was all…where I was living in the province of Alberta was like Texas was in the ’70s; it was all oil riggers and farmers, you know, cattle farmers and oil rigs everywhere, so it was all kinds of rigger people in the bars all the time. Of course, once, like so many of them get a little bit drunk, they wanna party a little too hard, fight a little too hard and that’s just all part of the deal, you know.
Back then, this is in the ’70s, but nothing at all of a scene when I lived in L.A., of course, I saw some goofy stuff there and people getting shot at and stuff like that in clubs…but not, you know, never got involved in it.
Rick: No bottle throwin’ or any of these type of things?
Redd: No, no. Pretty lucky with that, I guess. It must be the Tele.
Rick: [Rick laughing] Okay, you came a little late on the scene here in the US, but did you ever get a chance to play with Danny Gatton?
Redd: Nope, never did. I saw him one time.
Rick: Where was that?
Redd: He played while I was living in Nashville, it was his last tour. I think it was…what was his last record. Yeah, I think it was his last tour and he had a big band with him, he had a couple of horn players, I think, and keyboard, bass, drums and himself and, you know.
I never heard of him until I moved to Los Angeles then I heard at that time that Unfinished Business had come out and a guy turned me on to that. I was like, holy shit, can that guy play! Unreal.
Rick: He played slide with a beer bottle. [Both laughing]
Redd: Yeah. Musta been one he caught.
Rick: It was a Heineken bottle.
Redd: Yeah. I only got to see him the one time and I met him after he was done,” Hey-how-you-doin’-loved-your- playing-thanks-bye!”, next in line kind of thing, so I didn’t get to talk to him or hang out or none of that. I enjoyed his playing, of course, because I thought it was…we kinda play on the same sort of deal but he just knew what he was doing. [Rick laughing] That’s the only difference, I think.
Rick: Now, why’d you leave Nashville? A lot of people I’ve met lately are moving to Nashville.
Redd: For me, I’m more of an old country, old school country and western swing and I like blues and rock and that kind of stuff but none of the stuff that I like and I wanna play style-wise was on anything or with anything to do with anything in Nashville anymore, for me.
The country stuff’s not the same, all of that. And it’s just, you know, 20-year old pop music to me now, being old as I am. It is what it is. I mean all of Toto lives there in Nashville and they’re playing on all the records, so go figure. What’s it’s gonna sound like? No offense, they’re great players and all that, but it’s just a different style of what they’re calling country music now and it’s just not for me.
Rick: Austin’s got some great musicians in residence like Cindy Cashdollar, Bill Kirchen, I guess has moved back here, Eric Johnson, Eliza Gilkyson and others. Is this one big happy family who gets together occasionally or are you all too busy to meet in town and find yourselves connecting more while you’re on the road?
Redd: No, no everybody hangs in town when they’re around and stuff. Eric Johnson comes and plays. He’s played two or three times with me on Sunday nights.
Rick: Oh really?
Redd: At the Continental Club. He calls up, “Hey, I’m gonna come down and sit in.” We play these little bars and stuff. You know, his wife has a restaurant that had a fire so they had a benefit to raise the money because the staff, all the cooks and folks and the waitresses, were out of work for almost two months so they had a benefit which, totally unlike any business, they gave all the money to the staff and the cooks to keep them going while they were out of work for two months, while they had insurance money to rebuild the place.
That kind of thing so he calls, “Hey, I’m doing a benefit, if you wanna do a thing…” “Yeah, okay,” so my band will go play a set opening for him, then he’d do his set and we’d get up and jam together, this and that, you know. You get that and Billy Gibbons, he shows up…
Redd: Oh, about every three months somewhere and sits in. Brad Paisley when he comes to town, he always comes and plays…
Rick: Great guitarist.
Redd: Yeah, everybody goes and watches and supports each other, too. Jimmie Vaughan, he’s all over town all the time, sits in with different guys. It’s great. It’s just wonderful.
Rick: And a great town. I’ve been there a couple times. So cool. What guitars do you own now, electrics or acoustics and do you have any favorites?
Redd: I got one of each, I think.
Rick: The Tele that you’re playing here which is…
Redd: This Tele here is called a Glendale. It’s made in Dallas, Texas; Glendale Guitars. It’s pretty much a Telecaster, but he makes all on his own everything, necks, bodies, pickups, bridge-pans, saddles, knobs, everything.
Rick: So he doesn’t get parts from anywhere else or?
Redd: I don’t think…it might be machine heads and…I don’t know. He might even have the screws machine, too, I don’t know. But little things like that, maybe, but he makes his own tone capacitors. Yeah, he doesn’t make pods, of course, or jacks or that kind of thing but the knobs, tone-caps, pickups, pickguards , bodies, binding, paint, necks, frets, all that stuff – all himself.
A really good, really well-made quality guitars I think for the money that they are…they’re as good or better than any custom shop or any custom anything from anybody I think. They’re just wonderful.
Rick: What about acoustics?
Redd: For acoustics I got a couple of old Gallagher guitars.
Rick: Yeah, Doc Watson, uses them.
Redd: I got the one that’s called a G70. It’s like…kinda like a D28, it’s a bound neck, ebony board rosewood sides at the back, has a spruce lid on it. Then I got a little one that’s like a Double O with a cutaway. It’s a mahogany one and that thing sounds like gold, just a beautiful little guitar. Doesn’t have the bottom thump like the D body.
Rick: Like the rosewood, yeah.
Redd: But it doesn’t feed back as much either, if you mic it. And you know, to record it’s just wonderful, a wonderful guitar. I got that and I have an old Recording King that’s a Gibson-made for Montgomery Ward from the ’20s, one of those. It’s kinda like a goofy looking, like a little Robert Johnson, like a Triple O, I guess, size maybe.
Rick: Small, maybe an old Nick Lucas style?
Redd: Yeah, yeah. That’s…yeah, a really nice little guitar. I use it a lot to record. That’s about it for acoustics that I got, for flat tops.
Rick: Do you stick with Fender amps or what amps are you using?
Redd: I mix. I’ve got a couple of old Twins. I got a ’58 Tweed Twin.
Redd: But it’s changed – new speakers, I got a JBL and EV in that with a homemade reverb in the back. I got that and I have a bunch of little Tweed Fenders that I use to record.
Rick: Little Champs or something?
Redd: No, I got a Fender Harvard and a Tweed Tremolux, I got a Tweed Bassman, 410 Bassman, the Twin, then I have black Vibraverb.
Rick: What year is the Twin?
Redd: The Twin is a ’58.
Rick: Really? One of the early ones.
Redd: It’s a high-powered ’58, a high powered 46L6 and Bassman’s a ’60. Then I got a Fender Vibroverb, it’s called. It’s like a Super with a 15, two 6L6s, then I got a bunch of Peavey, they’re called LTD400s, it’s a steel guitar amp, and they’re 200 watt, single 15 transistor clean and clear sounding, and I use those a lot, too. I like those actually a whole lot, especially for live situations.
Rick: Are those older Peaveys or…?
Redd: Yeah they’re from…they were made from ’75 or 6 ’til about ’82 they quit making them.
Rick: I know that you have a Chihuahua. My boxer tells me, “Most of them are mean little shits”. Do you have to emphasize that fact by naming your pup Dick?
Redd: No, it’s not because of that. It’s because he’s is one and I hope he grows into a Richard someday.
Rick: So where did you get him?
Redd: I got him on Craig’s List. I had a Chihuahua for 17 years and I finally had to put him to sleep because he was losing all his faculties.
Rick: That’s a shame.
Redd: So I was bummed for a couple of years and I found an ad and said,”Aw, shoot, I need another one,” because I miss him so bad because they’re just such wonderful company. And I found one on Craigslist and went to look at him, checked him out and just amazing, great personality and goofy spirit because he’s a little dork. But he’s you know…when I got him a few months ago he was only seven months old already, but he wasn’t housebroke, trained, didn’t have no shots, no nothing. I was like, “I have to get him out of here,” they didn’t do nothing with him. He just run around the apartment, shit all day…they didn’t do nothing.
Rick: Yeah, that’s not fair to the dog.
Redd: They didn’t walk him, never a collar, has he walked on leash? No, he never goes anywhere. He goes outside to pee, that’s it once in a while and it was like, yeah…
Rick: You need to save him.
Redd: Yeah! So I though maybe he might like it better here.
Rick: He’s probably going, ‘All this noise!’
Redd: Yeah,”‘Quit yelling at me.” So I got him housebroken and all that now.
Rick: I’m thinking all these amplifiers…[Laughing]
Redd: Nah, he don’t mind that. I got him singing. It makes him sing.
Rick: Does he?
Redd: Yeah he hits certain notes, he just sings like a bird. [Redd makes a howling dog sound]…then just screams.
Rick: That’s funny how dogs react. My dog, my boxer barks at me when I start playing. Funny.
Redd: Yeah? This one sings. He howls like crazy. He gets his head up, his chin kinda wobbles, like an opera singer [Redd makes an operatic impression ]…with this…it’s great.
Rick: Okay let’s talk a little bit about food. Les Paul and I were talking about it two years ago and he told me his favorite food is macaroni and cheese [Redd laughs] and I’m thinking “Of all the things you can eat, Les, it’s macaroni and cheese?”‘ so what does Redd Volkaert like to see on his plate?
Redd: As you can tell pretty much anything. [All laughing] I’m not too picky. I oughta be.
Rick: Any favorite food?
Redd: It’s all my favorite. It just adds to my gorilla-ish figure.
Rick: How did you end up working with Merle?
Redd: He called me. I knew a bunch of guys in his band when I was living in Nashville. Whenever they’d come through town and play, they always seem like they had a couple of days off so the band guys would come and play, come sit in with me on my gig.
I played at this place called Printer’s Alley. It was a little area with a bunch of strip of clubs, like five, six clubs in this one little alley. Been there since…well it was Printer’s Alley before, originally all printer shops and I think in the maybe late ’50s it started, it was all night clubs and bars and stuff, like a block from the Ryman Auditorium where the Opry was. So it was always a really popular spot.
Anyway I played down there forever playing these clubs and we always played till a quarter to three, the last club open in the alley. So all the other guys always come in on their last thing when they’re done their gigs and a bunch of Merle’s guys came in and sat in a lot with me down there. When the gig came open, we’re the last band guys, “Who do you guys want to get in?” Five out of eight of them said “Me!” So I spent the next few years getting even with the other three.
Rick: Did you ever meet Scotty Moore when you were there?
Redd: Met him once. You know hey-how-you-doing-zig-zam, but never get to spend any time talking to him. I got to play with D.J. Fontana. The drummer filling in for Scotty one time when the Jordanaires were doing a bunch of work and a little touring and stuff and D.J. was a part of the thing. Scotty couldn’t do that particular two tours, so I filled in on guitars for him but I never did get to meet him or hang with him because of course he wasn’t on that same tour.
Rick: Was Bill Black on the tour?
Redd: No. He was long gone by then…
Rick: You seem to be in demand a lot. You’re on the new Brad Paisley album, I understand?
Rick: What did you do with that?
Redd: He has a new instrumental album coming out. It’s all him but there’s one song on the album called “Cluster Pluck”, of course, that he wanted to put all of his kind of his heroes that he watched coming up and get them together and all playin’ on there so he got James Burton, Albert Lee. Vince Gill, Brent Mason, who else?…Oh yeah, me! [Rick laughing] So we all pretty played a little piece on this song. It’s gonna come out on this new CD.
Rick: Were you all together in the studio or…?
Redd: No, no. Everybody sent in their parts, everything, you know, but I did…a couple years ago I did another thing. He had an album called Mud On The Tires that was pretty popular for him, and we had an instrumental on there called “Spaghetti Western Swing” and we got nominated for a Grammy for it, for that instrumental That was a pretty cool deal.
Rick: Yeah. Is he a pretty nice guy?
Redd: Wonderful. Just a regular shmoe like everybody else, just a regular guy and he’s so eat up with guitar he can’t stand it like the rest of us. He’s just like a dork. He’d rather talk about pick-ups and you know, bridge pieces and strings, parts, “What kind of gauge of frets are those?” you know. He’s talking about all that kind of stuff all the time. He just loves the guitar and Telecasters and playing and everything to do with guitar, he’s great that way.
Rick: We’ll have to connect with him. I’d love to interview him sometime, too.
Redd: Yeah, he’s a great fella.
Rick: You got a new CD called Reddhead. How did that come about and any great players on that besides you?
Redd: Well the band, my drummer and bass player with me tonight; Chris Gilson on drums, Nate Rowe on the bass, myself and I’ve been using a piano player. Cindy’s been out of town so much, playing with a bunch of different bands and stuff, and I didn’t have any chance to use her, so I’ve been using a piano player for the last couple of years off and on while she’s been gone. So I got to use him, Rich Harny is his name.
Redd: Rich Harny. Like ‘horny’ with an ‘a’. A really good piano player. So that’s kind of my core band playing on the CD and for harmony singing I used this buddy of mine, Gary Claxton, from the Haybale band, another band that I play with in Austin every Sunday night. He sang the harmony and a pedal steel player named Buzz Evans.
Rick: I ‘ve heard that name.
Redd: He’s been in Vegas forever. I think he’s from Connecticut or Rhode Island, somewhere, the north, but he’s been in Vegas forever and ever and ever. I’ve known him for years. He’s big buds with Thumbs Carlisle and he plays guitar like Thumbs and steel guitar like Curly Chalker. Unbelievable! He just turned 70…unreal player, a great player. So I got him to play on about five tunes on the CD playing pedal steel and that’s it. Just five of us pretty much; engineering, singing harmony.
Rick: Okay so you’re singing lead on most of the songs or…?
Redd: Yeah there’s only two instrumentals and the rest were all singing.
Rick: Is one “Jessica” that you just did?
Redd: No. “The Letter” is on there. Did a version of “The Letter”, and Waylon’s “Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”. I got I think about seven originals on there and I guess the other seven are covers. There’s 14 songs in there: seven originals and seven covers. One instrumental is original and the other one is a Buddy Emmons tune called “Raisin’ the Dickens”. It’s a real fast-pickin’ thing, so that’s on there and then I wrote about…I think six vocal tunes and then the rest are covers. That’s it.
Rick: You are noted primarily as a killer picker, but you have a fabulous vocal style. You’ve got a great voice.
Redd: You’re drunk. I hear everything from a great classic country voice to you-sound-like-a-five o’clock-whistle-and-a-pig-under-a-gate. I hear it all.
Rick: [Laughing] A pig under a gate?
Redd: Oh yeah. All kinds of… some people love it and some go, “Nah, you just need to play”. I agree with them myself. That side of it because I don’t like singing.
Rick: Some of it sounded really good, I thought.
Redd: Well, thank you.
Rick: Recently you played up in Ottawa. The Cisco Ottawa Blues Festival? When you go back to Canada does it feel like home or has Austin kind of replaced that in your heart?
Redd: I’ve been in the States since ’86, I think, so it’s kind of I’m more…I’ve been in Austin now eight years and I just love it there, it’s great, so to me that’s home you know. I mean Canada…I’m from Canada, I love it, all the things about it and, you know… I don’t miss some of the snow, driving in the winter to go play gigs. You know, some of that stuff, but I’m sure the folks in Minnesota say the same thing.
Rick: Any other projects coming up?
Redd: Nothing brand new. Just got the CD all finished and that kinda took a pile of time for a while. Then I squeezed Brad’s deal in the middle of that actually, I was in midstream, but nothing new recording-wise that I know of. Unless you know something I don’t. [Laughs]
Rick: No. Anybody that you haven’t played with that you’d really enjoy playing with?
Redd: I don’t know…I just…probably everybody…just…I like so much stuff and I’m not, you know, to me if it’s good, it’s good. That’s that. I don’t care what kind of music it is or…obviously I’m not a jazz guy or fusion guy or none of that, so I’d probably steer clear of some of that stuff.
If somebody would say “Do you want to play on my jazz album?” I’d probably go, “No, let me give you a number of a guy,” you know…but…nah. I pretty much like everything so I would be glad to play with anybody doing anything. It’s just fun playing.
Rick: Yeah I forgot to ask about Johnny Hiland. Do you guys know each other pretty well?
Redd: Oh real well, yeah.
Rick: We interviewed him a couple years ago, nice man.
Redd: Very wonderful guy, yeah. When he first moved to Nashville he was playing across the street from where I was playing, so we saw each other all the time on the breaks and stuff and played a bunch of the same sort of style stuff and that. He was playing at this place called The Turf bar and it was in ’96 I think, we had a hurricane come through Nashville, or tornado, and wiped out a whole bunch of it and his club got cleaned off the map. It was just rubble. So he didn’t have a gig and I was on the road with Merle at that time so he was already filling in for me, sub-ing on my other gigs with the Don Kelly Band over at Robert’s across the street and so he was needing a gig and I was on the road working most of the time with Merle and he was filling in.
So, I said, “Just take my gig. You can have it because I’m gone most of the time and then when I’m home I’ll sub for you.” And the band was “Yeah, yeah cool, that’s fine,” you know, so we ended up swapping gigs, sort of thing, give him that one and, shit, he wasn’t there two years and everybody’s clamoring all over the guy and now he’s gone on the road all the time himself. Yeah, he’s doing great. He’s a fabulous player, and a good fella, too.
Rick: What are your tattoos?
Redd: It used to be a parrot sitting on a ring like a hoop with a worm with a hat on for the ladies. I don’t know…and then something ingenious…a snake wrapped around a dagger stuffed through a rose.
Rick: How long have you had those?
Redd: Pfffft! I got this one when I was 15, that’s when I was 17, this one when I was 13…
Rick: That’s about all we wanna see, I think. [All laughing uproariously]
Redd Volkaert w/Cindy Cashdollar