Former Texas Guitar King Redd Volkaert Moves to the Blue Ridge
Redd Volkaert is a guitarist’s guitarist. Revered as a master of honkytonk, country blues, and western swing, he’s backed up superstars like Merle Haggard, Dwight Yoakam, and Charlie Pride, and shared the stage with six-string gods like Albert Lee, James Burton, Eric Johnson, and Ted Nugent.
“With Redd, there’s something about the attitude he has when you see him play live—you can’t believe the combination of [styles] he infuses into his playing,” Brad Paisley told Vintage Guitar Magazine in 2005. He featured Volkaert on the 2008 barnburner, “Clusterpluck,” which appeared on his album, “Play,” and won a Grammy for Best Country Instrumental Performance. The two have since played full shows together a couple times a year.
“Redd is one of my biggest heroes,” Paisley went on to say. “He really shaped the way I play.”
Volkaert shocked the musical world in late 2019 when he announced his 20-year reign as guitar king of Austin, Texas, was ending. He and his wife were leaving the “Live Music Capital of the World” to live on a small farm near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Galax, Virginia.
“I’d been gigging six, seven nights a week since I was 17, and loved most every darn minute of it,” says Volkaert, 63, who spent 11 years in Nashville prior to moving to Austin around 2000. Before that, it was 5 years in L.A. “My wife and I decided it was time to slow things down and spend more time piddling around with our horses.”
Why Galax? Volkaert was introduced to the area while performing with longtime collaborator Bill Kirchen at the 2019 Wayne C. Henderson Music Festival & Guitar Competition, held annually at Grayson Highlands State Park.
“I was blown away by how beautiful it was,” says Volkaert. “It reminded me of Maine, but without those crazy winters.”
The couple had been considering moving for a few years. They’d looked at places near Santa Fe, New Mexico, but promptly shifted gears. Within weeks, they’d flown into Charlotte, rented a car, and started looking for properties in the mountains near Damascus.
“We spent a few weeks driving around, just enjoying the scenery,” says Volkaert. “We fell in love with the whole darn region and decided this is where we wanted to live our next chapter. So, we bought a place and moved in January 2020.”
The couple picked Galax for a number of reasons. Foremost was the gorgeous natural landscape and affordable land. Second was proximity to educational picking scenes centered around Henderson’s School of Appalachian Arts, the Galax Fiddlers’ Convention, and the Blue Ridge Music Center.
“Now that I’m an old guy, teaching has a certain appeal,” says Volkaert, who recently filmed a pair of hour-long instructional videos for online guitar learning center, TrueFire. “It’s a joy to sit down with talented young players that’re hungry to learn. I’ve been nuts about the guitar since I was 10 years old; I like to tell myself I’ve picked up at least a few things worth passing along since then.”
That said, Volkaert has no intentions of retiring. He’s already formed a trio with standup bass phenom and former Jefferson Center artistic director, Dylan Locke, and drummer Nick Falk, who’s toured with Molly Tuttle and the Wood Brothers. The group quickly nabbed a Thursday night residency at the Floyd Country Store, a rural venue renowned for its historic weekly bluegrass jamboree and ability to attract stars like Bela Fleck, Susan Tedeschi, and Sam Bush. Bookings at FloydFest followed.
“Of course, the pandemic upended all that,” says Volkaert. The group has streamed some live performances from the Country Store and that’s about it. But when the world returns to something like normal? “I’d like to feature a different fourth player every week until we find somebody to fill the spot on a more permanent basis.”
Volkaert also plans to do multi-night runs in cities like Roanoke, Winston-Salem, and Asheville, and work the regional festival circuit. Meanwhile, he’ll continue to tour nationally with the Twangbangers, his band with Bill Kirchen and pedal steel virtuoso, Joe Goldmark.
“I’m in too deep to quit,” says Volkaert, with a laugh. “If I get my way, I’ll die with a [telecaster] in my hands.”
Even guitar gods started somewhere. Here, Redd Volkaert shares five albums that helped mold his sound and tells us why he loved them. And did we mention he went on to play with all but one of the following artists?
Jimmy Bryant & Speedy West, “Two Guitars Country Style”
“As a kid, I was blown away by Jimmy’s playing. He does it all! After 53 years of trying to steal his licks and figure that stuff out—mostly to no avail—I’m still amazed.”
Johnny Winter, “Johnny Winter And”
“This album really turned my head around. Here was a blues guy with an unreal voice that was such an amazing and innovative player. He took blues guitar to a far more severe, rocking level of mastery.”
Roy Nichols, “The Instrumental Sound of Merle Haggard’s Strangers”
“To me, I thought Roy Nichols [known for being Merle Haggard’s lead guitarist] played like Don Rich, just way jazzier and with a fatter sound. I’ve tried most of my life to emulate his style, tone, and sound. So, it was a dream come true for Merle to hire me after he passed. To stand where Roy once stood was the greatest honor I could imagine.”
Eldon Shamblin, “Guitar Genius”
“When I first heard him on Bob Wills’ records, I instantly wanted more. I prayed he’d put out some solo instrumental music and boy was I happy when I found this and another album called “Swonderful.” In addition to Eldon, they feature greats like Joe Venuti, Curly Chalker, and Jethro Burns. This is pretty jazzy stuff with tons of grownup chords I still can’t seem to figure out—but holy cow!”
Chet Atkins, “The Atkins & Travis Traveling Show
“As a teen, Chet Atkins took me to a whole new world of respect and admiration for the guitar, and the goofy nuts that can’t help playing them until they die. Here, he sounds like Merle Travis, but with a smoother and more intricate style that takes the listener to another place. It left a [then-aspiring] guitar player like myself feeling humbled.”
Cover photo: Volkaert has found a new music community in the Virginia mountains. Photo by Todd V. Wolfson