Reddog and Friends — “Booze, Blues and Southern Grooves” — Survival South Records
Fine and mellow.
That’s the description that comes to mind after listening to the latest soulful album from Reddog and Friends, his sixth, and his first since 1993’s “After the Rain.”
And just who is Reddog?
At first it was the name of his band, a staple in the Atlanta area for decades, and now working out of the Pensacola, Fla., area.
“I spotted an advertisement for a vintage clothing store named Reddog, and the ad had beautiful, long, lean, red dogs,” Reddog told author/blogger Cindi Brown. “I thought it would be a good band name. As band personnel changed over the years, everyone just started calling me Reddog.”
Reddog himself is Jeff Higgins, a singer with a laid-back vibe; a songwriter with a lyrical ear, and a guitarist who favors “soulful Southern blues.” His vocals here are mellow; tastefully simmered inside slow-burning guitar licks. His style is a fine example of how less can be more, letting the soul pour freely into the space between the notes.
Right from the opening track, “Love, You’ve Got to Spread the Word,” with its smooth groove and soothing message, sets the tone. Backup singers Carla Russell, Mary Mason and Angela Hacker add authentic harmonious sentiments here and throughout. Their vocals add an excellent touch.
“The Blues Will Get You Everytime” follows, a hand-clapping ode to the power of the music. “Down, Down, Down” is slow and torchy, “She’s a Georgia Peach” is ripe with rhythm. “Simple Song” is anything but, letting gorgeous backup vocals break free. “Searching for Some Soul” shuffles along nicely, sort of a theme song for the entire album. These aren’t all of the excellent original eleven tracks, but they’re some of my favorites. The final cut, “Honest Man,” makes its case as a lyrical summation — possibly Reddog’s personal blues creed.
This is an album full of thoughtful, entertaining, excellent music from someone whose voice needs to added to the blues conversation after a long absence from the national scene. The notes below from Reddog describe his friends, and how they came to record this album.
And by the way, “Fine and Mellow” is not just a clever lead-in to this article, although I think the phrase captures Reddog’s spirit nicely. It was one of the few songs written by the great Billie Holiday, and its presentation in 1957 was arguably one of the great live musical performances in TV history.
A few words from Reddog about recording this album:
My music style is soulful, Southern blues. That’s how I describe my music. I want the listener to hear it but also feel it! Muscle Shoals, Alabama was where I needed to record to get that sound.
Johnny Sandlin asked me if I’d like him to bring in any special musicians for my CD. My only request was Clayton Ivey on keyboards and Johnny looked at me like, how the hell do you even know who Clayton Ivey is? I knew!
When I saw David Hood in Muscle Shoals it had been about 20 years since we had been in a studio together. As we were leaving he said “Reddog let’s get together and do this again in 20 years.” He’s funny. He’s one of the best session players ever! He plays the changes, creates a groove and plays melodically all at one time, without missing a beat.
Tracks 5. Simple Song, track 6. Searching for Some Soul, and track 11. Honest Man were recorded at Johnny Sandlin’s Duck Tape Studio in Decatur, Alabama. Players were Reddog guitar, Clayton Ivey keyboards, David Hood bass and Bill Stewart drums.
All other tracks were recorded at East Avalon Recorders in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Players were Reddog guitar, Clayton Ivey keyboards, David Hood bass, Justin Holder drums.
So the same players were on all the tracks with the exception of drummers. Bill Stewart played drums at Johnny Sandlin’s studio and Justin Holder played drums in Muscle Shoals.
One thing unique to Muscle Shoals, they want the music being recorded there to sound great! Everyone involved is working as a team to make your songs shine. They have a way of making you feel like your recording is the only thing going on in town. It’s inspiring!
Recording songs like “Searching for Some Soul” and “She’s a Georgia Peach” were pure fun to record. We were laughing and cutting up during the process. As much fun as we were having, I hope the listener has to put a smile on! “Simple Song” was inspired by the late great Eddie Hinton from NW Alabama.
Track list and credits:
Love, You’ve Got to Spread the Word (4:39)
The Blues Will Get You Everytime (3:55)
Down, Down, Down (4:54)
She’s a Georgia Peach (4:23)
Simple Song (5:42)
Searching for Some Soul (3:53)
Why Oh Why Are You Calling Me (4:20)
Don’t Muscle that Shuffle (3:56)
Old School Blues (4:15)
Back in the Bottle Again (3:43)
Honest Man (4:54)
Reddog: Guitar, Slide Guitar, Vocals; Clayton Ivey: Keyboards; David Hood: Bass; Justin Holder or Bill Stewart: Drums; Carla Russell, Mary Mason, Angela Hacker: Female Vocals; Stevie Hawkins: Congas
“Fine and Mellow,” with Billie Holiday and one of the finest jazz ensembles, live in 1957: