The Blue Dogs is a long-running musical experiment between bassist Hank Futch and singer/guitarist Bobby Houck. They founded the group in 1987 and have been more-or-less based in Charleston ever since.
This week, the celebrated country-rock band is continuing its Lowcountry legacy with a headlining June 3 concert at The Windjammer to celebrate the release of the new LP entitled, Big Dreamers.
Perhaps more remarkable than having a new album show up after a 16-year gap in recordings is the sheer longevity of Futch and Houck’s relationship, which started before either one ever considered a life in music.
“We met initially as Boy Scouts in Florence, South Carolina, when we were something like 8 years old,” Houck told City Paper. “Joe Walsh [of the Eagles] said something that really struck a chord with me about how things often seem to be happening to you randomly at any given time, but when you look back over your whole career, it starts to feel more like there was a master plan behind all of those seemingly chance encounters that got you to where you are now.”
There have been many unexpected twists and turns for the Blue Dogs along the way, Houck said. These included some key additions and subtractions to the core lineup and an assortment of record releases and related tours. Nevertheless, Futch and Houck have persevered with dignity and assurance throughout it all.
“It’s hard to know what to do in this business,” Houck said. “You’re always looking for signs that you’re moving in the right direction. And the problem for us, well, one of us anyway, was that we never really knew if we ought to be following in the steps of other regional pop/rock sensations like the Connells, R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish, or if we should be heading straight to Nashville to go for it as a country act.”
Although the Blue Dogs traveled both paths to a certain extent, none of the eclectic ensemble’s earlier output fully reflected what they were underneath it all. “Truth be told, we were always more like the Grateful Dead in that we loved to play all kinds of American music: folk, blues, bluegrass, country, rock ‘n’ roll and other stuff besides,” Houck said.
As such, Houck is excited about his band’s latest effort and he hopes that Big Dreamers proves to be a big reset for the Blue Dogs brand.
On this project he and Futch were joined in the studio by guitarist Dan Hood, steel guitarist Charlie Thompson and longtime Blue Dogs drummer Greg Walker. Former band member Phillip Lammonds co-wrote three of the new tunes, and the whole thing was produced by friend and fan Sadler Vaden, known for his work with Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Bahamas and Beck.
“Sadler was the one who kept nudging us along,” Houck recalled. “Whenever we’d run into him over the last 10 or so years, he’d say things like, ‘If you ever do another record, you’ve got to let me be involved with it, because I think I know exactly what y’all need to sound like,’ which was a really sweet gesture on his part.”
This time around other special guests include legendary songwriter Radney Foster and bluegrass icon Jerry Douglas. “Counting Jerry among our friends and peers is pretty mind-blowing,” Houck noted. “Considering that in the early days we would drive around listening to him and Tony Rice and Peter Rowan nonstop.”
Of this current juncture in the Blue Dog’s long and winding history, Houck simply said: “It feels good.”
“To have recently collaborated with all of these people in different ways has been a pure joy, and for us to be able to put out a CD at all in this day and age is a big win for the Blue Dogs, regardless of what happens next,” Houck said. “Ultimately, Hank and I just love playing music and we don’t see ourselves stopping anytime soon. In fact, when all the fuss dies down, we’re heading out to take in the Telluride Bluegrass Festival together so that we can rekindle our primary bond as music fans.”
The Windjammer presents An Evening with the Blue Dogs at 7:30 p.m. on June 3. For more info, visit the-windjammer.com.
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