Kick Back and Kick It In

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
"Every summer, we’ve had the constant urge to keep busting it, but the idea now is to work smarter, not harder,” says Bobby Houck, lead singer and acoustic guitarist of veteran Charleston act Blue Dogs. “We’ve realized that the band will continue for a while. It’s hard to sustain at our level.”

For well over a decade, the Blue Dogs have been singin’ and strummin’ their way through the South, up the East Coast, and out to the Rockies and back with their decidedly Southern style of contemporary country-rock.

Houck, lead guitarist David Stewart, upright/electric bassist Hank Futch, and drummer Greg Walker specialize in an earthy, bluegrass-tinged mix of Americana, rock, and power-pop. They’ve kept a fairly busy schedule this year, touring behind their latest 13-song album, Halos & Good Buys and a live DVD, Live at the House of Blues, shot at the Myrtle Beach venue … fairly busy, but not nearly as hectic as previous years.

“Last summer, we were in Texas … summer before that, we were in Minneapolis and Colorado and all over the place,” remembers Houck. “We’re busy, but we’re certainly operating within a tighter circle. We’re just not touring as far a field. This is the first summer in eight years that we haven’t gone out of the Southeast. We have some family happening now, so it’s been good for everyone to spend more time at home.”

Last week, Houck and the Dogs were gearing up for a trip to Atlanta, where the band played Turner Field as part of the “My South Rocks” concert series prior to the Atlanta Braves game (they even got to sing the national anthem). The band returns to their home base for a special two-night stint at the Windjammer over the Fourth of July weekend.

“We’re so lucky to have the Windjammer,” says Houck. “People know when we play there it’s going to be fun. There’s always a good vibe in there, even when it’s packed and sweaty. We’ll be able to be in town for the entire weekend … we’ll be with family and friends and we’ll have a chance to take the boat out that Saturday, as opposed to rolling into town all whacked out after two weeks on the road.”

Getting “all whacked out” seems to be a thing of the past for the ol’ boys. Houck feels that focusing on writing solid tunes, performing tight shows, and maintaining a smart pace are at the top of the priority list.

“One question we keep getting is, ‘Why haven’t you guys made it bigger?’ At a certain point it is what it is,” he says. “What will be will be. We get enough good feedback about our music, songs, and records and what they’ve meant to people that it makes us feel good.”

“You know, this is the longest span the band has gone without having a member change,” he adds. “By virtue of staying together this long, the current band is tight and works well together. I feel like we have a chemistry that’s like the R.E.M.s or the Hooties or the AC/DCs out there.”

Following the band’s 2000 studio album, Letters From Round O, marked their first national breakthrough and 2001’s Live At Florence Little Theatre (recorded in Houck’s S.C. hometown), Halos & Good Buys demonstrates the slickest, most radio-ready effort yet, which is fine with the band. It features some collaborative work between Houck and acclaimed songwriter Radney Foster (“What’s Wrong with Love Songs?”) and a few melodic tunes from bassist Hank Futch.

“We did Halos & Good Buys in ten days,” boasts the lead singer. “It sounds a little more produced than some of the other records — and that’s because Don Gehman is a master — but I love the album. From a songwriting standpoint, it’s high quality.

“You know what, though? I think my favorite Blue Dogs record is still Letters from Round O, because I think the sound of the record, the songwriting, the band at the time, and David Lowery’s production is a lot more raw, organic, and messy. Ultimately, it’s the best representation of the combination of that early Dogs sound, with the acousticness and bluesiness, mixed with David Strewart’s guitar and the melodic pop side of it.”

The Blue Dogs will probably never step outside of their “country” aesthetic. It’s in their blood. They essentially started out as a country-rock cover band, playing oldies and contemporary stuff, and only gradually assembled a strong set of original tunes and each year focused more and more on songwriting and recording.

“We evolved into a band that can perform consistently,” says Houck. “We’ve proven that we can write good songs that seem to resonate with fans. Even if the sound of the band is not something that sounds commercial enough to country or rock labels, I still think we’ve created something unique. Why they can’t see that it appeals to a big audience — from the five-year-old kids at Party at the Point to my college friends’ parents — is beyond me. Regardless, we’ve created that and that’s what we have. I think that’s what’s going to sustain us for the next ten years or so.” ��

Charleston City Paper

Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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