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Two heavyweight guitar slingers and singers find a common ground with their deep history in Honky Tonk and Rock’n’Roll and their command of the electric guitar. Bill Kirchen is a founding father of Commander Cody. Redd Volkaert spent many years as the lead guitarist for the mighty Merle Haggard, and has played and recorded with a who’s who of greats, from Dale Watson to Brad Paisley to Billy Gibbons.
Upon tallying how many decades he’s worked as a professional guitar slinger, Telecaster master Bill Kirchen quips, “Well, they don’t make 50 years like they used to.” They don’t often make careers like his, either.
From performing with his Who Knows Pickers jug band in Ann Arbor High School’s senior talent show (also on the program: the future Iggy Pop), to birthing the Americana genre with the original “hippie country band,” Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, this affable Austinite has been everywhere, man, flying alongside some of the planet’s coolest cats — including the Jesus of Cool, Nick Lowe, and Lowe’s old protégé, Elvis Costello.
Kirchen has toured the world with Lowe, who produced an album by Kirchen’s post-Airmen band, the Moonlighters, and Costello recruited Kirchen for high-profile gigs like the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival — and even named his festival band after Kirchen’s Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods album. Lowe appears on that 2006 album, and its 2010 follow-up, Word to the Wise, along with Costello, Maria Muldaur, Dan Hicks and other luminaries.
Volkaert is best known to country audiences as being the lead guitarist since 1997 for Merle Haggard’s band the Strangers. Prior to that in the ’90s, he had done sessions in Nashville for artists like Ray Price, Clinton Gregory, Dale Watson, and Lacy J. Dalton. In the late ’90s, Volkaert also began a career as a solo artist with Telewacker. In 2001, No Stranger to a Tele followed, with a satisfyingly diverse mix of country swing, hot instrumentals with steel guitar, and vocal numbers in the Bakersfield-honky-tonk tradition.