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Freda & the Firedogs is one of the greatest albums in Austin music history. A record that was set to give major national exposure to the then-fresh outlaw country movement in Texas.

The band consisted of Marcia Ball, John X. Reed, Steve McDaniels, David Cook, and Bobby Earl Smith, and in the early part of 1972 legendary producer Jerry Wexler, who'd already signed Doug Sahm and Willie Nelson, took a shine to them, and had them record an album for Atlantic. Unfortunately, says Smith, "We were trying to make sure and get a good deal, and we hemmed and hawed too long. We ended up putting Jerry in a kind of a bad light at Atlantic," and the deal was never signed.

The album was forgotten, the band members lost their personal copies over the years, and then, not long before Sahm's death in 1999, Smith called him and got Wexler's number in hopes of finally releasing the album more than a quarter-century after it was recorded. Unfortunately, Wexler reported that the master tapes had been lost in a warehouse fire. "My heart sank," gulps Smith, but then Wexler added that he had managed to keep track of his personal copy of the reel to reel tape. Following a bit of EQ-ing and the limited corrections that could be made to the original recording, Smith has had a limited number of copies pressed up for Austin release, with national distribution to follow.

And if you didn't guess that rumblings of a reunion are already buzzing, shame on you! Smith says he's talking to Ball this week about putting together some shows at the Broken Spoke, Gruene Hall, and elsewhere.

--Ken Lieck, Austin Chronicle, October 11, 2002


It would be difficult to over-praise Freda and the Firedogs. This is a great bunch of youngsters, both personally and musically. They stick closely to the traditional and their brand of country music is pure listening pleasure.

Freda, whose real name is Marcia Ball, plays fine piano. More important, her beautiful voice is…well, I just never heard any better. It has a lovely, melodious quality that is rare. And Marcia knows how to interpret and sing a country song. Her vocals are simple and honest, and they’re simply and honestly great.

The first time I heard the Firedogs, something most unusual happened. With my ear tuned to spot the individual talent of some single musician, the first who impressed me was, surprisingly, the bass player. He is Bobby Earl Smith, who also sings many of the vocals.

Equally talented is another member who plays what often is considered a “minor” instrument in the band, drummer Steve McDaniels. The quality goes on and on. John Reed, lead guitarist and vocalist, has a reputation around town as a “musician’s musician.” And you David Cook plays the steel guitar in the classic manner of the older masters, a welcome pleasure in these days of the often too-gimmicky steels of the moderns Nashville sound.

The Firedogs, featuring Freda’s (Marcia’s) piano and lovely vocals, are a solid country group, strong on the traditional but with a lively young flare.

--Townsend Miller, Austin American-Statesman, July 22, 1972.


Houston Chronicle

Freda’s Firedogs: Savvy, Stringy Meat

Country ‘n western.

Hardly an art form.

Still, you can’t arbitrarily rule out the issue without at least a perfunctory listen to—can you believe this?—Freda and the Firedogs, an Austin-based band of freaky hill-Williams more intensely, and authentically, into C&W tradition than most groups currently trying to make it.

Country ‘n Western—white man’s blues, a current critic calls it. And Freda and company grasp that truth with all the searing scorch of human passion, with more musicality per square twang than many musicians ever manage to muster.

Filling in for the canceled Dr. Hook band and sharing a bill with Houston folk singer Townes Van Zandt, the Freda group rattled Friday Liberty Hallers with skeletons from forgotten closets.

In that context Freda and the Fire Dogs recall the great British singer Joe Cocker, bringing to others’ time-worn repertoire expertise and innate musicianship so severe as to transform shockingly raw stock into glowingly burnished brass.

“White Lightnin,” “Who’s Sorry Now?”—THAT’S reaching back—“Honky Tonk Man,” Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya,” Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night”—shimmer with deeper highlights even than songs composed by the group itself.

The Blood, Sweat and Tears of country, perhaps, Freda’s band romps through other people’s material like B,S&Ts former David Clayton-Thomas exhaling life into dormant Billie Holiday tunes.

Top biller was Van Zandt, and he sang with the constant fidelity and competence for which he’s known. His long suit is of course guitar, his short suit any garb worn by woman—he’s still into the “a man needs” type of shuck.

But his “Greensboro Woman”—“and I’ll thank you kindly, babe, if you’ll kindly let me be”—ripples and relevance, surprisingly free of contemporary conceits and faddish folknik motifs.

Still, for anyone seeking musical heights, a whiff of Freda’s Fire Dogs should trip out the staunchest country pop purist.

Freda and the Firedogs may look like freaks, but they pick like corralsful of kickers.

With musical savvy.
Stringy meat.
Tough.
All puns intended.

John Scarborough, Houston Chronicle, 1972


 

Once upon a lime, before Austin was touted as "Nashville West," before Redneck Chic and Outlaw Music, there was a band in this town called Freda and the Firedogs.

They played a soulful, energetic amalgam of country music and rock 'n' roll with elements of blues, Cajun and Tex-Mex tossed in for good measure - that tore down the barriers between partisans of the two forms and fostered the climate in which the now famous Austin Sound bloomed.

Because of Freda and the Firedogs, young long-hairs began to feel it was safe to patronize country dance halls and older, straighter country fans began to visit rock clubs. The age and lifestyle di fferences that seemed so large to so many vanished when Freda and the Firedogs began to play. "Those kids were so good, everybody just had to love them," recalled one old fan Monday night when Freda and the Firedogs got together at Soap Creek Saloon for the first time in nearly four years.

Their performance before the packed house demonstrated why Freda and the Firedogs enjoyed such a fanatical following during their three-year existence, why the rule of thumb in those days was to arrive by 8 if the band was due onstage at 9 and you wanted a seat. The band crackled with more than enough energy to offset the occasional rough spots in its playing.

The large crowd kept the dance floor jammed until well after the bar had closed. Marcia Ball - Freda - said she saw people she hadn't since the band's last gig in 1975, and for both performers and fans it was a night of pleasant nostalgia for a scene and a feeling thal's slipping away.

"If you were here in 1972, you were lucky," said Doug Sahm who hopped on stage to do five tunes. When Sahm moved to Austin In 1972, he regularly played with Freda and the Firedogs. "There was magic in the air when they played," Sahm added. "That doesn't happen very often."

The original cast of Freda and the Firedogs was on hand Monday to recapture some of that magic. Besides Marcia Ball, who played piano and sang beautifully, there was frizzy-haired lead guitarist John Reed breathing life into rockabilly tunes with a voice tailor-made for that style; Bobby Earl Smith, a teenage heartthrob in the band's heyday, offering melodious bass lines and occa- sional vocals; versatile David Cook moving easily between sax, pedal steel guitar and accordian; and drummer Steve McDaniel, providing the steady, driving backbeat.that held it all together.

When It was over, they went their separate ways again. But for a few hours in a place that also will be gone soon, Freda and the Firedogs brought a lot of people together and made them very happy. Which is the stuff legends, especially this band's, are made of.


Joe Frolik
Austin American-Statesman
January 17, 1979



Freda & the Firedogs, c/o Bobby Earl Smith, 1108 Nueces, Austin, TX 78701
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