Article by Johnny Cole | Photos by Stephen Anderson
Featuring guest contributors
A familiar question asked to many in the Gulf Coast music community is “what up and coming Gulf Coast band should we be on the watch for?” In the last few years, the same answer is regularly given without hesitation – THE RED CLAY STRAYS from Mobile, Alabama. In the 2019 Readers’ Choice Awards for Favorite Music Artist at The Southland Music Line, they finished a close second with razor thin results. The popularity of this band continues to be on the rise while receiving notable accolades and building an impressively growing fanbase.
Each year, The Southland Music Line’s management team along with a body of consultants and contributors choose a different artist to be that year’s “Music Artist of the Year”. Unlike our Readers’ Choice Award, this is entirely voted on by those listed above. Past recipients of this title are “Willie Sugarcapps” (2014), The Mulligan Brothers (2015 ), Lisa Mills (2016), Grayson Capps (2017), Abe Partridge (2018) and four time Readers’ Choice winners, Sugarcane Jane (2019). Annually, we chose a music artist that has not only had a successful year locally, but who has also represented our region of the country well.
The Red Clay Strays at Cedar Street Social Club in Mobile, AL
The Red Clay Strays, consisting of Brandon Coleman (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Zach Rishel (lead guitar), John W. Hall (drums), Andrew Bishop (bass) and Drew Nix (backup vocals/rhythm guitar/harmonica), has in 2020 accomplished a lot despite a very difficult year for the music industry.
This year was not easy for any musician due to Covid 19 pandemic and the obvious decline in available live music venues. The Red Clay Strays had huge plans for the year, but were forced to drastically cut back and reschedule a number of events. At the same time, they honored a number of engagements that were not canceled by various venues around the country.
In mid November, The Red Clay Strays were scheduled for a show at the famous Duling Hall in Jackson, Mississippi that was postponed due to two of the band’s members contacting Covid 19. They have since recovered nicely and have resumed performing. (The Duling Hall show has been rescheduled for April 3, 2021).
The Red Clay Strays at The Outrigger in Pascagoula, MS
The Red Clay Strays are a “people’s band” and loved by many. Here are a few comments and memories recalled by fans and fellow musicians about this amazing band on the rise.
In my humble opinion, the Red Clay Strays have been putting on the best live shows on the Gulf Coast for several years now. The fellers are all totally committed to a common passion and vision, and you can see it in their performances. They are all superb musicians, as well as all-around good people. I am honored to be able to share the stage with them frequently, and borrow them from time to time with my own projects.
2018’s Music Artist of the Year at The Southland Music Line
The Red Clay Strays (“our boys”) had only been together a couple of months the first time we saw them. We had never heard of them. Our friend, Jennifer, started working at The Hotspot at the Wharf. She called us and told us she was working there, to come see her that night. She said there will be a band there. We gathered about 20 people and went to the Hotspot, mostly to show support for Jennifer at her new job. A group of young men took the stage and proceeded to blow us away with their music. About the second or third song in, I told Lee “Holy cow, if anybody wants to see these boys around here, they better do it now, because they will hit it big!” We have followed and supported them ever since. They have become like family to us. They are all talented and humble. We know their parents and it’s easy to see why the boys are such good people after knowing them. They are highly deserving of this title this year and I can promise you, “you ain’t seen nothing yet”.
David and Lee Thomas,
Two of the most loyal supporters of the Gulf Coast Music Scene
To me, The Red Clay Strays, represent good, honest, country music. They don’t need any kind of fancy production to get your attention. Their original compositions are exciting and unique, but leave you feeling nostalgic for their heroes like Waylon, Cash, and Ronnie Van Zant. On and off the stage, this band is all in 100% for the love of their craft. It’s honestly a beautiful thing. I’ve had the privilege of getting to know the guys pretty well over the past 2 1/2 years since Drew and I began dating in 2018. They’re my family. It’s not just their bandmate’s girlfriend that they treat like family. You’re a brother or a sister as soon as you come to their show and meet them for the first time. You’ll always feel loved when you’re around any member of the Red Clay Strays, no matter who you are!
Laurie Anne Amour,
The Red Clay Strays at The Outrigger in Pascagoula, MS
I discovered the Red Clay Strays through my friend Abe Partridge. These guys are a great group of talented musicians. The Red Clay Strays’ Brandon Coleman’s voice reminds me of what would happen if the voices of Johnny Cash, Elvis, and Chris Stapleton were blended together. When I was putting together ideas for a live show in Jackson Mississippi, I knew they needed to be part of it. Although the pandemic temporarily put the show on hold, it has been rescheduled for April 3, 2021. The Strays will be part of it, along with Abe and Red and the Revelers. I can’t wait!
Music Enthusiast and Artist Supporter; Gulf Coast native residing in Jackson MS
I first heard The Red Clay Strays perform at Jack’s by the Tracks in Pascagoula several years ago. Although the full band was not in attendance that night, their onstage presence was still impressive and definitely made me want to see the entire band. Since that evening I’ve had the pleasure of listening to the full band of these talented, dedicated musicians many times and after each performance vowing to see them again. Brandon Coleman (lead vocals/rhythm guitar), Zach Rishel (lead guitar), John W. Hall (drums), Andrew Bishop (bass) and Drew Nix (backup vocals/rhythm guitar/harmonica) each have talents that shine individually as well as an integral part of this tight, exciting band. If I were to use only one word to describe The Red Clay Strays outside of their obvious talent, it would be “Dynamic”.
Associate Editor/Writer with The Southland Music Line
The Red Clay Strays are one of those bands that have the type of attributes that set them apart…… the right sound at the right time…..a familiar tone, yet completely all their own…..five individuals (like “Voltron”) that come together as one amazing, unified display of stage presence that captures the crowd’s hearts and souls….. all the while, maintaining a humble appreciation for their fans that makes them feel more like family.
Accomplished artist and a co-founding member of The Southland Music Line
Lastly, Dr. Tom Leytham (singer-songwriter) relates his interesting story about The Red Clays Strays:
Backstory: I happen to be a fan of a music group out of Los Angeles called The Record Company. As a member of the Friends of the Saenger in Mobile, I was able to get some pretty decent seats and hear them play in September 2017. The following April when The Record Company came back to Mobile to play at Soul Kitchen, I bought a whole handful of tickets from Mellow Mushroom and took several friends with me. Among these friends were some folks who had been to dozens (maybe hundreds) of great concerts and there were also some young musicians in our group. I had heard of The Red Clay Strays but had never seen them play. I did not mention to any of my friends that they were the opening act.
So, out onto the stage comes Brandon, Andrew, John, Zack, and Drew and with every single song, they simply blew the room away. One at a time, each of my friends seeks me out to tell me, “You are right, these guys are absolutely great” and each time I had to tell them, “This is the opening act; I have never heard these guys before.” Song after song, they crushed it. Tight. Very tight. They attacked every song with energy and precision. You would have never known these guys were all in their early 20’s.
My friends were mesmerized by Brandon’s soulful vocals, engaging stage presence, and occasional Elvis-esque gyrations. Zach and Drew traded off on guitar in a manner which conjured memories of some of the great mid-70s southern rock bands. Brandon even managed to enhance this effect with his acoustic rhythm guitar which added to the authentic sound confirming their country credentials.
The rhythm section of John and Andrew laid a rock solid beat whether it was an original tune or a cover song – no matter – no one listening could stand still. John with his overalls and no shirt was occasionally throwing in his own hillbilly version of Keith Moon at unexpected moments. Andrew had such perfect timing that he gave the entire band an air of an experienced group who had been together for years or maybe decades.
They finished a full hour set to much applause. Everyone in the room had been moving in step with their music and stayed on a natural high during the break. After the main attraction came out all of my friends came back to tell me, “I liked the other band way better.”
Since then, all of us catch every show that we can and The Red Clay Strays continue to blow us away and even managing somehow to keep getting better and better.
Dr. Thomas Leytham,
The Red Clay Strays with their bus in front of Callaghan’s in Mobile, AL
We could have easily asked a hundred different people to participate in commenting or telling their story about how the learned about The Red Clay Strays and why they are loyal fans. The band has made a huge impact on the Gulf Coast music scene and rightfully taken their music abroad. They were an easy choice for this year’s Music Artist of the Year and we at The Southland Music Line are enthusiastic about this band’s bright future. We want to thank everyone who contributed to this article and extend a very special thank you to The Red Clay Strays. We wish you a continued success.
Click Here for The Red Clays Strays at Callaghan’s (June 1, 2018)
Click Here for The Red Clay Strays at Murky Waters in Ocean Springs, MS (Sat. June 9, 2018)
Click Here for The Red Clay Strays at The Outrigger Bar & Grill in Pascagoula, MS (Fri. June 15, 2018)
Click Here for The Red Clays Strays at Cedar Street Social Club (April 20, 2019)
Click Here for Red Clay Strays’ official website.