Caldwell Gray, guitarist and vocalist for the Cravin’ Dogs, hedges when you ask him what a “dingus” is. “It’s a whatchamacallit, a thingamabob,” he hazards. It’s what bandmate John Sablosky yells at bad drivers. It’s roughly analogous to “doofus.” And, he concedes, “it does have a vulgar meaning.” It’s also the name of the band’s new CD—its fifth since 1991.
The Cravin’ Dogs began a decade ago as what Gray calls a “folk gonzo trio.” He and drummer Tom Helf are the remaining founding members; the ensemble’s current lineup—the modern-day Dogs are a quintet—has been together since last June. (The original trio’s third member, Lisa Venable, is now Gray’s sister-in-law.) Through its many personnel changes, Gray’s songs have remained the band’s definitive element. dingus, though, is the first Dogs CD to include songs by band members other than Gray; it features tracks by guitarist Sablosky and violinist Todd Baker.
Baker’s electric violin adds a distinctive touch to the band’s country-tinged rock. “Having two prominent lead instruments [the other being Gray’s guitar] makes it kind of orchestral,” he observes. The classically trained Baker, Gray adds, is “trying to take the Jean-Luc-Ponty-meets-Jimi-Hendrix thing to another level.” Production credits on dingus are shared by Doug Derryberry, John Alagia, and the band. The producers are longtime Dogs collaborators, having performed the same office on the combo’s last four discs. “Those guys are awesome,” Gray gushes. Another longtime collaborator is Gray’s brother Stewart, who co-wrote many of the disc’s tracks. Though Stewart lives in North Carolina, the pair write together via e-mail, fax, and the U.S. Mail. Gray says his brother is the ideal songwriting partner: “We know each other so well it’s easy to say, ‘That blows,’” he explains.
The current Dogs, Gray says, have professional aspirations. Last year, he traded his full-time job for a half-time one so he could devote more time to the band. Sure, he sometimes bogs down in the scale of the undertaking. But he says, “If it weren’t fun, if it weren’t inspirational, I sure as fuck wouldn’t do it.”
The Dogs have their very own Web page at http://www. cravindogs.com/dingus.htm and can be contacted via e-mail
at firstname.lastname@example.org. Luddites can use the
telephone: (703) 938-3822.—Nicole Arthur