ARIZONA DAILY STAR | by Gerald M. Gay December 26, 2003

Roots music leads guitarist to form groups

Guitarist Dave Gonzalez is knee-deep in roots music. When he's not playing rockabilly rhythms with his longtime trio, the Paladins, his time is spent honky-tonkin' with his alter-ensemble, the Hacienda Brothers.

Both groups will be performing at the Rialto's New Year's Eve celebration on Wednesday night.

"I never wanted to listen to anything too modern," said Gonzalez. "I feel fortunate enough that I've never had to play Top 40."

That's the way it's been since high school for Gonzalez, 42, who recalls being turned on to all sorts of roots musicians, like bluesman Muddy Waters and country legend Johnny Cash, as a teen.

"When we were kids, Johnny Cash was huge," said Gonzalez. "Everyone listened to the 'Ring of Fire' and 'I Walk the Line.' Those are some of the greatest songs ever."

This roots-music attraction eventually led to the creation of the Paladins in the late 1970s.

"We just hit it off musically and never looked back," Gonzalez said.

The San Diego-based Paladins have performed in venues from Belgium to Australia, playing with the likes of Los Lobos and the Nighthawks. The trio has leaned toward country, blues and a bit of jazz over the years, but has never strayed too far from the rockabilly sound for which the band has earned a reputation.

"The sound of the Paladins boils down to the Sun Records, Memphis sound," said Gonzalez. "Memphis is where the blues, country and soul all came together. That's how rockabilly was born."

Expect to hear cuts from the new Paladins' album, "El Matador," at the New Year's celebration.

Gonzalez pointed out that the album includes a variety of musical elements found in the seven previous Paladins albums, including the presence of several instrumentals.

"Our albums all fit together in a big puzzle," he said. "The new Paladins record has a little bit of every one of them."

When he's feeling a little more country, Gonzalez turns to his other group, the Hacienda Brothers, as a way to express himself beyond the realm of upbeat rockabilly music.

"We play more mid-tempo stuff with the Hacienda Brothers," he said. "I write a lot of songs that the Paladins can't do as a trio."

With a style dubbed "honky- tonk soul," the five-member group has developed a surprise following through their performances with the Paladins, according to Gonzalez.

"People come to the shows and hear the Hacienda Brothers and say, 'Wow! We didn't even know we liked country music,' " he said.

Having played the Rialto many times with both the Paladins and the Hacienda Brothers, including one of its first New Year's Eve concerts, Gonzalez noted that the atmosphere of a New Year's Eve party brings a certain energy to the event.

"It's an exciting night, and you only get one a year," said Gonzalez. "You gotta whoop it up, and everyone realizes it. You try extra hard to make it a special night."