Western Soul: The Hacienda Brothers return to the honkytonk
Hey, guess what? The Hacienda Brothers are coming to town.
In the context of a music feature, this is a notable-enough event in itself, but what I meant was that the Hacienda Brothers are opting to base themselves in Tucson.
This is an infrequently taken path. Established musical outfits tend to say, "Perhaps we should go to where the action is," and light out for Nashville skylines like Troy Olsen, or the, er, lakes of Los Angeles like Linda Ronstadt. But almost never do you hear of a group volitionally relocating to Southern Arizona. (With the notable exception of your cousin's metal band that moved here because Benson proved too stifling.)
Chalk it up to the charms of Sonora. "I have a real love affair going with the Southwest, especially Tucson," relates Hacienda Brother/motorhead/Telecaster master Dave Gonzalez. "In the early '80s, I first started touring (with the Paladins), and Jeb (Schoonover, promoter/band manager/former owner of the Rialto Theatre/player of tennis with Jim Rosborough) was one of the first cats to bring me to town ... we became instant friends," says Gonzalez. "One morning, he interviewed me on his radio show (the late Country Crossroads on KXCI), and he was surprised I was into country so much."
It was on rockabilly and blues that Gonzalez cut his teeth; his rootsy three-piece, the Paladins, have put out records on Alligator and Warner Brothers. But the Paladins, who were never all that interested in indulging Gonzalez' love of country, are currently on hiatus so Gonzalez can focus on the Hacienda Brothers. "It was just a long time comin' where I needed to go do my own record, and then I started workin' with Chris (Gaffney, Hacienda Brothers vocalist). So I kinda put (the Paladins) on hold," Gonzalez explains.
It should be noted that Gaffney has a couple of other high-profile gigs as well, as one of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men and as the leader of the SoCal roots band the Cold Hard Facts. But neither precludes him from taking up the Hacienda Brothers mantle.
All of this would be somewhat less exciting if the Hacienda's self-titled debut had not been produced by a veritable living legend. "Dan Penn's been a hero of mine for years and years," says Gonzalez. Penn, whose curriculum vitae as a producer and songwriter (along with writing partner Spooner Oldham) reads like a who's-who of country and soul legends, had been friends with Gonzalez ever since they shared a stage in Europe in 1997. But Gonzalez was loath to bother him with a request to produce the Hacienda Brothers debut. Chicken, even. After all, Penn is the guy who wrote "I'm Your Puppet" and "Do Right Woman," ferfucksake--the creator of the Muscle Shoals sound. Finally, Gonzalez was persuaded to reach out at the urging of Schoonover.
"I didn't expect to hear back from (Penn) that quick, if at all, and I was very nervous about the whole thing, and within about three days, I heard from him. And he said 'Call me immediately!' And when I talked to him, he said, 'Man, Dave, I'm just knocked out by that demo you sent me. Matter of fact, it don't sound like a demo to me, and you don't really need a producer, but if you want one, I'm in.'"
The rest is kismet. Penn broke with his own rule of insisting that musicians come to him in Nashville, because he was so impressed with the Hacienda's demo and with Gaffney's voice that he wanted to be a part of it. He arrived in Tucson having written "The Years That Got Away" for Gaffney; while here, he and Gonzalez had a little "desert session" of writing that resulted in "Looking for Loneliness" on the debut. In a relatively brief time, Penn, Gonzalez and Gaffney formed a mutual admiration society that has only grown in intensity since the recording.
And now Gonzalez and Gaffney's experiment will get a full airing. Koch Nashville released the self-titled Hacienda Brothers debut on Tuesday. And Gonzalez has, for the first time, put out a record that features his first love--country; or, as Penn dubbed the Brothers' sound, "Western Soul." Gonzalez can now laugh about the battles he fought over country earlier in his career.
"I remember years ago arguing with Alligator Records, and I remember telling Warner Brothers when we were on 4AD that I wanted to do a country record. I told 'em that in the mid '90s. And they said, 'You want to do WHAT?' And I said I want to do a record that sounds like a '60s Willie Nelson record, and they said 'Are you crazy?' And I said, 'NO! "Crazy" is like one of my favorite songs in the whole world, that's what I'm talking about!'"