Hacienda Brothers find national voice
Classic country and early soul aren't styles of music that are generally thought of at the same time. But exploring the combination of the Nashville and Memphis sounds from years ago brought together Dave Gonzalez and Chris Gaffney and created the Hacienda Brothers.
One of the "buzz bands" at last year's South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, the Hacienda Brothers have already taken Lincoln by storm, becoming one of the most popular acts at the Zoo Bar in just a few months.
"Both of us are big fans of soul music and real honky-tonk country," Gonzalez said of himself and Gaffney. "We tried to write songs in that vein. After all, Chris is a natural soul singer that sounds like Waylon. We're the odd couple individually. We have lots of differences. But musically, we're really, really close."
The closeness can be heard on "Hacienda Brothers," the duo's just-released Koch Records debut, and in the riveting live performances that have packed the Zoo Bar on all the band's previous Lincoln appearances.
Their local popularity is evidenced by the fact that the Haciendas are booked for a four-night stand at the Zoo starting with Wednesday's early 6 to 9 p.m. show and running through next weekend.
"I've never done that many nights anywhere before," said Gonzalez, a frequent Zoo visitor as leader of the bluesy rockabilly trio The Paladins. "We love the Zoo so much. There's not too many other places in the world we'd like to play more than one night, let alone four. But the Zoo is such a great place. It's one of the best clubs in the country. That place is like home."
Teaming up with Gaffney had been in Gonzalez's mind for years as he contemplated putting together a band to play old-school honky- tonk. Gaffney has put out solo records and has appeared in Lincoln playing accordion with Dave Alvin and the Guilty Men.
"I've been a fan of his for a long time, really, truly," Gonzalez said. "I met him back in '89 at the famous Palomino Club in north Hollywood. Every time, I've been at (his manager's) house, we'd talk about doing a project like this, and Gaff's name came up."
In 2002, Gaffney and Gonzalez finally got together, playing at a friend's birthday party, and they decided to give working together a try. But it was far from a full-time mission.
"It started out as a little side project," Gonzalez said in a telephone interview from his California home. "We did it when both of us had enough time to get together and drive to Tucson. After some time, we made a little demo, sent it out and then were able to pick our own producer to make the record. We couldn't believe it. Our dream came true."
That producer was Dan Penn, a soul music legend who wrote songs recorded by the the likes of Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin and worked at the famous Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., and American Studios in Memphis.
"He guided us right where we wanted to go," Gonzalez said. "He's the real deal."
"Hacienda Brothers" sounds like a country record with some shimmering Southwestern guitar tossed in for good measure. But there are plenty of touches that let the music live up to the title given it by Penn - "Western Soul."
The punchy horns on "Looking for Lonesome" are the most obvious soul sounds on the disc. But take out the pedal steel and "Seven Little Numbers" is as much soul ballad as it is country weeper. That soulful sense pervades the recording, giving the Haciendas' brand of country a far different shading than that of most of today's honky tonk revivalists.
Much of the credit for that goes to Gaffney, who learned to sing backing '50s/'60s country stars Webb Pierce, Hank Snow and Ferlin Huskey, then honed his soulful style fronting his own band, the Cold Hard Facts, for 25 years.
Even though he wrote or co-wrote half of the 14 tunes on "Hacienda Brothers," Gonzalez, who sings in The Paladins, was more than happy to step away from the microphone in the Hacienda Brothers.
"Just because I write it doesn't mean I want to recite it," he said. "I'd just as soon hear a Hacienda Brothers song done with intense vocals and whatever else will take it where it's supposed to go. He's a full-on soul singer. I can't do that."
Turning the vocal duties over to Gaffney also allows Gonzalez to concentrate on his guitar playing. After decades on the circuit with The Paladins, it would appear that Gonzalez could easily slide over to playing country songs. But those tunes aren't as simple as they sound.
"It's very, very difficult," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, the most difficult music I've played is country music and soul music."
Country and soul a la the Haciendas share another element, something Gaffney calls 'no cheese' - a straight-up approach that requires the same passion and commitment that the legends who created the genres in the '40s through the '60s brought to the music.
"You can't fake it," Gonzalez said. "You've got to definitely believe every word you sing and every note you play. It's a control thing. You've got to stay on it. You've got to be very convicted and very convincing."
That's particularly true in live performances.
"Chris and I worked real hard to find the exact right guys for the band," Gonzalez said. "On stage, all of us are there to back up Chris. When you have a band like this and a singer like Chris, you can really get some magic."
The Hacienda Brothers will be heading back to Austin for another SxSW appearance after their Lincoln shows and an Omaha gig. Then they'll be playing the legendary Gruene Hall, a honky-tonk outside New Braunfels, Texas, that's hosted a who's who of country over the years.
Gaffney, Gonzalez and company should feel just as much at home there as they do at the Zoo.