Dig that western soul from the Hacienda Brothers
The Hacienda Brothers are doing Waylon and Willie proud. The southwestern vintage country duo of Chris Gaffney and Dave Gonzalez work hard to carry the torch of their heroes, while infusing the outlaw sound with a rootsy twist of soul and delta blues with some gritty surf rock licks.
The pair recently released a self-titled debut on Koch Records Nashville, and while the sound may be a new refreshing dip into music's past (they've coined it "western soul"), the story of the eventual union between these two honky tonk stalwarts goes back a long way.
The two met back in the eighties in Los Angeles at the famous now-defunct club The Palomino, whose stage was graced by the likes of Bob Dylan, John Fogerty, Jerry Lee Lewis and Merle Haggard. Gaffney was playing in his slot as one of David Alvin's Guilty Men and, at the time, Gonzales was the primary singer, songwriter and guitar wiz for the Paladins.
"In the southwestern scene, there are a number of bands that always seem to be running into each other at the same clubs and festivals," says Gonzales in an early-morning interview from road stop in Tampa. "That's how it went for Chris and I. We met and instantly became friends."
After many years of bumping into each other and talking about collaborations, the two friends eventually set up shop in Tucson.
"We'd meet up and hang out, just drive around in my old Desoto and listen to old records or go down to Mexico and strum guitars. We wrote some songs right out of the chute and found out that we had a lot of inspiration together."
This desert-dweller bonding yielded a cache of new songs. Still the two friends couldn't decide whether to separately return to comfortable former gigs or make a go of this new project. Any waning inhibition was eased by producer Dan Penn, who the Haciendas tapped to produce the debut.
Penn currently resides as a revered Nashville mainstay, but he earned his reputation in the advent of rock 'n' roll, writing songs for Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin and shaping groundbreaking records at the historic Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.
"He always told me there was room for me in Nashville, but I had too much going on, so I left it as 'maybe someday,'" Gonzales says of Penn. "He's one of my heroes and I really look up to him as a songwriter and a producer. He couldn't have been a more perfect person to pick as our producer. It was a long shot, because we were on the West coast and he was back East, but I knew if Dan heard Chris sing he would dig it."
Penn heard a four-track demo and immediately dubbed the "western soul" moniker, also eagerly accepting the invitation to produce the duo. With some songs in the bank and Penn at the helm, the Hacienda Brothers recorded the debut that hit record stores in February.
Exhibiting the Hacienda intention, the record is a diverse musical stew that jumps from dance-friendly Tex-Mex instrumentals ("Railed") to old school horn-driven soul ("Looking for Loneliness") to introspective desert ballads ("She's Gone"). Some songs are, of course, written with the pretense: what would Willie do?
Gonzales himself admits, "I'll listen to a Willie Nelson record and attempt to write a song that I could actually pitch to him."
But this is a look at the Nelson style of old, and the band's unabashed approach at wearing influence on its sleeve never seems too copycat, especially when the geographic dimensions are blended ("Saguaro").
It's all amounted to the band being a new Americana force, recently making waves at South by Southwest, and a solidified group that is hitting the road hard and committed to two more records on its new label. The group recently finished a three-week stint in Europe and is now a coast-to-coast run through the United States, stopping at the Town Pump Tavern in Black Mountain tonight.
"Now we can finally say the Hacienda Brothers are more than just a side project, and Chris and I are really focused on it. We pretty much say we stepped in it. It's on our shoe now, so we gotta go for it."