SAN JOSE MERCERY NEWS | by Shay Quillen, July 6, 2006

Festival Feature

The BlueJean Bop in Fremont is meant for people like Dave Gonzalez.

``I love the late '50s to late '60s -- country music, soul music, jazz, R&B, blues,'' says Gonzalez, the guitarist and primary songwriter for the ``western soul'' band the Hacienda Brothers. ``The whole style of everything from cars to clothes -- that's the part of American culture that hits me.''

Gonzalez, whose band is one of eight main-stage acts at the Sunday event, will be among kindred spirits. More than a thousand people -- from tattooed twentysomething couples to middle-aged gearheads and their kids -- are expected to converge at the Saddle Rack for this second annual celebration of ``American roots music and culture from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.''

About 6:15 p.m., the Hacienda Brothers will close the daytime outdoor festival, which is open to all ages and features a vintage car show, plenty to eat and drink, and vendors selling everything from '50s-style attire to car accessories. At night, the action moves inside the Saddle Rack, for an evening of live music and dancing for the 21-and-older crowd, culminating with a performance by Lee Rocker (10:45 p.m.).

 The musical lineup was put together by Tanoa Stewart, a 32-year-old Oakland roots-music fan and the agent for three Bay Area bands on the bill: Cari Lee & the Saddle-ites (performing at noon), Stompy Jones (1:15 p.m.), and Johnny Dilks & his Country Soul Brothers (2:30 p.m.). Also performing are Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics (5 and 9:20 p.m.), Vicky Tafoya & the Big Beat (8 p.m.) and the Carl Sonny Leyland Trio (3:45 p.m.).

``We wanted to mix different styles of roots music -- country bands, rockabilly bands, jazz, swing, R&B -- and bring all the factions of people together,'' Stewart says.

            But nothing conjures up postwar America like rockabilly, the raw, exuberant mix of country and blues defined by the 1954-55 recordings at Memphis' Sun Studios by Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore and Bill Black.

Both Rocker and Gonzalez were central figures in a rockabilly revival during the 1980s, Gonzalez as leader of San Diego's hard-touring Paladins, and Rocker as bassist for the world-famous Stray Cats. Gonzalez left the Paladins last year to explore a softer, more soulful brand of music, but Rocker (who also performs Saturday at San Francisco's Red Devil Lounge) is still living up to his stage name.

Now 45, Rocker grew up in New York as Leon Drucker, the son of two classical musicians (his father is Stanley Drucker, the principal clarinetist of the New York Philharmonic). He was exposed to all types of music, but was captivated by mid-'50s rockabilly and rock 'n' roll -- as well as the culture surrounding them.

``I do love custom cars and vintage cars and the whole thing, the haircuts,'' Rocker says. ``The whole lifestyle is awesome.''

As a teenager, he and his Long Island musician buddies moved to London and found fame. With hits like ``Stray Cat Strut'' and ``She's Sexy + 17,'' the Stray Cats brought the rockabilly look and sound to a new generation watching MTV. The band split for the first time in 1984, and Rocker has spent most of the time since leading his own band, amid occasional Stray Cats reunions.

In addition, he has found time to perform and record with such first-generation rockabilly masters as Moore and Carl Perkins, who taught him a valuable lesson, he says.

``What I've learned is to do your own thing with it, and that this music's not a museum piece that you dust off,'' Rocker says. ``It's a form of music like anything else, like blues or bluegrass or bebop jazz or heavy metal, and the best thing to do if you're an artist is to take that inspiration and do your own thing with it. And that's what keeps it real.''

Rocker still loves rockabilly, but he prefers the looser term ``Americana'' to describe the music featured on his latest album, ``Racin' the Devil.'' ``I think that sums it up better for what I do, which is play a lot of different kinds of roots things,'' Rocker says. ``I mean, some of it's definitely rockabilly, and some leans that way, and some things are more country or a little more punked out.''

Rocker sings smoothly, and his road-tested quartet plays with spirit, but what really makes the album stand out is its bounty of good original songs. Rocker wrote eight for the new disc, which also features an undiscovered gem from the Perkins songbook and a nifty minor-key reinvention of the Stray Cats' ``Rock This Town.''

Rocker's energetic live show, which features a couple of Stray Cats tunes, probably won't shock anyone who has followed his career. But the music of the Hacienda Brothers might come as a bit of a surprise to those used to hearing Gonzalez play greasy, bluesy rock 'n' roll with the Paladins.

``There's plenty of bands out there playing fast songs and in-your-face loud songs,'' says Gonzalez, 45. ``We're not trying to be one of those bands.''

Instead, the Hacienda Brothers (who also perform Friday at Don Quixote's in Felton) have come up with a Southwestern-flavored mix of '60s country and soul, featuring the weathered voice of Dave Alvin sideman Chris Gaffney.

Gonzalez sounds as if a weight has been lifted off his shoulders when he talks about moving from the rock 'n' roll trio, for which he also served as manager and lead singer, to the five-piece country band.

``It takes a lot of heat off me, man, because I can concentrate on just backing up my singer, or singing myself, and putting these songs together,'' Gonzalez says. ``I love to hear that steel guitar singing away and just be playing rhythm guitar.''

Gonzalez and Gaffney have found the perfect accomplice for their country-soul experiment, legendary songwriter and producer Dan Penn, the white country boy who wrote such '60s R&B classics as ``Do Right Woman, Do Right Man'' and ``Dark End of the Street.''

Gonzalez and Penn met at a festival in Europe where the Paladins were playing. They soon formed a strong friendship rooted in a love of soulful music and old cars.

Penn agreed to produce the Hacienda Brothers' self-titled 2005 debut, and the experience was so positive that all parties opted to join up again for the next disc, ``What's Wrong With Right.''

The brand-new album mixes originals with like-minded classics on the cusp of country and soul -- two Penn classics, two Charlie Rich tunes and the Intruders' 1968 R&B hit ``Cowboys to Girls,'' a vocal showpiece for Gaffney.

Gonzalez is particularly proud of the title track, the product of a day spent at Penn's place in Alabama tinkering on old cars and tractors. The two polished it up after dinner in Penn's demo studio, housed in an old Airstream trailer parked in his barn.

Gonzalez says he's learning a lot from the older Penn and Gaffney, and he's enjoying every lesson. ``I feel like I just got out of high school the other day with the Paladins, and now I'm in college.''

He has traded the sweat and energy of a Paladins show for a subtler and, he says, more satisfying musical experience.

``My songwriting is a lot less limited, and that's what I really wanted after being with the other band for over 20 years,'' Gonzalez says. ``It kind of opened things up.''