SACRAMENTO BEE | by Jim Carnes, July 7, 2006

Hacienda Brothers cookin’ up a new country mix

The Hacienda Brothers, it's safe to say, are the world's first Western soul supergroup. Led by Chris Gaffney (of Dave Alvin's Guilty Men band and his own Cold Hard Facts) and Dave Gonzalez (of the fabulous Paladins) and produced by the legendary writer-producer Dan Penn, the Hacienda Brothers take a new approach to roots music.

"We have a steel guitar player and we do soul music," says Gaffney in a recent telephone interview from Southern California. "I play accordion and acoustic guitar. We have an electric bass. We just play what we want using the instruments we have."

Gonzalez says he wanted "a band that wouldn't be limited musically in any way. No boundaries."

Gonzalez and Gaffney got together in Tucson, Ariz., Gaffney's hometown, and it's the Southwest flavor of that city, the mountains and the deserts, that helps inform the music. "Dan (Penn) is a soul man himself," Gaffney says. "He's an Alabama guy, but he fell in love with Tucson."

The Hacienda Brothers released a self-titled debut album in February 2005; the follow-up, "What's Wrong With Right," came out last week. Both were recorded in Tucson.

Gaffney started in music as a bass player after developing a poor record as a boxer.

"I retired from the ring in 1969, two years out of high school. We wouldn't be having any kind of conversation today if I hadn't quit," Gaffney says.

"I'd be scrambled. I have a detached retina, so I don't really see that well out of my left eye. The upside of that is that everybody looks freakin' beautiful."

Making music -- even when he's doing double duty as he will this summer, playing with the Hacienda Brothers and the Guilty Men (who will be at The Palms on Aug. 15) -- "beats working," he says. "I never go to play music to have a bad time. It's never seemed like a job to me."

Gaffney, who does most of the singing, says, "I've known Gonzalez forever. Since maybe 1986-87. It's been a long time. I was young then."

Gonzalez calls Gaffney a mentor and says he "just lays it out there with a 'soul-deep' maturity."

Gaffney and Gonzalez write or co-write most of the band's original songs, many of which are small masterpieces. Gonzalez and Penn co-wrote the title cut of the current album, and Gaffney drew upon his Latino and Irish heritage for one of the set's standouts, "If Daddy Don't Sing 'Danny Boy' Tonight."

Putting together a band was relatively easy, Gaffney says.

"You look for the vibe. You don't want to be in a band with a bunch of (jerks)."

The group they assembled includes drummer Dale Daniel (formerly of the Country- politans), bassist Hank Maninger (ex-Bonnie Hayes and the Wild Combo) and pedal steel player David Berzansky (who has played with the Country- politans and Cold Hard Facts).

Gonzalez says his favorite artists include "the two Rays -- Price and Charles." Gaffney's "favorite band in the world is UFO. I like 'Lights Out in London.'

"I'm looking at my records here. … I love James Brown and Doc Watson, Pop Staples. Weezer -- I like them, too. And Duke Ellington. If you're going to have a music collection, you might as well have the good stuff."

All the members of the band are fans of classic country music (and cite such influences as Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, Ferlin Husky and Buck Owens), but they dig old-school R&B, too.

The new "What's Wrong With Right" album features covers of Charlie Rich's "Rebound," the Spooner Oldham-Dan Penn tunes "Cry Like a Baby" and "It Tears Me Up," and the Kenny Gamble & Leon Huff hit (for the Intruders) "Cowboys to Girls."

"When you find a good song and you can pull it off, go for it," Gaffney says. "I guess we surprise people a little bit, but we just play what sounds nice to us.

"We're not stone-cold Western -- but when we play it, we are."