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The Derailers hope to widen the track

By Robert Wooldridge, September 1999

For the past few years, The Derailers have enjoyed life on the road and support from Americana radio. With their third album "Full Western Dress," The Derailers hope to achieve more mainstream acceptance.

The Derailers driving forces are co-founders Tony Villanueva and Brian Hofeldt, who met in Portland, Ore. about a decade ago. The two share a fondness for the music of the '60's, which is evident in much of their own music. Though country music was the main influence, there was a strong rock influence, particularly from The Beatles.

"Ever since I was a kid, I loved the older sounding music," Hofeldt recalls. "Early rock and roll was hugely influential, mostly harmony singers. Through The Beatles, I got into people I might not have known like Carl Perkins. And I came to Buck Owens through The Beatles - I didn't know where 'Act Naturally' came from."

Hofeldt also lists George Harrison and Buckaroo Don Rich as influences on his lead guitar style, but it was James Burton who was most inspirational.

"James Burton was the master, the first guy to invent the bent note solo and play with thinner strings," says Hofeldt. "It was just a very different style that James Burton came up with playing on those Ricky Nelson records, then playing on a lot of Buck records and Merle Haggard records. He played countless sessions. Hugely influential to a lot of people, me included."

Perhaps having the greatest impact is Owens, who makes a guest appearance on the new album. "Play Me the Waltz of the Angels," a late addition to the album, is described by Villanueva as a song about "a young man playing a dance, and there's old people there. One old man looks like he's very depressed or not quite in the moment. He stands up and says 'play me the Waltz of the Angels, and I'll close my eyes and pretend, play me the Waltz of the Angels, so I can dance with my angel again.'"

Villanueva decided to send the song, which refers to an old Wynn Stewart hit, to Owens in hopes he would record the song with the band. "He called us and said, 'Man I'd love to sing it with you,'" says Villanueva. "Then he said, 'Something else you might not know, and that is that I played guitar on that original Wynn Stewart track.'"

"We're pretty thrilled about it," Villanueva says of working with Owens. "I'm glad that I can listen to it. I hope it's something that will work. It's quite an honor."

"We're blessed to be personal friends with Buck Owens," echoes Hofeldt. "It'sbeen rewarding to have somebody that you look up to in turn look back at you with respect."

Another hero the Austin-based band has worked with now on three albums ("Reverb Deluxe," 1997 and "Jackpot," 1996) is producer Dave Alvin, who also trades guitar licks with Hofeldt on one tune. "He really understands us," says Villanueva. "Each time I think we get closer to what we're striving for."

The new album includes a couple of prominent cover tunes. An unlikely choice would seem to be the pop hit "Then She Kissed Me." "Tony and I have been talking about that for a long time," says Hofeldt. "We're both huge Phil Spector and Beach Boy fans. We wanted to be a real '60's sounding band."

A more natural choice is Marty Robbins' "Knee Deep in the Blues," which Hofeldt says has "been a live staple for a lot of years. We love Marty Robbins. He's such a stylist. I kind of sing it in a different way - I, of course, could never meet the Marty Robbins sound. So I did it a little different."

Of the originals, the up-tempo "I'm Gonna Love, Love, Love You" stands out. "I had this kind of jumping mambo thing, and we started messing around and wrote the whole thing in one night," Hofeldt recalls. "It really clicked between us, and we had a great time doing it."

The ballad "Me, Myself and I" is traditional country at its best. "What a great tune," raves Hofeldt. "I can say that because I didn't write it. Tony wrote that with our friend Clay Blaker. That's about as country as cornbread. I'm proud to have something like that on our record."

Hofeldt is excited about the prospects for "Full Western Dress" (Sire). The Derailers are currently on the road in support of the new album, and a video and accompanying short film for the opening track "The Right Place" will be released.

Hofeldt has been impressed with the support The Derailers have received from Sire records head Seymour Stein. "It's kind of a boost, you know, having someone on the business end of things really be that into what you're doing, and really get it that well."

Americana radio has also been instrumental in increasing The Derailers' visibility. "It's the most exciting format I can imagine,' says Hofeldt. "We see a lot of people that are excited about it because it allows the kind of music they want to hear to be on the radio."

Hofeldt is also hopeful of acceptance on mainstream country radio. "The one thing that the explosion of the hat acts did is that it widened country music's audience vastly," he observes. "I can hardly think anything negative about that many people being into country music. So, that's exciting and the future of country only holds good in store because people that listen to music are going to demand what they want to hear at some point."