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Domino Kings get life and 20

By Joel Bernstein, January 2001

Most alternative country bands become less country and more rock as their careers progress. The Domino Kings are going the opposite way.

Based in Springfield, Mo. - which once served as the home of the nationally broadcast Ozark Jamboree - they've evolved from a rockabilly band into a hard-core honky-tonk outfit, culminating in their new album "Life & 20" on the new Missouri-based Slewfoot Records.

The band, led by Steve Newman and Brian Capps, began working together six years ago. "I needed to play a party in Lebanon, Mo," says Capps, "and I needed a guitar player. A girl at a music store suggested Steve. She said I'd get along with him because everyone else hated him."

The two leaders split the songwriting and the vocals with New-man's guitar playing being another strong feature of the group. Drummer Les Gallier joined them about 2 1/2 years ago to create the current Domino Kings lineup.

Capps and Newman do a Lennon-McCartney thing, sharing the writer credits on each song regardless of which one wrote them. Each generally sings their own compositions, although the CD neglects to give vocal credits. ("It seemed like a good idea at the time," says Newman.)

That's Newman singing the first song, "Borrow A Lie" and Capps singing the next one, "Will He Be." One exception to the sing-your-own policy is "Letting Go Of You," written by Capps, but sung by Newman. "We usually write separately," says Capps, "but occasionally together."

Of the classic style murder ballad "Life And 20," written by Newman, he says, "It originally was half the speed and had twice as many verses. We called it 'Life And 20' because that's how long it took us to play it. "

Capps says, "We always did country music, but not a whole night of it. We did boogie, rockabilly, a blues song or two. About 2 1/2 years ago, we started playing the songs we grew up on - country and honky-tonk music. Our parents all listened to that."

Capps cites the usual suspects - Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard and Buck Owens - as major influences, along with Marty Robbins.

Newman explains the change this way. "We weren't making any money playing a little of everything, so we decided to go broke playing what we like."

The name Domino Kings came from an old band Capps was in. "The piano player was a dominos shark. He kept telling everyone he was the domino king. None of us know how to play dominos."

With "Life & 20" getting attention and getting the band the opportunity to tour nationally, the musicians (who give their ages as "30ish") have finally given up their day jobs. For Newman, it was easy "I got fired. I worked at a print shop for years. It just kind of worked out. We started getting the shows and the time to do them."

Capps had to make the decision. "I was a teacher. I worked with behavioral disorder kids. I took off this year because we started playing quite a bit. I thought we'd go at it full force. I got tired of going to work on two hours sleep."

The genesis of their first album, 1999's self-released "Lonesome Highway," came in unusual fashion. The band won studio time on Starsearch against several Garth Brooks soundalikes, according to the band.

The studio was in Knoxville, but they didn't like the sound there.

The studio, which specialized in overdubs for the likes of Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash, wasn't geared to recording this more raucous Missouri group from scratch.

"They treated us like we were trying to buy beer with food stamps," says Newman.

The band returned to Missouri and recorded the album at Lou Whitney's studio in Springfield, where Robbie Fulks and Dallas Wayne among others have also recorded.

Some people called the first album "hickabilly" because, while not retro, sounded a bit older.

The new album has a more produced quality, according to the band.

There's a common lyrical theme through much of the album of bitterness towards women over failed relationships that might lead some to consider the band misogynists. "We don't have a problem with women. That's just the best stuff to write about. That's what country music was." Newman, who is married, says his songs are "not about this wife. Yet."