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Being "Natalie's dad" suits ace producer just fine

By Joel Bernstein, July 2000

Photo of Lloyd Maines and daughter Natalie of the Dixie Chicks

"I kid around that I've lost my identity," the man says. "I've gone from being Lloyd Maines, steel player and producer, to just 'Natalie's dad.'"

Even if many people don't realize it, Lloyd Maines remains one of the driving forces of Texas music after more than 20 years. And with regard to the Dixie Chicks, his contributions go beyond merely fathering their vocalist.

It began in Lubbock in 1951, when Lloyd was born into a musical family. His father and uncles led the regionally popular Maines Brothers Band.

"There was music around us a lot as kids. Just by osmosis, we took it in. I learned to play acoustic guitar. I taught my brothers. One learned bass. One learned drums. When my dad retired, we kept on as the 'Little Maines Brothers Band'. For a bunch of teens, playing Texas dance halls was eye-opening."

Maines took up the pedal steel at 17. "I had shown interest in it. Frank Carter, who played it in dad's band, had an old homemade one he brought over and set up. I learned on my own. There were no instructional videos back then. I just fell in love with the instrument. It was so expressive."

The band stopped working when the youngest brother finished high school.

Soon after that, "Joe Ely came through town. I knew him from working at a studio in Lubbock. I had hired Joe to play harmonica on a couple of gospel records. And I had seen The Flatlanders play."

Ely needed some money to move to Austin and was offered a weekend gig for the door.

"He got steel, bass and a fiddler/guitar player. No drums. No rehearsals. He did a few originals that were easy to follow and a lot of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers - stuff we could wing. The crowd went nuts. They'd never seen Ely outside The Flatlanders."

"The club offered us the next weekend, and Joe stayed. Word had gotten out, and the place was SRO. We made a lot more money. Joe said 'I'll hang around and do this for awhile.' We played about a year with no drums, then (guitarist) Jesse Taylor came aboard, and we got a drummer."

Ely's first album came out in 1977. "I traveled with Joe all over the world. I had a wife and young children at home. Joe was traveling so much. It got too much for me to handle. Joe was the coolest guy. He said 'I'm gonna miss you when you're not there. But any gig you can do you've got a standing invitation.' Even today, I still do some gigs with him."

The Maines Brothers Band reformed. "We had three albums out, and we were making a noise in the region when Mercury contacted us. We did two records for them, but it didn't really jell. We didn't fit in with anyone else on the label. They had no one to piggyback us with on tour."

In 1987, Mercury and the band mutually agreed to part ways. "We did another record, one of our best, and in 1990, we did one that was our worst. You could tell the desire to stay together had diminished. We never officially disbanded. We opened for the Chicks a few weeks ago in Lubbock. It was our first gig in four years, and it was a blast."

In 1988, as the Maines Band was winding down, "Jerry Jeff Walker called me. He'd been working solo and wanted to rekindle a band. He was going to do a live record at Gruene Hall, the oldest dancehall in Texas, and hand-picked some musicians. I played with him and produced several albums for him. When word spread that I was willing to come down to Austin (400 miles from Lubbock) I started getting tons of calls for session work. That association boosted my stock. I produced a couple of albums for the Lost Gonzo Band, then Robert Earl Keen."

Maines is now in constant demand. "I've had to start turning people down just because there isn't enough time. I used to work 12-14 hour days. Now I find I get by better with a little sleep. When I first started, I wanted to do everything for the experience of learning how to put things together - gospel, heavy metal, whatever. Now if I have a time slot and it's music I feel I can do justice to, I'll do it. So far, I've been able to arrange my calendar for anything cool. "

As far as what he brings as a producer, Maines says, "First and foremost, the basics. If it's a band, especially a new band, I try to help them play in time and in tune. If they need ideas, I'll help them with that. I think I'm good at getting the best out of people. The worst thing is to let the artist get uptight or down on themselves if things aren't going right. I try to keep everyone going with a posi-tive attitude. (One artist) called me the equivalent of a good football coach."

"Most of the stuff I do is pretty low budget. I've developed a knack of getting a lot done in a short time. I've played on big budget Nashville projects. The money's great, so I'm not complaining. But I'm thinking 'We spent all day on two songs. Back home, we'd have done six.'"

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