Despite changing line-ups, record deals gone sour, shifting trends and heart-wrenching personal problems, the West Coast-based trio continues to earn a solid living as a top club act.
The band's new album, "Palvoline No. 7," possesses a strong country flavor, marking a satisfying departure from their earlier blues-oriented discs.
"For years, we were too rockabilly for the blues crowd and too bluesy for the rockabilly crowd," says Pala-dins leader Dave Gonzalez, speaking from his Encinitas, Cal. home. "I really like George Jones, Johnny Paycheck, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens, Lefty Frizzell those guys are country, but they have blues in 'em."
"Nowadays, the country people I hear don't have any blues they don't even have any soul. It just doesn't have the depth that the old country music had. Sun records, same thing. I'll never get tired of listening to Carl Perkins, no way!"
Another important Paladins event has been the return of bass-slapper supreme Thomas Yearsley, who along with fellow founder, drummer Brian Fahey, creates a fiery chemistry with guitar-phenom Gonzalez.
Former bassist Joey Jadze-zewski, the inventor of the Palvoline pomade celebrated in the title of their seventh album, wanted off the road.
Roughly during the same time-span, Yearsely split up with his blues-belting wife Candye Kane, and Gonzalez' wife had left him. Subsequently, when invited back, Yearsely quickly replied, "I'm in!"
However, Gonzalez wasn't quite ready to cut a new Paladins disc. Trying to purge some of his break-up pain, he had spent an entire summer in his basement writing sad country songs for a proposed solo album.
When German-based Ruf Records asked for a new Paladins master, Gonzalez initially demurred. He relented when producer Mark Neill advised, "We should do it. I think it'd be a good idea to pick a couple of songs from your record so we can ease everyone into the country side of Dave Gonzalez."
The aching twang of "Gone" and "Long Way to Town" were initially slated for Gonzalez' solo project. They became the yin to the stylistic yang of the trio's raucous versions of Jerry Reed's "When You Make it They Take It," Wynn Stewart's "She Tears Me Up" and hot rockabilly and blues originals á la "How Long You Gonna Tease Me" and "Goin' To the City."
Gonzalez attributes much of "Palvoline's" success to guest musicians such as pianist Micah Hulsher of the Dusty 45s.
"We had Katie Webster playing with us on our first record. I've really missed having piano, and if Katie hadn't passed away, we would've had her play with us so much more. Micah's like the first guy I've found since Katie who's got that '50's rock 'n' roll-Jerry Lee thing, the country thing, the soul he can play Burt Bachrach if you want him to. The guys want to remain a trio, but you wouldn't believe the amount of fans, e-mail and letters we keep getting that ask, 'Wow, who's that piano player? Is he playing with you tonight?'"
The Paladins' leader is also enthusiastic about another guest, steel player Chris Lawrence.
"He's really a student of that early '60's Nashville stuff and also the early West Coast guys. He actually plays the steel guitar that was on a bunch of early Conway and Loretta and George Jones records. So, he knows what that instrument can do, and he uses it to its full capability."
Initially a quartet when formed in San Diego by Gonzalez in 1981, the group came to prominence during the flood of post-Elvis death rockabilly revivalists that gave us The Blasters and the Stray Cats.
Unfortunately, the '80's rockabilly revival petered out before The Paladins could release their much-lauded debut. Always vigilant, they survived by latching on to the blues revival that their late friend Stevie Ray Vaughan inspired and fashioned two highly recommended r&b-drenched discs for Alligator.
Follow-up albums for the Sector2 and 4AD labels stretched their artistic reach into swing and tougher rock sounds, but the poorly distributed outings did little for their career.
The Paladins returned to their rockabilly roots with the 1999 Ruf release "Slippin' In," a spirited set which showcased more Big Beat savvy and country leanings than anything they had done since their 1987 Wrestler album.
Then as now, the difference seems to be producer Neill, who has guided the band through their best LPs including "Palvoline No.7."
Gonzalez feels his approach dovetails perfectly with Neill's. "I just keep thinking about the production of those records and that's my bag. I try to write songs as if I was going to walk in and see Sam Phillips. The only guy I know who is in the same league or would know what Sam Phillips would do is Mark Neill. He's like Sam Phillips-meets-Owen Bradley. He knows the reasons why they did certain things a certain way."
"Palvoline No. 7's" brisk early sales have provoked a flurry of pre-tour activity from Gonzalez.
"When I'm home it's so slammed! There's getting the tour booked, getting the van ready which I do myself, get the promotion together, get the record out and do the interviews. I'm just so busy, and by the time I hit the road, I'm wore out."
With a chuckle the chief Paladin realizes, "I've got to go on tour to get some rest!"