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The Derailers soldier on

By Dawn Pomento, July 2006

The Derailers are en route between gigs in Louisiana, leaving Lafayette and heading to Baton Rouge. Lead singer and founding member Brian Hofeldt says over his cell phone that he and the band always have a great time in Louisiana because the food is uniformly good, and the people are always smiling. His band gathers fans at their energetic live shows, so Hofeldt is understandably cheerful about touring.

The well-chosen words just roll out from him, "The Derailers are always out on the road, visiting our fine friends and fans in this great land of ours."

It's pretty clear from the start that Hofeldt will be unfailingly polite, enthusiastic and wisely careful in his comments. There won't be any complaints or revelations.

But The Derailers, who released "Soldier of Love" in June on Palo Duro, wouldn't have survived for over a decade without self-control and a plan for success. Most of that plan hinges on delivering a good show, even if that means a little sweat or discomfort.

Hofeldt admits, "I've sort of been ruing the fact that we decided to wear suits. One day, we decided that's what our band uniform is going to be. There's something about looking sharp that's important to us. People coming out, spending their hard earned entertainment dollars. With all the choices they have to make today, for entertainment, and they decided to spend it on us, we want to look sharp and help entertain them."

Entertaining the fans extends to a classic rock and roll song structure. Hofeldt says, "We're very oriented to the three-minute song. That's sort of another of that '60s throwback thing. Over the course of the evening we play a 90-minute, 2-hour show. We're doing a lot of songs. But that's all right; that's the way we like it. After a while, a song should be done by three minutes, I think."

"Once again, just like the suits in summertime, sometimes having three-minute songs just means we have to play more songs." Hofeldt jokes, "If we jammed a little bit, we could maybe cut our number of songs in half."

The band look and retro sound go all the way back to 1994, when Hofeldt and his longtime friend Tony Villanueva formed The Derailers. The two were from Oregon, but they aspired to the Bakersfield Sound with Beatles influences and found musical success with the band in Austin. Villanueva, who took most of the lead vocals, has since left the band to pursue a higher calling as a minister.

When asked if Villanueva has heard this new release, the first by the band without him, Hofeldt sounds a bit surprised himself and says that Villanueva hasn't.

"I gotta get him a copy of this. He lives up in Oregon now. We're a little bit out of touch. I'm so busy doing what I'm doing, and he's busy dong what he's doing. I gotta give him a shout, get him a copy, see what he thinks. Tony's a great guy. He's always been very supportive and encouraging. I'll bet he'd be proud."

Like most big splits, the one between Villanueva and Hofeldt caused turmoil. "New Year's eve 2003 was his last gig." Hofeldt explains. "At that point, with Tony leaving the band, I just wasn't sure if I wanted to keep doing it because Tony and I had such a tight musical relationship, and we'd been doing that for 10 years at that point, and gosh, it was like a divorce. I missed my buddy. But I took a month off and talked to the guys in the band, and we decided to forge on."

The current guys in the band are Ed Adkins on bass and backup vocals, Scott Matthews on drums, Sweet Basil McJagger on piano and organ, and Chris Schlotzhauer on pedal steel and backup vocals.

"Soldiers of Love" pares down the extra production value that had been added, with mixed success, to the last two Derailers releases on Sony, "Meet the Derailers" and "Genuine."

This is also the first Derailers CD on Palo Duro, which makes Hofeldt especially happy. "Palo Duro is a great little label. The last four records have been with a major label. Now Sire/Warner Brothers, we really felt we were a priority, and they were interested in what we did. Then we moved to Sony, and we were sort of the stepchild eating in the garage. Kind of like a small fish in a big pond. We wanted to be with a label that looked at us as a priority and would be willing to do all it could to help us. It wasn't though such a bad experience with the others. But I wanted to be the big fish in the small pond instead. And Palo Duro was wide open. Chris Thomas, the president, he loved our show and loved our music. He was also a great cheerleader to what we were doing. We found a good home."

The Derailers found a new home and, unexpectedly, Hofeldt found a new collaborating partner for this CD.

Hofeldt recounts the story of how producer Buzz Cason approached the band. "We first ran into Buzz at Larry Joe Taylor's Texas Music Festival. That's a friend of ours who runs a great music festival, mostly Texas music, but he invites his friends from all over the country to come, too. I reckon he has over 50,00 people out there over the course of a weekend. Buzz was there as a singer/songwriter for the showcases. Buzz had come up and seen us and really enjoyed the show. He said it reminded him of starting out with his band, The Casuals, in Nashville. He's had an amazing career as a songwriter and producer. He wrote 'Everlasting Love' among many others. He also wrote 'Soldier of Love,' which had been a favorite of mine, since I had been a big Arthur Alexander fan, and obviously The Beatles - they both cut that song."

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