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The Derailers ride the right track

By Brian Wahlert, September 1996

Page 2...

"Just being out there creates some energy" and interest in their music, though, according to Villaneuva.

The Derailers hooked up with Vic Gerard Ziolkowski, the bassist for the band Two Hoots and a Holler, and three-fourths of the band was set. They went through several drummers, however, before finding Terry Kirkendall, a former member of Dale Watson's band, about a month ago. Villanueva says it's "amazing psychologically, spiritually" to have a set band in which every member is going to stick around for a while.

They'll do it their own way, though, with no compromising. Villanueva is a firm believer that "the way to make good music is to make sure your roots are strong because without strong roots, you're not going to have very strong branches.... We want to make it keep growing and make it obvious where it comes from."

Where it comes from, of course, is straight out of Sixties honky tonks. Once again, Villanueva sounded a bit romantic when he talks about his heroes, who "lived out of a small suitcase with a bar of soap playing great music.... We hope to be even a shadow of the way those great people operated." After thinking for a second, though, he let out one of the huge laughs that come often during this conversation, and added, "but not drink as much whiskey and take as much speed."

Get him started talking about the state of modern country music, though, and he doesn't stop, not for a while at least. He says, "a lot of people who sit in those cubicles today just have no clue.... A lot of the people winning awards can't even play."

He blames Nashville's songwriters, too. "When those hip guys - Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Mel Tillis, Bill Anderson, Harlan Howard - were turning out great songs, they were thinkin' about it. They were clever, and sometimes they wrote fast, but they had good taste. They knew who Bob Wills was. They knew Tin Pan Alley and Hank Williams."

He does admit that "there's some amazing people in Nashville." He mentions Marty Stuart, George Strait, and not surprisingly, Dwight Yoakam. "He's got a great perspective on American music." The edgier people, though, "the Steve Earles, don't even want to claim to be country," Villanueva says.

What, then, is The Derailers place in mainstream country music? Villanueva says, "I'm not really worried about becoming a part of it." The group has found a home on Americana radio, which gave airplay to "Just One More Time," a song the group recorded for Watermelon's recent "Austin Country Nights" sampler. Americana also received "Live Tracks" well, and Villanueva hopes the trend will continue with "Jackpot."

He doesn't really expect massive fame and success, but he does point to Junior Brown as an unlikely success story. "He deserves every bit of credit he's getting," Villanueva says, because "it's an uphill battle" fighting against the mainstream. Based on Brown's success, he says, "If you do your own thing, it is possible to get that recognition.... If we stay at a grass-roots level, we've already got some good things going for us."

"I'm looking forward to going out there [on tour] in March through May," he says, adding, "It'll be fun to see what happens. "

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