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Hacienda Brothers explores soul of the west

By T.J. Simon, March 2005

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Many of the original numbers penned for the Hacienda Brothers debut were written using a "What if..." approach.

On "Railed," for example, Gonzalez explains, "Chris and I were playing a lot in a beer joint called the Doll Hut in Southern California, and we used to jam on this song. It came from idea I had - What if Freddie King went to Bakersfield? That was my whole concept of the tune - it's kinda like a Freddie King tune with a Bakersfield country twist."

The track "Leavin' On My Mind" came into existence as a result of Gonzalez and Gaffney's mutual admiration for Waylon Jennings. "I had always dreamed of backing up Waylon," Gonzalez says. "I pretended that I was writing a song for Waylon with the intention of pitching it to him in Nashville."

Willie Nelson's stylistic fingerprints appear on "Walkin' on My Dreams." Gonzalez says, "I wrote that song as if I was going to pitch it to Willie as a b-side."

Nelson's songwriting style also served to unlock the door for Gaffney to write "Seven Little Numbers."

As Gonzalez explains, "For about a year, Gaff kept telling me he had an idea for a song called 'Don't Make That Call,' and the idea wouldn't get out of his head. I asked him what Willie Nelson would do with the theme. I suggested that Willie would write a song about the matchbook that the numbers were written on, and the next day, he had the first verse written. By the end of the day, he had it all arranged and completed."

A live mainstay of Gaffney's old band, The Cold Hard Facts, titled "Turn To Grey" also appears on the Hacienda Brothers debut. "It's a great country rock song with interesting words," Gonzalez says. "I heard a live version of The Cold Hard Facts playing it, and we talked Gaffney into letting us redo it for the record. My dad said it's his favorite song on the record." Penn also contributed background vocals to the track.

The covers chosen for the album also come from a variety of sources.

For example, Melba Montgomery's "He's Gone" was rearranged with a sex change and became "She's Gone." Montgomery's brother, Carl, happened to write "Six Days on the Road," a live staple of the Hacienda Brothers and, for that matter, every country bar band in America. Rather than re-record the classic, Gonzalez and Gaffney chose to cover a more obscure Carl Montgomery number, "South of Lonesome."

"We had to have a truck driving song on there," Gaffney says.

The track "Mental Revenge" was written by Mel Tillis, but made famous by Waylon Jennings. "When we made our first demo, we needed an electric guitar, rocked-up tune, so when we sent it out, it wouldn't be all slow songs," Gonzalez says. "I think it really showcases the grit of Chris' singing."

From a creative point of view, Gonzalez is noticeably rejuvenated in a manner that only a side project or new venture can do. "I've got suitcases full of songs on tape and in my head. Being in a trio for 23 years can be limiting. It became very stifling to my creativity," he explains.

Gonzalez continues, "If there was any song idea that I thought might be good - a hook line or guitar lick - I didn't shun it off. I chased it because there are no boundaries in the Hacienda Brothers. That's what's so awesome about this project."

All indications are that Gaffney will continue as Dave Alvin's main sidekick while still pursuing the vision of the Hacienda Brothers.

But the future of The Paladins is more of a question mark. The band's eighth record came out in 2003 with a time-consuming tour that exceeded 200 shows in one year's time.

"I've been trying for many years to get The Paladins expand the boundaries," Gonzalez confides. "Now, they're way on the back burner. After a while, it's just hard to be a trio. When I was writing with Chris, this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. I finally told the guys that I was going to be busy with the Hacienda Brothers, so we've wound things down quite a bit."

"I'll still play a few festivals later in the year with The Paladins," he adds.

For its part, Koch Nashville is bullish on the band. The label has reportedly asked the Hacienda Brothers to generate three albums over the next two years. And with Gonzalez' prolific songwriting abilities, it shouldn't be much of a problem.

Gaffney claims amazement at the inexhaustible nature of Gonzalez' songwriting gifts. "You've got to understand that Dave sleeps with his guitar, and he's writing all the time," Gaffney says.

Another refreshing part of the project is the lack of expectations Gaffney and Gonzalez are met with when playing shows under the new moniker. A national tour for the Hacienda Brothers is set to launch in March including a high-profile stop at Austin's South-by-Southwest music festival, historically a proving ground for young musical acts. And despite the duo's 50-plus combined years in the music industry, the Hacienda Brothers project has served to make the two veterans feel like rookies once again. Gonzalez explains, "We're just a brand new band, you know?"

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