Black Music Matters Festival

This time, The Derailers are genuine

By Jon Johnson, March 2003

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"As far as getting lost, we know what that's like," says Hofeldt. "I don't think it could be any worse than that. Music is an important part of people's lives, and I think we've made a really positive record."

"Positive" is, in fact, perhaps the best description for "Genuine," for which the band once again retained Lehning's services.

"We were really happy with how it went last time," says Villanueva, "and he said he'd be willing to do it again, so we went with him. I guess it's about the same approach - just looking for good songs."

To take care of that, Lehning and The Derailers also brought back some of the writers who contributed to the last album, including hitmakers Kostas (who co-wrote "Boomerang Heart") and Jim Lauderdale (who pitched in on "The Way to My Heart" and "Take It Back").

Villanueva says that he and the other members of the group are big fans of Lauderdale's songs. "We listen to all kinds of demos, but Kyle definitely went to Jim Lauderdale's people and asked them for stuff."

Also contributing is former NRBQ guitarist Al Anderson, who penned the album's Beatlesque title track with Villanueva. Best of the bunch, perhaps, is "Alone With You," co-written by Hofeldt and recalling the best of Roy Orbison's early '60s Monument hits with its lush production and sweeping strings.

The album evokes the optimistic pop and country records of the first half of the '60s, from the Bakersfield Sound to Merseybeat. And even given the more modern studio sound that has resulted from Lehning's production, the band's heart clearly lies with pop and country recordings of that era.

For his part, Hofeldt (who, incidentally, is wearing his hair longer these days in what can only be described as something of an early Beatles look) maintains that other influences from that period have been there from the start, in spite of the group's longtime rep as Bakersfield Sound revivalists.

"I grew up listening to The Beatles and Elvis almost exclusively for a long time," says Hofeldt. "I didn't really care to listen to too much other music. Then I got into digging back into what The Beatles were listening to, like Chuck Berry, Carl Perkins and Buck Owens. I got into Buck Owens through The Beatles; 'Well, if The Beatles think he's cool, then I think he's cool. The '60s sound has always been prevalent in our music. I've always heard it. I think we've been able to spend more money and time in recording and have been able to do some more fun things in the studio that make the records richer."

"I think if you look at 'Jackpot,' 'I'm Your Man' clearly has a Beatles influence," continues Hofeldt. "On 'Reverb Deluxe,' 'Can't Stop a Train' has kind of a George Harrison/Roy Nichols guitar figure throughout it. Then on 'Full Western Dress,' there's 'Whatever Made You Change Your Mind' and 'Just to Spend the Night With You.' (They) had that sense of melody and pop hooks that I would say was influenced by The Beatles."

Beatles influences aside, The Derailers' sound is almost invariably compared to that of circa-'64 Buck Owens and the Buckaroos. In fact, Owens and The Derailers recorded a song together on 'Full Western Dress," and they usually perform a version of Owens' 1965 hit "Tiger By the Tail" as an encore.

Oddly enough, the band has never actually recorded a Buck Owens composition - the closest they've come has been a live rendition of Harlan Howard's "I'll Catch You When You Fall" on "Live Tracks," which is most closely associated with Owens' 1961 recording.

However, the band has finally recorded an Owens number for the new album, a 1967 instrumental called "The Happy-Go-Lucky Guitar."

"It was on the 'America's Most Wanted Band' album. As much as we get connected with Buck Owens, it took five records to finally record one of his compositions. This was the first Buck-penned song (we've recorded). It's kind of obscure. I think (Buck) will be happy because Don Rich (Owens' longtime lead guitarist and collaborator who died in a motorcycle accident in 1974) was co-writer on it."

The most recent addition to The Derailers' lineup has been veteran Austin drummer Scott Matthews, who joined the band (which also includes bassist Ed Adkins) in mid-2002 following a stint with Dale Watson, replacing longtime drummer Mark Horn.

"Mark moved back to Nashville," says Villanueva. "So we got Scott, and he's done a great job. We didn't even (have to) call him; he called us."

As for their expectations for the new album, both Villanueva and Hofeldt make no bones about the fact that they want to make records that sell well and get played on the radio.

"I think the songwriting has been a process," says Villanueva, "and I've been approaching it differently for quite a while, working at writing something that we think could be commercially viable. My favorite records are commercially viable - of course, at a different time, but I listen to the radio a lot, and there are still a lot of great songs. I'm just trying to build a better mousetrap."

"I think that what's changed is that as artists and songwriters we've grown," adds Hofeldt. "As far as the production goes, we definitely want to be on the radio. We get a producer to get a bit of a balance. Kyle's also a good song man, and we trusted his judgment. We made sure that we made a good-sounding record."

"That's why we don't produce our own records. If it was up to us, we'd probably make 'em sound just like (RCA's) Studio B and Capitol Records in 1965."