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By Tom Murphy
"The Mavericks are pretty much anything but safe in this business," says Robert Reynolds, bassist for the hottest country band ever to come out of Miami, Florida. "I believe that if we brought in the music and did our best in the studio, we still couldn't make a straight-ahead contemporary country album. We'd fail at it."
By the same token, the Mavericks (vocalist/guitarist Raul Malo, drummer Paul Deakin, guitarist Nick Kane and Reynolds) aren't ready to commit commercial suicide. After signing a contract with MCA, among the most successful labels in the country-music industry, the band released 1992's From Hell to Paradise, a terrific, authentic disc that, according to Reynolds, moved a whopping 20,000 copies. This middling performance convinced the group's members to take a different approach on their next CD, this year's What a Crying Shame. They imported producer Don Cook, who's worked with slick country beefcakes such as Mark Collie. They supplemented compositions by Malo (whose work dominated Paradise) with efforts from Jesse Winchester, Bruce Springsteen and a Nashville ace known simply as Kostas. And they fleshed out their previously spare arrangements with contributions from session pros and guest stars that include dreamy vocalist Trisha Yearwood, who just happens to be married to Reynolds. The result? Shame just went gold, and the Mavericks seem on the cusp of big-time stardom.
Still, Reynolds doesn't want anyone to think that the Mavericks have compromised their music to the point that it's indistinguishable from the bulk of generic country presently racing up sales charts. "Formula and/or figuring out what works is kind of more human nature instead of someone scamming someone else," he insists. "I believe what we do sounds different than what's on the radio, but we did want to make an attempt at bringing ourselves to a broad audience."
This goal seemed impossible when the Mavericks got together in Miami circa the late Eighties. After all, the band had a hard enough time simply getting a gig. "There weren't really any original country bands doing the kind of thing we were doing back then," Reynolds remembers. "And there were only a few country bars. Early on, we had a few offers to perform in those venues, but they wanted us to do covers of contemporary radio stuff for four or five sets a night, and we didn't really want a part of that."
As a result, Reynolds says, "we played in many package shows where we were right alongside alternative or hard-rock bands. And if you put four rock bands and the Mavericks on the same bill, it's like, (he sings) `One of these things is not like the other.'"
By 1990 the band had released a self-titled album that got the country establishment's attention. Two years later, From Hell to Paradise appeared, to the delight of critics and the collective disinterest of the mass C&W audience. But MCA didn't give up on the Mavericks--nor did label representatives try to repackage the group in the image of other, more popular entertainers. "They thought, `This band is ready to go,'" Reynolds claims. "Which is good, because we'd never really be a part of anybody dressing us up. I've been putting my clothes on myself since my mom taught me--I don't need somebody to do it for me." He adds, "I know that in talking to Trisha, she felt more comfortable being in the studio than on the stage, so they needed to work on that with her. But with us, we didn't need a stylist or someone to teach us how to put on a show. I think that's something the record company immediately recognized."
In fact, Reynolds says the Mavericks' tour schedule in support of Paradise was so frantic that original guitarist David Lee Holt "burnt out--and the rest of us were pretty crispy, too." With Holt out of the picture, Kane was brought aboard, and the Mavericks have hit the road again, in an effort to capitalize on the band's newfound fame. Shame is firmly lodged among the ten best-selling new country discs in the U.S., and the song "O What a Thrill" has climbed into the top 25 on the Billboard country-singles chart. These achievements have led to renewed interest in the quartet's first album, which may be reissued by an independent label in the next several months.
Reynolds, meanwhile, is doing his best to maintain his group's outsider status. Even as he talks knowledgeably about marketing and sales, he boasts that the Mavericks' various influences set them apart from the majority of the hunky hat-wearers out there. In addition to revering the work of Hank Williams Jr. and Charlie Daniels, Reynolds numbers the Pretenders, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello among his favorite artists. It's no surprise, then, that he describes the Mavericks' output as "renegade country." He's smart enough, however, to realize that renegades don't last forever.
"If this sound catches on," he notes, "there's a chance that five years from now, we'll all be imitating each other. And someone new could come along and say, `Let's bust up this party.'"
Michael Martin Murphey's Westfest, featuring the Mavericks. Saturday-Monday, September 3-5, Copper Mountain Resort, $19-$54, 1-800-458-8386.