Dave Gonzalez of Paladins rockabilly fame on the Stone River Boys and playing country-soul
Starting in the '80s, guitarist Dave Gonzalez released a number of albums with the Southern California-based roots rockabilly trio the Paladins before later founding the western soul group the Hacienda Brothers in 2003 with Chris Gaffney. After Gaffney was diagnosed with liver cancer in early 2008, Gonzalez recruited a group of Austin musicians, including Mike Barfield, onetime leader of the Hollister, to do a benefit tour for Gaffney. After Gaffney passed away later that year, the band kept touring and eventually dubbed themselves the Stone River Boys. That outfit extends the direction of the Hacienda Brothers and delves into country soul. We spoke with Gonzalez about the group, as well as its forthcoming album.
Westword: The Stone River Boys are basically an extension of the Hacienda Brothers, right? You toured to raise money for Chris Gaffney's medical expenses from his battle with cancer and then kept on touring after his death?
Dave Gonzalez: We just kept on going. I always dug Mike Barfield, and he was a good friend of Gaff's. It was really like maybe that Gaff wanted us to hook up or something. It just kind of came together. And then we lost a couple of really good friends after that. It just seemed like one after another. As a matter of fact, I'm getting ready to go see Nick Curran, who's really sick right now. He's a great young blues star who's been coming up for a long time. We just did a benefit for him on Sunday, and they put him the hospital on Monday.
He's hanging on by a string. He made a couple of good records on his own and then the Fabulous Thunderbirds picked him up. He also backed up some really good rockabilly singers, and then he went out on his own and did a really great record. He's just barely thirty years old, man. He's very sick. I just can't believe all this stuff keeps going down. It's just really heart wrenching when you see young people...
And even Gaff, he was a young cat. He was in his mid-fifties. He was a tremendous singer and a big mentor of mine, and I was a big fan of his for a long time. I was a friend of his before we ever started playing music together. And that's the same with Barfield. Me and Barfield knew each other for a long time. I have his old records. I was a big fan. Gaff, he was real western and soul at the same time. And Barfield's that way, but he's real country and real soul. The combination of those things, I just really dig and having the opportunity to do that kind of music. We've been in the studio lately and working on the new Stone River Boys record. It's a good band.
Is the new material along the same lines as the last record?
Well, we went a little more soul, and we cut the whole record without steel guitar. I love steel guitar, and I had a few cuts that I really wanted that feel on, but we've got our keyboard guy with us now full-time. It just gave us such a unique sound, a fresh sound. We kind of just decided to go with what we cut. We just cut it all on the floor live and had minimal fixes and barely a few overdubs. We're going to go with it this way now, with just the keys for a while. And that's the band that's coming up there that we just cut the record with.
The steel guitar definitely gives it a little more of that extra twang, but do like playing with the keyboard player?
I love the keys, and I love the steel, too. I wish I could have them both. Maybe someday we will.
You grew up around country music, right? You dad was a big country fan.
I had a lot of people in my family that loved and played country music -- jazzers and Mexicans and rock and rollers, too. So it was great. I got a real good mixture of it all. I dug it all. I really just latched on to the roots music early, and those were always my heroes. My dad loved Waylon. I just remember that sound from when I was a kid, hearing that sound on the country radio or the records that my dad would play and, man, I just always loved that sound he had and that voice he had.
And then I had blues that really influenced me a lot that I learned from my grandma. She was really a blues fan and a jazzer. Then my mom was a real young rock and roll gal. So I got to hear a lot of rock and roll from her. It kind of all just stuck with me.
I went to Austin many times. I started going there in the early '80s, and a lot of people who were in Austin drifted in for the same reason. It seemed like it was a roots Mecca. It really seemed like people were coming from all over the States and from all over the world. A lot of great European players did real good roots music. It seems like we all just gravitate toward Austin.
When I first went there in 1982, I went to a big show and met Mike Barfield. We've known each other ever since then. I've seen his other bands play many times. We played a lot of shows together over the years. We have a lot of mutual friends. We all dug the musicians that we were hanging with and playing with. He ended up moving up to Austin and getting his stronghold going and I ended up getting in there and we just kept bumping into each other. We're all based out of Austin right now, but he's the only real Texan in the band. I'm originally from California. We've got two members from Nebraska and one member from Iowa.
When did you move to Austin?
I've been coming in and out since the early '80s, but I've been living there just about five years. I was in and out a lot and staying there over the years. I've known people and stayed there and played there for so long. It just took me a while to move there because you know that song "All My Exes Live in Texas"? I had to let it cool down a little bit before I slid in over there.
Is there still a big roots scene down there?
It's fantastic, and every time you turn around, every time you hear somebody new with a fresh take on it or just singing real good or cooking real good. It's just endless. There's so much talent there. It's one of America's greatest renewable resources -- roots music, Texas style. Everybody just gravitates there. It seems like every time I went there I just wanted to stick around and hear everybody playing and sing because there's so many good players down there.
Do the Stone River Boys ever get into rockabilly at all?
Every once in a while we'll slip a little bit of that in there. Mike, he sang quite a bit of it in the early days and so did I, and so did our bass player Scott [Esbeck, formerly of Los Straitjackets]. Every once in a while we'll whip out a classic, or we'll get a little bit of that sound and kind of slide it into one of our tunes. It's in there still. It never goes away. When I was playing a lot of rockabilly, I also liked a lot of blues and I liked a lot of country, and I liked the hybrid of what rockabilly was. To me, I was more of a hybrid-type rockabilly player than some of the cats that just exactly play it traditional note for note.
But the thing that always caught my ear about rockabilly music was these country dudes that loved blues and then rock and roll came on the scene. Combine those three things and to me that's the rockabilly sound. That's what Elvis was doing. That's what Johnny Burnette was doing. There are certain people that were more rocking and certain people... Buddy Holly, you know, he found the pop side of it. He had his smoother side of it, but some of it was real rocking. He started getting more pop and he realized he could cross over and open it up. Some people stayed more hardcore about it. There are still great young people getting turned on to it. I'm glad we got to do a lot of it, you know?
Our sound with the Stone River Boys... Barfield is country-soul. I'm coming from out West where we were kind of dubbed western soul and I always loved that combination of how soul music still had the country behind it. For instance, Charlie Rich or Conway Twitty or Percy Sledge or Otis Redding. You hear those records and they're soul records, but those are country people. "(Sittin' On) The Dock Of The Bay" to me is a perfect example of what country-soul is. It's a soul tune that's a country song.
To me, it's a big area there that's kind of hard for some people to wrap around it, but then when they hear it... If they love soul music and if they love country music, R&B or blues... It just seems like we keep turning to that for our influence and the way we want to play and sing and write.
So, our new record, as compared to our first one, is more country-soul. With the first one we started out as real hardcore country, and I love that, and about half way through, Mike says, "Man, we've got to get some R&B back in here, and some soul in here." We kind of realized we could do the country-soul thing really good together too. We like mixing it up. We like really twangy stuff and like real blues stuff.
Do you miss playing rockabilly at all, like the kind of stuff you did with the Paladins?
I really don't miss that too much. I really enjoy having a bigger sound and more musicians and just being able to play more arrangements and have more texture and more harmony. There's such a stripped down, rocking thing about a trio, but there's also a beauty about having a fuller sound and having a lot of other sounds in there besides the basic guitar, bass and drums.
And there are a lot of whole other styles of guitar playing that I was always trying to pursue and trying to find people and learn how to play that way with, and I really needed a bigger band to be able to do that -- accompaniment with rhythm guitar and melodic stuff that you have to do, which is what country-soul guitar is all about. It's a simpler kind of guitar. It's a lot different than the rockabilly or the blues scale. It's more of a major scale. It's really close. It's almost exactly the same as country music. It's major-scale-based type of guitar, more melodic. I just enjoy being able to do it.
We finally just made our second record, and we're still shopping it around a little bit. We have some new songs on the bandstand now. A lot of tunes I had I brought with me, and Mike had a lot of tunes. We've come into a big batch of material here where, if we are playing a country bar, we can be a little more twangy, but at the same time we'll just be real bluesy and just try to mix it up. The variety of what we're able to is what I really like. We're a roots band. We can do the blues, country and we can rock it up. We can also play nice and smooth and mellow and play some nice ballads too.
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