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SWAG : PRESS
Hillbilly All-stars
Lonesome Highway, August 2006
Time for the Hillbilly All-Stars

Robert Reynolds and Paul Deakin are regular visitors to Ireland, both as members of the Mavericks and also as players in Kevin Montgomery's band The Road Trippers.  They are here with Kevin on a short full band tour, part of Kevin's ambitious attempt to play 364 gigs this year.  The other two members include Al Perkins on lap, pedal steel and Telecaster guitars and vocals and Mike McAdams on lead guitar and vocals, a formidable unit. Before the gig at Whelans.  We talked about the reformation of the Mavericks with a CD and DVD being released and how the band is still in existence, despite some denials, and the departure, again, of lead singer Raul Malo. 

Robert was at pains to point out that he and Paul owned the Mavericks name and while they didn't rule out working with Raul again, they didn't exclude either the possibility of working with another vocalist, or series of vocalists. They have indeed recorded a track for a compilation with Thad Cockerell as vocalist.

Paul   He stayed with me for a while and he just lives music 24/7 and his voice is one of the finest around.

Robert   He has a very special, honest voice and has been a huge fan of the total Mavericks package for a long time.  While some go with the “Mavericks are Raul” theory, and certainly Raul has been integral, I'm honest with myself about that.  He's the engine.  But Thad always thought that there was something to the overall sound of the band and he really embraced the idea of working with us.

Paul   So I wouldn't rule out the idea of the Mavericks featuring Thad Cockerell, or whoever.  It could be a series of guest singers. 

Robert   Often bands do revolve around lead singers, which quite often is what lead singers think.  Raul with his gorgeous voice may have a big hit doing something Harry Connick-like and part of me says I hope he does.  I always thought it was better to have a rough and tumble rock band behind it than to go with the obvious.  That being a kind of crooner thing.   It's been said that the latter-day Mavericks were like the world's highest paid wedding band...

Paul   Yeah, I've said that.

But on to more positive thoughts and ventures.  As well as playing in the Road Trippers, there has been a lot of activity for the duo from an upcoming band project to a more straight country venture with Chuck Mead (of BR549) and Robert's work on his own solo recordings (at gigs you can buy his two extended play works-in-progress CDs).

Paul   Robert and I have been down to Key West, to play a back-to-your-roots bar gig there.  A paid vacation.  And down there we met a guy that Robert had known called Matt King.  So we hung out with him and he had a show up in Nashville opening up for Buddy Guy and he asked Robert and I to back him.  So we ended up doing that, and the first rehearsal felt really good.  And also it felt good to hang out together, he has the same kind of spirit as us.  His manager, Bob Tilley, said that we should work as a band and that it would be great for Matt.  We talked about it for a number of months and the more we talked the more we wanted to do it.  He had a connection with the producer Jai Joyce, who produces Patti Griffin amongst others, so they got him to come see us in a studio that Robert had booked.  To get things moving forward, it was a “let's get in there a see what happens situation”.  So we recorded one day and then Jai came in to listen, and he's very busy, so he listened and said “take everything out except the bass drum and guitar” and he said “that sounds cool”.  He asked us if we were going to do anything else but said he was short on time - but he ended up staying there eleven hours.  And he came back the next day and also the next week.  And we'd cut ten songs with him.  Not that that is necessarily an album.  We signed on as a spec production deal so it's in his hands now.  The basic tracks are done and he has the them back at his studio and he's putting his magic on them.

How will this work - as a band or a solo thing?

Robert    It's a band.  Matt said upfront that he 'was tired of going it alone, I don't really want to be a solo artist, I'm looking for the camaraderie of a band'.  His spirit is in line with ours and he has approached this in the band context.  There are ways we can get around the publishing all falling into one man's pocket.  Either by co-writing or rewarding the band in some way.  In fact just talking about things like that can be so integral to knowing where someone really sits on idea of partnering-up.  There's a long, long road from the day you record something to it becoming any kind of a hit, or even out on an album.  You have to decide if you’re going to work in that area of sharing or you’re not.

Paul   The Mavericks did that a bit at the start.

Robert   But there was resentment.

Paul   In the beginning Raul agreed to that but I think he resented it.

Robert   Nashville has built a very old fashioned greedy system of publishers and writers who get very territorial and they don't usually recoginse the way that acts like REM or U2 work in that context.  It's more like “the writer’s the writer” and the publisher takes whatever he's finagled, which can be quite high as well. I remember, we hadn't been in Nashville a year, when Raul wanted to call a meeting about publishing and he said 'it doesn't work the way we set this up.'

Robert   I said no, that that was just one interpretation.  That there are many ways to do this thing.  We lived by our agreement, but it was never embraced.

Paul   That's why it's nice having someone like Matt who's a pretty established writer saying that he wants to have that camaraderie within the band.  And when we were in the studio with Jai Joyce we wrote two songs in there, as spur-of-the-moment things.

Robert   Paul wasn't told to go and have a coffee break, he contributed lyrics, but it was the music as much as anything that we were involved with.  Matt had written some very stream-of-conciousness lyrics as we were playing.   Paul was already coming up with the drum pattern and he said 'I want to put a vibe part down on this'.  So we were really writing music on the spot and it was at one-thirty, two o'clock at night and the boys were shutting the machines down for the night.  So I ran in and said 'No, fire it back up we want to record this thing now'.  So it's all fired back up and we go and cut this tune. 

Paul  At the end of it Robert was saying, and I have to go along with him, that it was the best musical experience, in the studio, that we have ever had.  It reminded me of the experience of working with Nick Lowe.  When you have that inspiration, working with a producer where you don't really know where it's going to go, and for it to come out as good as it does and has, so far, is exciting.

Robert   We'd had one production meeting with Jai to try to have him come on board, and it was like an hour at best, and we discussed what we were trying to accomplish.  He immediately made it clear that he was interested in something that was honest.  He didn't want a manufactured sound, that's not what he's interested in.  Like working with Nick, he had this thing of embracing the warts.  Taking the raw data and working with it.  He made me feel freer in the playing area to do anything I wanted.  Sometimes more whacked out that I would have dreamed of.  I'm like 'are you sure?' and he's saying 'go for it, it will be really cool'.

Paul   He doesn't do it all in post either.  He was doing stuff with a Fender Twin amp, in the drum room, feeding back.

Robert    It was mighty, re-miking and re-amping the drums.

Robert   I have been searching eBay and other places for odd instruments, the 10, 20 or even 50 dollar kind.  But I want them to be awful but maybe equally brilliant.   I found a Sears electric banjo for the late '50s or early '60s, just an awful thing with big knobs, mini-Humbucker pickup, not a banjo banjo, a four string banjo for plucking on, and in the studio Jai said 'Paul, grab that banjo and put it on your snare drum and play it with your sticks.'   It sounded brillant.  That's what that banjo was built for (laughs), we don't need Bela Fleck on that banjo.

Paul   I got so off on his production.  Like he went into a room where some friends were and he hears the chitter-chatter and he mikes up the room for this song we had about a meth lab.  He never said he was going to do it, he just went ahead and did it.  I said when I heard it 'is that bleed through?'   And he says, 'No, I did it on purpose'.

Robert   "He's very autonomous in his own way.  He very much makes you fall in with him and his production methods.  He's a soundscape master."

Paul   One time he had me take a mike and a headset and go outside and start brushing the wall.

Robert   Yeah, at eleven-thirty, twelve o'clock and people are going by and probably thinking 'Man, Paul’s really hit a low spot, he's sweeping up in a studio'.

The Hillbilly All-stars

Robert   Well, I was really combining the experiences that I'd had when I was doing the Buddy Holly tribute things that I do, which were never limited to just Buddy Holly, but I was a big fan and that was my excuse to do these things.  Buddy's music is always just a joy to go and reinvestigate.  So from '97 to today I had done these random gigs.  We'd just get on a bus with Mandy Barnett or Bill Lloyd, Pat de Nizio from the Smithereens, just great musicians, magical people, would come.  We had invited Chuck Mead but he couldn't make it because of scheduling.  It was a response to someone saying 'Oh, the Mavericks aren't available' but, in essence, some part of that Mavericks spirit is very available.  That used to piss me off that someone else was deciding how available I was.  So I would be thinking about what I wanted to do and it would anger me that someone would take a call and shut me out of something.  So I thought that besides Paul, and we've been lifelong friends, who else can I get involved with?  And there was one other guy who I have never worked with and who I felt affinity with and that was Chuck Mead.  I felt that I needed another musical director, front-man host, so I called Chuck and set up a meeting with him.  Chuck wanted time to process the idea and he had sat and listened to me.  So 24 hours later he rang me back and said 'Hey man, I'm all over this. I really like this idea.'  So I said ''Good, because I couldn't tell at the meeting'.  He said 'No, I didn't mean to seem that I wasn't interested, because I was listening'. 

Then over the coming weeks Paul and I talked some more and I wanted to prove it would work so I personally booked a date, a high-dollar date, I even impressed on some booking agents in Nashville that a lowly bass player from the Mavericks could book a date himself for good money.  So I said to Paul 'I got $18,500, who do we want on the show?'   So he said 'Let's call Mark Collie'.   I though great 'cause Mark is crazy, but good crazy and I love Mark.  So I had to see if he was up for it and he was.  He said 'I'm all over this', which he is.  Joy Lynn White - I called her and she said 'Yeah, what do I got to do?'   I said 'Sing about 5 songs' and she said 'I get paid to sing 5 songs?'   I said 'Yeah, that's the deal'.  So it started to go from there.

Paul   Thad did it with us also, Mark has had a profile, as he has had top ten and number one hits in the States so we wanted someone with his marquee value as well as someone more on the outside, like critically acclaimed Joy Lynn as well as someone more unknown like Thad but all with that hillbilly spirit.

Robert    But you have to bear in mind that we didn't form a band, we formed a live production.  It wasn't a case of going to Paul and Chuck and saying 'Let's form a band', it was more 'Let's create a show'.  The Hillbilly All-stars.  Our goal is that when one person is in the spotlight that people are in love with what they hear and see and buy that person's merch.  So it becomes a platform for these people, and for the rest of us as well.  The bass player from BR549, Mark Miller, has been the bass player on the first few things.  And he has his own solo stuff and he's a great singer too and so he does some of his tunes.  So the rule is if it fits it fits.  The future of it is to be a Hillbilly acid-trip.  Rhinestone suits.  And the dream is to have a full set design, with sideshow canvas banners. Very quick-paced.  Singer does two songs and you say 'she'll be back in a while'.

Paul   Both Robert and Chuck are great MCs, as you know.

Robert   Chuck knows how to put on a suit.   I do too, but Chuck is great.  That's what we're after, and it's really working.  A promoter in Toronto who loved The Mavericks saw the show and said it was one of his favourite shows that he'd ever seen.  He in his mid-twenties and he's a booking agent.  I met him a fair buyers' convention in Vegas, I'd flown out to do the whole thing, the meet-and-greet, to say 'Here's what I'm selling'.   I got a lot of contact and that guy is booking a lot of summer festivals, all for real money.  It's just up to us to put on a show that will knock them out.

Paul   That takes us back to the Mavericks, as we always felt that there was something else to the Mavericks other than Raul's world-class voice, and that wasn't necessarily incredible musicality it was just balls-to-the-wall fun and spirit.  So if we can wrap that up in this project, then that's when I say that the Mavericks aren't finished. The spirit is still there.

Robert   When we promote these shows, it's Chuck Mead from BR549 and Robert Reynolds and Paul Deakin from the Mavericks.  Then all the stars of the show and every musician is treated with great respect.  We are talking about doing a show under a heading like Waltz Across Texas, and getting guys like Joe Ely to guest.  Making it very visual and maybe filming it for DVD release.  He would be backed up by the Hillbilly All-stars and do a song he's loved since childhood or one he's written.

Paul   Or it could be city-based, like Chicago, where it wouldn't be that far-fetched to have Jack White come out to do a show.

Robert   Even Mark Collie has said that we could go out to Los Angeles, and he thought that before we do House Of Blues which the Mavericks have done, we could do the Troubadour and he'd bring his Hollywood friends like Billy Bob Thornton.   They'd give it a stamp of approval, because in the end it's a production and that stuff carries weight.   Mark has some great ideas.  And John Lee, who's helping out on the business side, has some great ideas.  We would look at sharing the costs of doing things, with good independents, rather than them paying for everything and 'expecting huge repayments'.   Finally, to marrying the two things, Matt King, (the band, by the way is called Limberjack) that fits right in, that Matt can come out on any given night, as Limberjack could be an opening twenty-minute slot for the Hillbilly All-stars, and then we fold into that and Matt could come out as a solo artist and do some songs.  So one is production and performance based and the other studio and live.  We can morph and mutate between the two.   But the Hillbilly All-stars we can just do if someone says 'Can you be there tomorrow night?'   If Chuck, or any of us, couldn't make an All-stars date we would still have a hell of a show and we all would still be very respectful of the production.  With Donnie Herron doing his Dylan dates, Chuck has to consider his options too and he is very much a part of this as well as with BR549, we are working it around everybody’s schedules.

Interview by Steve Rapid

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