When legendary '60s producer and songwriter Dan Penn asks to help out with your next album, declining opens you to accusations of idiocy. Especially if you're Escondido roots-rock aficionado Dave Gonzalez. So when Penn got hold of a demo of Gonzalez's latest project, the Hacienda Brothers and said he wanted to produce it, Gonzalez jumped.
"I mean, Dan Penn," says Gonzalez with reverence. "I've known him for years, but this was a chance to actually record with him and write some songs with him."
Gonzalez is a country & western, rhythm & blues fanatic with a few dozen records written by Penn in his vinyl collection-records like "The Dark End Of The Street," "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man," "Cry Like A Baby" and "Is A Bluebird Blue?"
"He's written songs for the Box Tops and Aretha Franklin and Charlie Rich," says Gonzalez. "So when he asked to come down to Tucson to work with us, it was a dream come true."
Penn, Gonzalez and Southern California Americana stalwart Chris Gaffney spent a few weeks holed up in Tucson and Nashville crafting a modern country-soul classic. Like Gonzalez's early work with San Diego band the Paladins, the Hacienda Brothers' debut is a record out of a bygone era. It's nothing like modern country or modern R&B, thank god. Instead, it's as pretty as a Conway Twitty love song and as gritty as the Stax house band's dirty grooves.
It's the record Gonzalez always wanted to make. A record he's endeavored to make before.
When the Paladins were signed to Warner Bros., Gonzalez tried to convince the execs to let him make an album that paid homage to early '60s Willie Nelson. The company balked at the idea.
"They wanted another big, blues-heavy record," recalls Gonzalez. "I said, "No, no, no-everyone's doing that. Let's do early Ray Price or George Jones."
The record execs didn't buy it. But Gonzalez kept the dream alive until he finally hooked up with Penn and singer Gaffney.
"Just 'cause I can write it, don't mean I can recite it. You've got to have the right singer for the right song," he says. "I've just had a dream of Chris singing these songs on records.... He's like a soul singer that sounds like Waylon [Jennings]."
Gaffney had previously sung with honky-tonk immortals Webb Pierce and Hank Snow and had the perfect voice for Gonzalez' songs-songs like the Johnny Paycheck-style "She's Gone," the tear jerking "South of Lonesome" and the Ray Price-inspired "Seven Little Numbers."
Now all that's left is hitting the road, and Gonzalez is looking forward to it.
"This band is hot live," he says. "These cats can really go."