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"We were alternative for Miami," laughs Reynolds. "We'd have these crowds of Mohawked thrash kids in black tee shirts who thought we were hip as can be, some well-dressed young trendies and older folks who just plain liked country music."
The Mavericks would pack joints like the bluesy Cactus Cantina Grill and alternative rock hut Washington Square. Since they often followed rock-heavy groups and the like, they shied from describing themselves as "country" so as not to petrify the club owners.
"We'd just say we couldn't be categorized," Reynolds explains, "or we wouldn't say anything."
By the fall of the next year, wind of the Mavericks' unusual sound and, well, maverick configuration had begun to rustle Music City's heavy Pine Curtain ever so slightly. Encouraged, the band members pooled their monies and cut a 13-song effort, which they released independently. That tape eventually found its way to MCA-Nashville chieftain Bruce Hinton, who ordered that this strange band be brought to Nashville for an open showcase. With an audience that included a panoply of A&R reps from major labels--plus such early pro-Mavericks luminaries as Emmylou Harris and Patty Loveless--it took no more than the band's preshow sound check to convince showcase host MCA to sign the Miamians.
"We'd 'made the grade,' as it were, before the show," Reynolds recalls happily. "And we got five formal major-label offers afterward. But the deal was done."
Recognizing the Mavericks' reluctance to cater to Nashville norms (The process there doesn't interest us much," Reynolds understates. "We just don't fit.) and determined to capture the band's showcase sound, the Mavericks' inaugural MCA release was recorded at Miami's Criteria Studios. Produced by Steve Fishell (Jann Browne, McBride and the Ride)--who also contributes top-of-the-line dobro and pedal steel parts within--the initial tracks for From Hell to Paradise were laid down. Austin guitarist David Lee Holt--who cut his musical teeth with Texas legend Joe Ely and, more recently, has worked with ex-Screaming Siren Rosie Flores, Carlene Carter and the house band at famed Antone's in Austin--was recruited to add some electric leads to the effort. After Holt's session work, he became a Maverick.
From Hell to Paradise certainly captures the Mavericks' eclectic sound--left-of-center," as Reynolds calls it. Save for faithful, flavorful covers of Luke the Drifter's "Hey Good Lookin'" and the Harlan Howard/Buck Owens classic "Excuse Me (I Think I've Got a Heartache)--the latter rendered especially nicely by Malo's plaintive, Orbisonesque tenor--the album's contents are all written by Raul Malo. The album's filled with traditional country strains and sounds (the tender, pure country "This Broken Heart" should be savored forever) and Malo's lifelong different-drummer approach is evident in his songs about the homeless (Mr. Jones) and child abuse (Children). But it's the gripping, true story contained in the title cut that, if not the disc's best song, is the centerpiece of From Hell to Paradise.
Malo never tires of telling the story:
"My Aunt Delores was still in Cuba after my parents left for the States. One day, in the very early Sixties, Castro was in this big parade, and my aunt--who always spoke her mind--gave him hell as he passed by. Next thing she knew, there was a machine gun at the back of her head, and they took her to jail. Instead of keeping her there, they let her go, but told her that she couldn't leave the island for 30 years."
The normally upbeat, fast-talking Malo pauses.
"Thirty years to the day, she came over. The first thing she says is, 'From hell to paradise.'"
While the Mavericks are, by and large, happy as heck to reach the end of the Lounge n Around World Tour, they understand and appreciate how this unusual enterprise has been successful in introducing the equally unusual band to the record-buying masses. The oddity of it all has also gained them a wide and wild range of press recognition, including prominent mentions in such periodicals as Amusement Business and Elle magazines.
"Really," Reynolds maintains, "we are sorry to see it go. But we hope we don't have to do it again until the end of our careers, the natural time to be hitting hotel lounges. But it's worked out very, very well."
Now in Chicago putting the finishing touches on the Lounge n Around World Tour, the band prepares to go honky-tonkin'. The status of From Hell to Paradise is on their minds. Drummer Deakin has, in the past, kindly referred to a "logjam of great bands" making it naturally difficult to penetrate country-music radio stations' Nashville-or-nothing playlists. Malo is, typically, more forthright in his complaint.
"There's no room for real, old-fashioned country, it seems, or for good alternative country sounds, on radio," he states. "Maybe they forget that Johnny Cash was a rebel, too. It was hard for him to get played because of the same kind of attitudes."
Mavericks' bassist Reynolds is less pessimistic, referring to several new acts that, once finding space on country radio, prove to the music-director powers that it can work. Among those Reynolds mentions are Mary-Chapin Carpenter and Trisha Yearwood. Yearwood, who scored in a big way with last year's "She's in Love With the Boy," coincidentally (or not) has been romantically linked with none other than Robert Reynolds.