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What came out of these cross-country sessions was the much-underestimated debut, The Paladins. Full of gritty material like "Let's Go," the debut landed them the Alligator deal and nearly two years of solid touring.
The roadwork is what gives the Paladins' music its bite. Since 1987, Gonzales estimates that the Paladins have played more than 1,000 shows.
Unfortunately, that kind of mileage takes a heavy toll in personnel. Eventually, even the most incorrigible greaser wants to sleep in his own bed. For the Paladins, the problem has for some reason come down to keeping a drummer. In the middle of the Let's Buzz recording sessions, Campbell quit. He was replaced by Phoenician Brian Fahey. Unfortunately, the road also got to Fahey and in 1992, he left the band. As a final twist, Fahey's replacement, Jeff Donovan, landed a lucrative gig in Dwight Yoakam's band. Fahey, who has been playing around the Valley in the Mazola Boys, has agreed to return and play on the new recording. He may also do a limited amount of touring. The band's drummer follies are clearly beginning to drive Gonzales mad.
"It's crazy, but I try not to get too worried about it," he says without laughing. "Brian's heart's there, but he knows he has to stay home and take care of his family. And Jeff's making good money with Dwight. Meanwhile, I've got a dozen other guys calling me, wanting to be our drummer."
No matter who's sitting on the drum stool, the center of what makes the Paladins tick remains Gonzales and his vintage arch-top guitar. Like Stevie Ray, he is a convincing front man who has the voice and chops to carry the band. When asked who influenced his playing style, Gonzales reels off a list that includes Merle Travis, Link Wray, James Burton, Don Rich, Magic Sam and Robert Jr. Lockwood. One he doesn't mention is Stevie Ray Vaughan. Gonzales' aggressive, attacking style is straight out of Stevie Ray. His greatest influence, though, was the late Hollywood Fats. A legendary character on the L.A. scene, Fats followed the Hendrix arc--live hard, play brilliantly, die young. Best known as a member of the James Harman Band, Fats died in December 1986. His one, out-of-print album, The Hollywood Fats Band, is a classic.
"In terms of guitarists, Fats was the heaviest guy I've ever seen or met," Gonzales says. "There was so much going on in his playing. He never sat down and said put your fingers here or put your fingers there, but he really tightened us up. He really inspired us."
Inspiration is something the Paladins could use some of lately. After two years of playing the major-label game, Gonzales says he's ready to get on with the new recording. Although he admits that the band thought about tinkering with its sound to find a more commercial direction, Gonzales says the new recording will be classic Paladins.
"It's been so frustrating beating our heads against the wall for two years. But we never really thought about changing. Going commercial, trying to give labels what they want instead of what we do," he says. "We're gonna keep playing the music that we love and are true to.
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