It's early evening, barely dark, and Dave Gonzalez has just pulled into Santa Fe, N.M. He's been on the road all day driving in from Austin, and only minutes earlier, he was driving into a Southwestern sunset.
"It was so beautiful, man, and it's wonderful weather now—they say it might snow here tonight, which is a real relief, because it was such a brutal summer in Texas. And I know you had it bad in Tucson this year, too."
A roots-rock guitar hero and bandleader, Gonzalez is a journeyman musician with longtime ties to Tucson and the Southwest. A former member of the roots-rockabilly group The Paladins and the Western-soul band the Hacienda Brothers, he has crossed the desert more times than he cares to remember during a career of more than 25 years. But he never tires of doing it—as long as he can bring his music to the listening public.
These days, Gonzalez has a brand new bag: the Stone River Boys, a terrific combo that plays equal amounts of honky-tonk, roots rock and R&B, creating one of the freshest sounds to arise lately from the genre known loosely as Americana.
The Stone River Boys will make their first appearance in the Old Pueblo during the Tucson Weekly's 2009 Fall Club Crawl®. Gonzalez and company will play at 10:30 p.m. on the outdoor Bud Select Music Stage.
The Stone River Boys came together last year in the wake of the death from liver cancer of accordionist and singer Chris Gaffney, who was Gonzalez's partner in the Hacienda Brothers.
Gonzalez's voice still cracks a little when remembering Gaffney, who passed away in April 2008.
"I was trying to get a band together to play some benefit shows when Gaff got sick, to help raise some money for his treatment, but we'd barely got started, and he died unexpectedly. So we still formed the band and toured, and we were able to send some money back to his widow."
That all-star Austin-based band grew into the Stone River Boys, which prominently features the singing and songwriting of Mike Barfield, a friend of Gaffney's and a longtime Austin musician. Barfield led his own band, The Hollisters, for many years and has been working a unique brand of country-soul as a solo act, for which he's earned the nickname the "Tyrant of Texas Funk."
Gonzalez provides a little background: "Even before Chris got sick, Mike had expressed some interest in doing something (with me), and then he had these songs ready to go, and we started hitting venues as the Stone River Boys. We went into the studio, writing more material, and now we have 15 solid songs in the can. We're just looking for the right label to release the album."
The Stone River Boys are a true hybrid, developing serious soulful grooves while staying true to hard-core country. It's Stax soul meets the Bakersfield sound, imbued with touches of Duane Eddy and spaghetti-Western soundtracks, thanks to Gonzalez's signature baritone guitar sound.
"We're like right there in my (musical) home, between Don Rich and Steve Cropper," he says.
Barfield and Gonzalez have employed several musicians as Stone River Boys in the last year, some of them former members of the Hacienda Brothers. They've spent months woodshedding and honing their live act. When in Austin, the group holds down a weekly happy-hour gig at the famous Continental Club.
"But now we're touring and gonna be on the road for a while," Gonzalez says. "We'll be back at the Continental as soon as we return to town."
On the current tour, the Stone River Boys include drummer Justin Jones (formerly of Billy Bacon and the Forbidden Pigs), Hacienda Brothers bassist Dave Berzansky and steel-guitarist extraordinaire Dave Biller.
Although the Stone River Boys are Gonzalez's main focus, he's been busy in his spare time, writing and recording at his Austin-based studio with legendary blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. The results of this collaboration will be featured on Musselwhite's next album.
"That's been a real pleasure and truly an honor. He's one of the great original harp players, and a deep soulful brother, let me tell you," he says.
"When Gaff passed away, Charlie wrote me the most beautiful e-mail and said, 'If you need a job, you've got one.' I've played with him a few times, but I said, 'I'm very flattered, but I need to play country; I can't play blues all the time.' So this project was the perfect compromise."
Whether playing blues, country, rootsy rock 'n' roll, R&B, swing or rockabilly, Gonzalez always has leaned toward music that is, for lack of a better word, old-fashioned. You won't likely be hearing a new Neptunes remix of a Stone River Boys single.
"I think what's missing in today's musical trends is the feel and sound and production of the classic records. That's what I want to capture in whatever music I happen to be playing. Newer is not always better in my book," Gonzalez says.
"I'm talking about the feel you get when you hear a classic like 'Do Right Woman,' 'I've Got a Tiger by the Tail,' 'Good-Hearted Woman'—the list goes on and on for me. I can feel it in Muscle Shoals and Motown, Johnny Paycheck and Waylon records, and the stuff by George Jones, everything from The Beatles to Count Basie, you know?"
Gonzalez acknowledges that some artists have made a lot of great recordings in recent years, but he stays true to the classics.
"I just never really veered around from those old sounds and values. There's still so much there; it's like a gold mine that is still producing," he says.
Dave Gonzalez and the Stone River Boys perform at 10:30 p.m. on the Bud Select Music Stage.