Friday, April 18, 2008

This road is filled with Heartache

Chris Gaffney(on accordian) & The Hacienda Bros.

Guest post from reader Amy Bianco:

Chris Gaffney- An Appreciation

We lost two great musicians yesterday, Danny Federici and Chris Gaffney. Both were significant talents in American music, but the one who may not be mentioned on CNN is Chris Gaffney. I did not know him personally, but I feel that I do know part of him through his music, wonderful recordings and the great live performances I got to witness. There will be many loving tributes to the facts of Chris Gaffney’s life, some cold and hard, like his not achieving more “commercial” success; some glowing and warm, such as the great admiration and affection that he and his music engendered. For me, a huge music fan, what I will remember is his soulful singing of honky tonk shuffles, rhythm and blues favorites and rollicking rockers. His phrasing was perfect and heartfelt, earned from decades of hard work throughout the bars and concert halls of the Southwest and beyond.

His seminal album, Road to Indio came out in 1986 and showcased his raucous blend of rock, honky tonk and norteno styles. He followed this album with Chris Gaffney and the Cold Hard Facts and Mi Vida Loca in the early 90’s. I saw him perform at SXSW back then and became an immediate fan. It was disappointing that he was not able to parlay that great sound into more success, as the “Americana” movement, which had been around for a couple of decades already, had not yet found its format name and platforms nationally, something that would eventually happen through satellite radio.

Chris would go on to become one of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men, where he added a wonderful spicy element to their sound with his great singing, guitar and accordion. He continued to play with Dave, eventually forming the Hacienda Brothers with Dave Gonzalez. In this incarnation Chris seemed to be in an excellent place creatively. The musical mix is similar to the Cold Hard Facts, but now there’s satellite radio and the Internet which make his music accessible to thousands (at least). His songwriting, which had always been witty (“don’t let love tear apart what lust has brought together”) and sometimes very pointed, as in 1968, had now found a perfect outlet.

The Hacienda Brothers hit a groove with its roots in the Bakersfield sound, as in their Americana favorite What’s Wrong With Right. In concert they’d then slip right into a killer version of a classic soul number such as Dan Penn’s Cry Like a Baby or Cowboys to Girls by Gamble and Huff. At least we will always have these recordings and a new one scheduled to be released early this summer. If you aren’t familiar with Chris Gaffney’s music, give it a try now; with such an early loss of a great talent, it’s one way his art can continue.
Believe me; I won’t ever be able to drive Highway 10 between Phoenix and LA again without humming The Road to Indio (even though it’s about for the way from Yuma):

This road is a highway
A highway to Hell
And if you’ve been on this road
I know you know it well
This road is filled with heartache
This road is filled with luck
This road is filled with local high school heavy metal trucks
I’m on the Road to Indio
I got no where else to go sir….

Amy Bianco
Scottsdale, AZ

Steve: I knew of Chris, as he had many friends out here in L.A. that I also know, but I never got to meet him. Talent finds many ways to succeed, not all involving money. Sometimes the best success is having people love your work.

Here's a link to the otherwise Right-wing OC Register's tribute to Chris:
Chris Gaffney, the Orange County singer-songwriter whose country and roots rock-tinged music earned him a small but fervent following in barrooms and concert halls around the world, died Thursday after a brief battle with liver cancer. He was 57.

For years, Gaffney gigged constantly around Orange and Los Angeles counties, playing the Swallow's Inn in San Juan Capistrano with his band the Cold Hard Facts on a Saturday night, then moving up the highway to the Blue Café in Long Beach for a show on Sunday afternoon.