After 30 years in the game, the Miami band’s distinctive Latino twang remains as urgent as ever on new covers album
The Mavericks have never fit into any category. When they got together in Miami in 1989, they were one of the few country bands on the local scene and the only band playing the hardcore sounds of traditional country music.
Lead singer Raul Malo grew up in Miami’s Cuban community and brought a Latin flavor to the band’s arrangements, but the group also delved into rockabilly, Tex/Mex and old time rock and roll.
“From the start, we decided to please ourselves musically, without restricting ourselves to any one genre,” said Paul Deakin, the band’s drummer. “It’s why we’re still here and still having fun. We drive in our own lane and, when you’re known for being eclectic, you can always expand your range. Even when we were put in the country bin, we were always on the edge of the genre. We just did what we wanted to do. By the time we made Tampoline in 1998, we were an international act. That album was a massive pop hit in the UK. We went from nightclub gigs to playing The Royal Albert hall for six nights of sold out shows. Our sets were mostly originals, but we always included a few covers.
“Everyone in the band – Raul on lead vocals and rhythm guitar; lead guitarist Eddie Perez; Jerry Dale McFadden on keys and myself – is an audiophile, with a love of a wide range of music. We listen to more music than we play and we do two or three hour shows. During the day, on the bus, we listen. To prep for the show we listen and, an hour after the show, we listen to wind down, or keep the party going, or whatever the feeling is. We like Sinatra, disco, classic country, pop. When we do the sound checks before we play, we don’t want to be playing songs from the show, so someone will start playing a cover and we’ll all jump into it. Some of them we add to the set, some of them we play just for fun. Since we’ve never done a covers album, we thought it would be a good way to celebrate our 30th anniversary.”
The result is The Mavericks Play the Hits, an album with a cover designed to look like a compilation you might have found in the cutout bin of a local truckstop. With a band full of music lovers, the only problem they had was culling down the list of tunes to 11 tracks.
“We record all our sound checks,” Deakin said. “If we wanted to, we could make a boxed set of 10 CDs with all the covers we’ve played over the years. Like all our albums, this one wasn’t done in one sitting. Every so often, we schedule three days in the studio and often have no idea of what we’re going to do when we get in there. We’ll maybe start playing a Spanish song and think; ‘Let’s do a Spanish record.’ We work with the other players we bring on tour, including a horn section, accordion player and acoustic bass player.”
The arrangements on The Mavericks Play the Hits mirror their live shows and show off the band’s inventive instincts. The Patti Loveless hit “Blame It on Your Heart” gets a Cajun makeover. “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me)” is treated as a reggae waltz that would have made Ray Price’s head spin. “Don’t Be Cruel” gets a swinging treatment that’s as much Bob Wills and Louis Jordan, as it is Elvis Presley. Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” blends some Dwayne Eddy twang with a laid back, ska-like shuffle.
“All the arrangements were done on the fly, with our long time producer Niko Bolas along for the ride,” Deakin said. “When we were doing the Patsy Cline song (“Why Can’t She Be You”), Mickey Raphael, Willie Nelson’s harmonica player, stopped by. We asked him if he had his harps with him. He did, so he wound up on the record. He was there in the moment, so that’s what’s on the song. Live, we all play on the Freddy Fender song (‘Before the Next Teardrop Falls’). Raul went in to record acoustically, just running through it, before the rest of us came in. Niko pressed play. When we listened back, Niko said ‘This is beautiful as it is.’ He recorded the rehearsal for ‘Swingin’,’ the John Anderson song , and it became an album track. We didn’t even know he was recording. We did it in maybe four minutes. Johnny Cash used to say, ‘Let’s cut it before you learn it.’ When you don’t overthink it, you get that true rock and roll feel.”
AUDIO: The Mavericks Play The Hits (full album)