Every region has its heroes, those who follow their hearts into the future without thinking what they'll find there. And Southern California can lay claim to guitarist Dave Gonzalez, who's played a pivotal role in the roots revivalism of bands like the Paladins and Hacienda Brothers.
Now Gonzalez's latest band, the Stone River Boys, is taking the timeless elements of country and soul, and mashing them together with rare sonic finesse. And while it took several decades — and some pretty challenging changes along the way — to reach this point, the talented Californian figures he's still on a path that's been more or less pre-ordained.
"It always seemed like there was a guitar around and there were always drums around," says Gonzalez of his early upbringing. "My grandmother was married to a guy in a pretty famous orchestra. I got a lot of country music from my dad and uncles. And I heard a lot of blues and jazz from my mother's side of the family. Plus, she was very young when I was born and loved listening to rock 'n roll. So I got to hear so much roots music, and I've always loved that style."
After years tearing up bars and ballrooms in the infamous Paladins, Gonzalez formed the Hacienda Brothers with Chris Gaffney, a SoCal legend still talked about with joyful reverence.
"The rewards of playing with Gaff were incredible," he says of his cohort, who passed away two years ago. "He's someone I always looked up to so much as a singer and songwriter. When he got sick, the Hacienda Brothers were just turning the corner to success, but then he was gone. It was heartbreaking."
That band had formed a close bond with Memphis soul man Dan Penn, whose mentorship Gonzalez embraces: "He'd been another hero of mine for a long, long time, and is continuing to be helpful with the Stone River Boys."
With Gaffney's sudden illness and death causing the demise of the Haciendas, Gonzalez played some all-star shows in Texas and quickly found a musical affinity with Houston-based musician Mike Barfield, previously of the Hollisters and the Rounders. It only took a few gigs for Gonzalez to realize he had discovered his next step.
"We were just ready," he says. "I think part of the healing of losing Gaff is staying on this road, bearing the torch and keeping it alive. People say this is sort of like the Hacienda Brothers, and that I'm still moving forward. I know this is what I'm supposed to do."
On the group's debut, Love On the Dial, Gonzalez and Barfield mix and match Stephen Bruton's "Bluebonnet Blue" and Tyrone Davis' "Can I Change Your Mind" with a whole mess of originals. They even manage to make a gorgeous rendition of Carole King and Gerry Goffin's "Take a Giant Step" sound both classic and new.
Few groups can bounce from style to style with a sturdy strength, gathering steam as they go and avoiding retro traps. The Stone River Boys have found the secret to doing it, and they're just getting started.