Dave Gonzalez says the Paladins are at their best when pared down


By Steve Newton

When Paladins guitarist Dave Gonzales called snowbound Vancouver last week, yours truly wasn’t in a cheery mood—and it had nothing to do with the frosty mounds of white stuff entombing his car.

The TV news was broadcasting live press conferences with Iraq’s foreign minister and the U.S. Secretary of State following their last-ditch, six-hour meeting, and the results weren’t cause for optimism. Gonzales wasn’t too thrilled with the prospect of impending war either.

“Man, I’m bummed,” sighed the San Diego rocker. “We don’t need to be over there fightin’ for any oil. We got plenty of it.”

Gonzales may be right in his assertion that energy resources are at the core of U.S. involvement in the Persian Gulf. He is somewhat of an energy expert himself, as anyone who’s seen the Paladins perform at past Town Pump or 86 Street shows can attest.

When he cranks up his 1953 Guild guitar and churns into one of the Paladins’ hot-rockin’ roots tunes, the band delivers enough musical fuel to warm up the chilliest of nightspots.

Gonzales—who brings his band to the Commodore for a show next Saturday (January 26)—says the group first tapped into its power source through a love of rockabilly.

“We try to keep the energy of the rockabilly thing in all our music,” says Gonzales. “We’ve never been a straight rockabilly band, ’cause we’ve always mixed it up, but we always just dug the attitude of the rockabilly groups. We like to keep everybody dancing.”

Keeping the throngs hopping is a job that Gonzales, stand-up bassist Tom Yearsley, and drummer Brian Fahey handle very well between the three of them. Over the years the Paladins have been both a quartet and a quintet—with the addition of a second guitarist and then a pedal steel player—but Gonzales says the band is at its best when it’s pared down.

“We really like just bein’ a trio,” he says. “We started out as the Paladins backing a lotta people—we’d get a lot of gigs where we’d be the rhythm section for people like Charlie Musselwhite or Lowell Fulson or Smokey Wilson. A lot of blues people would come down to San Diego and need a group, and the San Diego Blues Organization would always hire us to open for and then back up whoever it was.

“So we really got to like the raw sound of a trio. Plus it was easier for us to really get out on the road and go all over the place with only three mouths to feed.”

The road does have its price, however. Long-time Paladins drummer Scott Campbell—who stuck with the band since its inception in 1978—had to pass on the band’s rigorous road trips when it came time for him to settle down. Unfortunately, he decided to split during the recording of the band’s latest album, Let’s Buzz.

“Scott had just got married and had a son, and it was gettin’ tough to be out on the road as much as we were. So right in the middle of the session he says, ‘Man, I love you guys, and I know that it’s not a good time to quit the group, but as much as we work, it’s never gonna be a good time.’

“So he had to go home and raise his son. He’s a great guy and he’s a great drummer, but we knew this other guy, Brian, and he was ready to slip right in there. And he fits right in, man. He’s a Paladin.”

And just what is a Paladin? Well, in the days of the ’60s TV show Have Gun Will Travel, it was a good-guy gunslinger played by Richard Boone.

“He was a tough guy but he never shot anybody,” says Gonzales. “He always talked everybody into doin’ the right thing, and he was a real cool role model for us.”

Paladins were originally the 12 peers of the court of Charlemagne, the great European king during the Dark Ages, and the word came to be applied to any officer of the palace or renowned hero.

“And Paladin also means protagonist of a cause,” adds Gonzales. “We thought that was a pretty fitting name for us, ’cause we’re really into preserving the traditional way of presenting this kind of music, using vintage instruments, and approaching it the way they used to go about it.”

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