ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, FEB. 7, 1990
By Steve Newton
When I interviewed the Havalinas I lucked out by procuring a ten-page promo package that gave me the facts on the members’ early days in bands like the Rockats, the Plugz, and the Cruzados, and explained the origin of the group’s name (they’re named after the javelina, a wild pig found in the American Southwest).
But the most intriguing bit of info in the press kit was a line from a March 1990 Interview magazine article, which called the Los Angeles-based roots rockers—who play the Town Pump this Wednesday (February 13)—“the best bluegrass band to sprout up in years”.
I wasn’t the only one amazed by that description.
“That baffled us too,” says the band’s singer and guitarist, Tim McConnell. “We spent hours trying to figure that one out.”
On the line from the Indigo Ranch in Malibu, McConnell—who also plays recorder, mandolin, dobro, keyboards, banjo, and harmonica—put the acoustic trio’s sound and vision in his own words.
“What I wanted to do with the band was do roots music, and to me what roots music is about is stuff like Bob Marley and the Wailers or Hank Williams. It’s people who are singing about stuff that’s going on around them, singing about it in a current way, and singing the words the way they talk—which is what I try to do when I’m writing. It’s just a down-to-earth approach to making music.”
Things don’t get a lot rootsier than the Havalinas’ pared-down, upright-bass-driven sound. They got some help achieving that back-porch feel from producer Don Gehman of R.E.M. and John Cougar Mellencamp fame, and they’ve also had some valuable support from one of rock’s most reclusive figures.
One night Bob Dylan checked the band out, while it was playing a little Hollywood club. The next day the Havalinas got a call to open for the legend on a European tour.
“That went really good,” says McConnell. “We got good press, and the audiences were really receptive to us, which we were worried about because we’d heard that lots of bands don’t make it past the third song, opening for him.”
It hasn’t all been fun and games for McConnell during his years in front of crowds, though. He still has vivid memories of one particularly tough gig that occurred back in 1980, when his swinging rockabilly band the Rockats played a mismatched bill with Kiss, of all people.
“That was intense,” recalls McConnell. “It’s wild to see 5,000 kids scream the word Kiss and nothing else, you know. But we actually got through our whole set—about halfway through they stopped chanting and started listening.
“And I’ve never really been a Kiss fan, but I’ve gotta confess—there was a point during their show where I ran out in the audience. And right then I would have given anything to be back on that stage.”