People who don’t like the fact that The Mavericks don’t fit neatly into the country music genre should blame AM radio.
Conversely, people who like The Mavericks’ genre-bending music should thank AM radio.
Raul Malo, lead singer of The Mavericks, certainly does.
“Growing up in Miami, I spent a lot of time with my grandparents, and my grandfather always had the AM radio on, which was cool, because the very same station would play Frank Sinatra, followed by The Beatles, or Patsy Cline,” said Malo, 48. “It was a really important way to be able to listen to music, because you listened without prejudice and got to hear so many styles.”
Plus, if he just listened to the local rock station, or the hits station, he never would have heard Sinatra.
“I mean, who’s better than Frank Sinatra? Compared to him, everyone else sounds like children,” Malo said.
Malo and The Mavericks bring their distinctive take on music to Portland’s State Theatre Friday, as part of the band’s 25th-anniversary tour.
The Mavericks first hit the Billboard country charts in the early 1990s, though they were different enough to rile some hard-core country fans. The band’s success helped fuel an “alternative country” scene.
The band’s sound includes hints of Tex-Mex music, old rock and roll and ’60s pop, plus country.
The band landed 14 songs on the Billboard country charts. Band members decided to split and work on solo projects, beginning in 2004, but reunited in 2012.
Malo said, for his part, he wanted to reunite because every time he wrote a song for a solo record he thought “This would be a great Mavericks song.”
“I think I just missed making music with those guys,” said Malo.
The band reunited, started touring and released the album “In Time” in 2013. The album got rave reviews from critics and was seen by many as a continuation of The Mavericks’ sound.
If you listen closely to the songs you can hear the AM radio influence Malo talks about.
“Back in Your Arms Again” has a Buck Owens guitar twang but with Malo’s voice sounding more like Marty Robbins. “Born to Be Blue” has a sort of Roy Orbison feel to it.
Malo said that as a youngster, the first musician he heard that made him really take notice was Elvis Presley, but not doing a rock song.
“I heard ‘It’s Now or Never’ and it blew my mind, I mean, that was a really serious record,” said Malo.
Malo said The Mavericks “sort of evolved” into a country band because they liked to play so many different styles and because critics always need to affix a label to a band.
So when they were starting out, in Miami, the old country tunes they played got them a lot of attention.
“In Miami, if you had a Telecaster (guitar) and played a Buck Owens song, you were an outcast,” said Malo.
Owens himself was an outcast for a while, playing music that was twangy and raw when Nashville was turning out songs with strings and lots of production. Malo and The Mavericks found Owens a kindred spirit, and visited him any time they went to Owens’ hometown of Bakersfield, California. Owens died in 2006.
“He had been through it, he knew what it was like to not quite fit into other people’s ideas of the music,” said Malo. “He always told us ‘keep your head down and keep going.’ And that’s what we do.”
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: