The 73 blog challenge – number 9: A profile
A cover version of a well-known hit, led me to a band which for some reason I thought was Welsh. I had no idea of anything at all about them, I just really liked the song – so, just in case I only liked that song and didn’t like any of their other music, I borrowed a CD from the library. I’d never heard anything by them before – only the cover version, but as soon as I heard the first track on the borrowed album, I was hooked.
What was it which just captivated me? It wasn’t my sort of music and I found it hard to define, country-rock, maybe? I had no idea, but I realised they weren’t Welsh but American. I was entranced, enthralled, bewitched maybe, by the strong lead guitar,by the perfect rhythm section of bass and drums, by the lead singer’s voice, so expressive, so clear, such range, so strong, so tender, so cheerful, so sad… I’d never heard a voice like it, so pure somehow and yet so rich…
I looked at the album cover; four men maybe in their thirties, staring impassively out of the photo. The two on the left were standing, the other two sitting. Which one was the singer? The cool appraising one standing on the left, or the one next to and slightly behind him, dark hair, a goatee and moustache a strong almost fierce expression? Or was it the one sitting at the front with a red jacket and a challenging look on his face – lighter brown hair, again bearded and moustached? Or the one on the right, sitting slightly further back, dark curly hair and a watchful, still expression.
There were names on the back of the album but it didn’t help identify which was the singer, the one with the mesmerising voice. He conveyed great joy, or tenderness, or sorrow, or enthusiasm, or passion, or loss, or heartbreak, or fun, or anger, or love… The band was terrific, and I wanted to know – which name matched which face? Was the singer the one with the fierce expression, maybe a little older than the others? Or the one at the front in the red jacket with the challenging look? I had no idea.
It didn’t take me long to find out the name of the band, the instruments they played, the songs they had written, and then to buy every other album I could find by them. If you know me you’ll know that the band is The Mavericks, and at that time the members were Paul Deakin on drums, Nick Kane lead guitar, Robert Reynolds bass and vocals, and Raul Malo guitar and vocals, and the writer of many if not most of their songs.
This is the background to my profile of Raul Malo. It is only a brief biography, to write about everything Raul has done and achieved would take a whole book… and maybe someone should write one!
Raúl Francisco Martínez-Malo Jr. was born on August 7, 1965 in Miami, Florida to parents who were Cuban. He was brought up with music all around him, not just at home but in the neighbourhood where local people played in public venues, sharing traditional music and songs and dance.
Like many young people Raul joined his friends from school to make music, playing bass guitar at that point, and it wasn’t long before he was in various bands. However, the magic began to happen when he and a school friend Robert Reynolds got together with drummer Paul Deakin and they became the Mavericks. At that point their influences were the class country acts, such as Hank Williams and Patsy Cline – and mixed with Raul’s Latin roots they produced a unique sound.
They worked throughout the 80’s and by the autumn of 1990 they were ready to release their own album called… The Mavericks! Raul had written the songs, and they were now joined by the guitarist Ben Peeler. The success of their album lead them to be signed by MCA, and this was when Raul really began to focus on writing, and on singing – using his magnificent, distinctive voice as an instrument to make, as I mentioned, their unique sound.
They played their first gig in Nashville in 1991, and David Lee Holt joined Deakin, Reynolds and Malo as lead guitarist. Fame followed, success building on success. In 1995 Nick Kane became lead guitar, and it was this quartet which really cemented the firm foundations which had been set during the early 90’s. Various other artists were associated with the band, including the one and only Jerry Dale McFadden. The Latin rhythms of Raul’s background and heritage began to infiltrate their music making them different from any other band in the USA, and in the world. In fact, the world embraced the Mavericks, and they developed a huge following in Europe and in Australia but also in many other countries too.
As with most bands, there were tensions and difficulties, and people wanted to follow different paths; the band separated for while and Raul released his first solo album, the magnificent ‘Today‘. The band reunited this time with the exuberant Eddie Perez as lead guitarist. An album was released and then once again, the members of the Mavericks drifted to pursue different interests and journeys. Raul continued to make albums and tour, sometimes solo, sometimes with a young accordionist, Michael Guerra.
The band reunited (to great joy from their many fans) and now with Jerry Dale McFadden as one of them, and always supported by Michael Guerra and usually Max Abrams on saxophone; this description – “a country band whose neo-honky-tonk tunes hark back to the 1950s and 1960s” although still true, became only part of what their music is today… Far wider, more eclectic, more diverse, full of passion and driving energy, still embracing their fans in a way many other bands do not, which is why their future success is probably guaranteed.
Throughout his career Raul has played with, been part of, collaborated with a wide variety of musicians from different genres of music; he recorded an album with The Royal Northern Sinfonia chamber orchestra of Great Britain, with Los Super Seven (“we maybe more but we are seven”) and has guested and featured on albums by many of the greatest singers of today.
The Mavericks have a huge back catalogue; songs they have written, and those written by others. They have performed and recorded covers from almost every major artist from across most genres of modern/poplar/contemporary music, as well as going back to their roots, and the music and artists who influenced them.
The music and performances and instrumentation is always superb, the rhythm from drums and bass (in the past bass guitar, more recently upright bass) keyboards, and the Tex-Mex-Latino-Cuban sound from accordion, brass (in the past the Havana Horns, now a duet of sax with Max Abrams, and trumpet) the melody – original, clever, often innovative – but I would suggest that it is the voice which is the forefront, that which captivates and engages. Raul’s voice is, to repeat, a “mesmerising voice” which conveys “great joy, or tenderness, or sorrow, or enthusiasm, or passion, or loss, or heartbreak, or fun, or anger, or love… ”
Raul not only sings, and plays, but writes… a Wikipedia entry shows a small sample of his most widely known songs, songs which what might be called ‘the general public’, would know – ‘All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down’, ‘Dance the Night Away’, ‘Here Comes the Rain’, ‘I Should Have Been True’, ‘There Goes My Heart’, ‘What a Crying Shame‘… but Raul must have written, performed, recorded, collaborated on hundreds more. As well as the Mavericks albums, Raul has written and released many others as a solo artist. Every fan will have their favourite, sometimes obscure song written by Raul.
Raul’s voice is captivating, hearing him singing even if you have never seen him live or recorded is mesmerising. However, to see him live, to listen to him performing in font of an audience is something else. He is charismatic, simply that. Performing solo, performing with a small ensemble, with the Mavericks, with a big band or even an orchestra, he shines, he illuminates the stage – and yet is also part of the whole performance. He performs with passion, to use a clichéed phrase, he always gives a hundred percent, always. And yet… and yet he is modest, it is never about himself, it is about the music.
Raul has exceptional and extraordinary talent, and yet when you meet him (which many fans are able to do as he so generously comes out after nearly every gig) the ordinary fan can’t help but be struck by his modesty, his friendliness and his gratitude to those who buy his music and come to his concerts. He is one of the most gifted, talented, versatile, imaginative, stunning people I have ever met. He is certainly the most charismatic.
This is a video which demonstrates the sort of person Raul is; a concert I attended was cancelled before it even started due to problems with the water supply. Most of the audience left and went home, tickets refunded; us hard-core fans waited, and were rewarded by Raul coming out and with Jerry Dale McFadden and trumpeter Paul Armstrong and sax-player Max Abrams, entertaining us – here is one of many videos taken of that night:
The article below will give you an insight into Raul’s passion for freedom and liberty, and his anger at the racism and destructive attitudes which are pervading his country and the world:
Here are some more links about Raul:
The first album I ever heard