The Mavericks, a country band whose neo-honky-tonk tunes hark back to the 1950s and 1960s, found success in Nashville with the release of their second major label album, What a Crying Shame, in 1994. The album’s breakthrough helped to introduce country fans to the group’s poetic, socially-conscious worldview and raucous, rock-influenced delivery. “To players as seasoned as the Mavericks, the simple chord changes and boom-chicka-boom bass lines of country music aren’t exactly rocket science,” wrote Doug Adrianson in the Miami Herald. “What grabs your attention are the instantly unforgettable melodies … and the unanimous vigor of the band’s playing.” Adrianson added that the Mavericks’ rockabilly twang provides “the freshest sound in town.”
Odd success stories are a Nashville staple, but few can top that of the Mavericks, who formed in Miami in 1989, attracted a loyal following in the trendy rock clubs of Miami’s South Beach, and emerged as stars after their first major-label album sold less than 20,000 copies. Lead vocalist and songwriter Raul Malo told the Charlotte
Members include Paul Deakin (born c. 1959 in Ohio), drums; Nick Kane (replaced Ben Peeler and David Lee Holt) , lead guitar; Raul Malo (born c. 1965 in Miami, FL), songwriting, vocals, guitar; Robert Reynolds (born c. 1962 in Kansas City, MO; married Trisha Yearwood [a country singer], 1994), vocals, bass.
Malo and Peeler formed group the Mavericks, 1989, in Miami, FL; released first album, The Mavericks, 1991; signed with MCA Records, 1992.
Awards: Platinum album award for What a Crying Shame, 1995.
Addresses: Record company —MCA Records, 60 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203. Management — TCA Group, P.O. Box 23329, Nashville, TN 37202.
Lotte Observer that he wrote a more commercially appealing mix of songs for the group’s second album in order to “keep this band and this music alive.” He added: “That was always on the back of our mind, but you try not to let that cloud your judgment too much. The so-called integrity thing is so subjective, but I know we can sleep well at night with what we’ve done.”
Some critics have accused the Mavericks of lightening up their message and style in order to appeal to a wider range of listeners. In fact, the band owes its very success to its members’ insistence upon artistic integrity at a time when they couldn’t even make a subsistence wage as performers. The group was founded in 1989 by Malo, a Cuban American and native of Miami whose parents had fled the regime of Cuban revolutionary Fidel Castro. Malo, who grew up listening to his parents’ collection of country records, gravitated to pop music as a teen. He played in Miami pop-rock bands, including the Tomboys and the Basics, until the night he heard Rodney Crowell perform at a club in Miami Beach. He told the Miami Herald: “I knew at that moment that he was doing exactly what I wanted to do.” Malo quit the Basics to form a new band of his own.
First Malo recruited acoustic guitar player Ben Peeler— himself a classically trained college music student. After several months with various backup players, the duo approached bassist Robert Reynolds and drummer Paul Deakin, two close friends who had also been playing in pop bands. The quartet quickly adopted the Mavericks as a good name for their band, and small wonder—they found work not in the numerous country music clubs in Broward County but in the rock venues of South Beach. The country music clubs spurned them because they wanted to play original songs rather than merely covering other stars’ hits.
“The greatest thing about the band is that it was started for the right reasons: to play, with no idea of what was going to happen,” Malo explained in the Miami Herald. “We started playing around town with no real expectations. People started coming out, and before you knew it every place we played was packed. We’d get these thrash kids—the punks, heavy metal kids with mohawks—thinking we were the hippest thing in town. And we’d get these older people coming out because we were playing country music.”
For more than two years the Mavericks reveled in their local popularity, augmenting their meager earnings as performers with day jobs and occasional appearances with more conventional bands. Gradually—as Malo added more and more songs he had written to their play list—they began to ponder the possibilities of landing a recording contract with a big Nashville record company. In 1991 the group scraped together $7,000 and recorded a 13-song album that was released by the Miami-based Yesterday & Today Records. The idea was not to sell a massive number of albums—in fact, only about 5,000 were produced—but to interest a bigger company in the band’s sound and style.
The ploy was a common one, but for the Mavericks it worked like a charm. Executives at several Nashville studios competed with one another to sign the group. Late in 1991 MCA Records arranged for the Mavericks to play a concert in Nashville. Producer Tony Brown signed the band to a multiple record deal—so the story goes—before the musicians had even finished their sound check. The Mavericks’ first MCA album, From Hell to Paradise, was released in the spring of 1992.
Dark and poetic with songs about child abuse, rundown neighborhoods, and the plight of political refugees, From Hell to Paradise won rave reviews for the Mavericks from record critics. But country radio stations failed to play the singles MCA released from the album. As a result, sales of From Hell to Paradise failed even to cover production costs, and the Mavericks found themselves booked into hotel lounges and country fairs. They still had the multiple-record deal, though, and Malo decided his band was well worth preserving. He teamed with some of Nashville’s most successful songwriters, including Kostas and Harlan Howard, and wrote a new group of songs in the time-honored honky-tonk tradition of love lost and found.
The resulting work, What a Crying Shame, brought the Mavericks the exposure they had hoped for. With some hard work by the radio promotions department at MCA, the title song became a hit; the album was certified gold in sales just a few months after its 1994 release. (It later went platinum.) The Mavericks, with new lead guitarist Nick Kane, found commercial success without compromising their rowdy rockabilly sound. Miami Herald music critic Fernando Gonzalez wrote: “The lyrics of the newer songs might be more in the conventional … country fare, but in their delivery, the Mavericks deftly undercut sentimentality with no-nonsense urgency. This band doesn’t exactly wallow in emotion. Malo says his piece and moves on—broken heart or not.”
Having established themselves in Music City, the Mavericks embarked on the standard record-and-tour lifestyle of major country artists. Reynolds married singer Trisha Yearwood in 1994, and he and the other members of the group have all moved to Nashville. “If you dug old country music like we did, and were so far away from the place it originated,” Reynolds told the Philadelphia Daily News, “then moved to this town and were living blocks from the Ryman Auditorium [home of the original Grand Ole Opry], you start thinking just pure good of country music.”
Malo, whose engaging tenor vocals serve to anchor the group, added that he plans to continue melding traditional and novel sounds in his songs. “You know that fine line between rock ‘n’ roll and country?” he asked in the Philadelphia Daily News. “We just kind of want to make it a little wider so we can walk on it.” When asked about the group’s future efforts, Malo told Country Music contributor Patrick Carr, “I’m a little reluctant to use the term ‘ballroom country,’ but that’s what I have in mind, something very swinging and sophisticated.”
The Mavericks, Yesterday & Today, 1991.
From Hell to Paradise, MCA, 1992.
What a Crying Shame, MCA, 1994.
Charlotte Observer, November 10, 1994.
Country Music, March/April 1995.
Lexington Herald-Leader, February 10, 1994.
Miami Herald, April 21, 1990; December 7, 1990; November 2, 1991; August 15, 1993; October 27, 1994; November 2, 1994.
Philadelphia Daily News, April 16, 1994.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from MCA Nashville publicity materials.
—Anne Janette Johnson
Members: Paul Deakin, drums (born Miami, Florida, 2 September 1959); Nicholas Kane, guitar (born Jerusalem, Georgia, 21 August 1954); Raul Malo, vocals, guitar (born Miami, Florida, 7 August 1965); Robert Reynolds, bass (born Kansas City, Missouri, 30 April 1962). Former member: David Lee Holt, guitar.
Best-selling album since 1990: What a Crying Shame (1994)
Hit songs since 1990: "O What a Thrill," "There Goes My Heart"
A popular band led by expressive vocalist Raul Malo, the Mavericks were an anomaly in 1990s country. Never as smooth sounding as the more commercially successful group Lonestar, the Mavericks pioneered a highly individualistic style that drew upon traditional country instrumentation of guitar, drums, and fiddles. Malo, a distinctive and engaging singer, brought an additional perspective to the group through his Cuban-American heritage. On ballads, he combined the lush vocalizing of 1950s Cuban balladeers such as Beny Moré with the dramatic style of 1960s pop and rock crooner Roy Orbison. Backing Malo with tight, rhythmically precise playing, the group's members created an explosive yet warm sound.
The Mavericks formed in Miami, Florida, after Malo, a longtime country fan, met bassist Robert Reynolds, who shared his fondness for classic country vocalists such as Patsy Cline and Orbison. After Reynolds recruited the talents of his best friend, drummer Paul Deakin, the group began playing rock clubs in the Miami area. In 1990 the band released its independently financed debut album, which received substantial local airplay in Florida before attracting the notice of several record companies in the country capital of Nashville, Tennessee. Signing with MCA Records in 1991, the group issued its first major-label release, From Hell to Paradise, the next year. A rich collection distinguished by Malo's keening tenor, the album mines country tradition with exciting results. On "This Broken Heart," a lustrous ballad complete with lonesome-sounding steel pedal guitar, Malo draws out his vocal lines in the languid style of Orbison, while the high, emotional catch in his voice recalls Moré and other Cuban balladeers. The title track, featuring several lyrics sung in Spanish, is a biting, angry critique of the Cuban revolution and the repressive government of postrevolutionary leader Fidel Castro. Overall, From Hell to Paradise established the Mavericks as a unique, uncompromising force in contemporary country.
In 1994 the group achieved its biggest commercial success with What a Crying Shame, which featured minor country hits such as "There Goes My Heart" and the title track. Lacking From Hell to Paradise 's energetic spark, the album nonetheless veers comfortably between swinging, up-tempo numbers and rock-influenced ballads such as "All That Heaven Will Allow," originally recorded by Bruce Springsteen.
The album's follow-up, Music for All Occasions (1995), combines the group's country orientation with a nostalgic penchant for 1950s pop music. "Foolish Heart," for example, features a catchy, galloping rhythmic hook as well as sugary backup vocals reminiscent of 1950s and 1960s country-pop stalwarts, the Anita Kerr Singers. While enjoyable, most critics agree the album's kitschy affability lacks the depth of its predecessors. After singing lead on a further album, Trampoline (1998), Malo began pursuing a solo career while remaining part of the group. Although the Mavericks did not officially disband, the group had become largely inactive by the early 2000s.
The Mavericks emboldened 1990s country with a mixture of 1950s-styled pop, rock, and Cuban balladry. Benefiting from the sparkling lead vocals of Malo, the group enjoyed a brief chart run during the mid-1990s, defying the slick trend in commercial country radio with a captivating, persuasive sound.
Mavericks (Y&T, 1990); From Hell to Paradise (MCA, 1992); What a Crying Shame (MCA, 1994); Music for All Occasions (MCA, 1995); Trampoline (MCA, 1998); It's Now! It's Live (MCA, 1998).