So what if the Derailers look and sound like Buck Owens & his Buckaroos, circa 1965. The Derailers write nearly all of their material (most of it first-rate), have an unwavering honky-tonk ethic, and finally boast a rhythm section that can put their mix of California and Texas twang over live. If that’s not enough, Owens himself is a fan. After inviting the band to headline at his 68th birthday bash in August — and having them back to his Crystal Palace in Bakersfield twice since then — the Country Music Hall of Famer has all but passed the torch on to these Austin upstarts.
The Derailers certainly proved themselves worthy of Owens’ confidence November 21-22 at a hometown weekend doubleheader celebrating the belated release of their major-label debut Reverb Deluxe (Sire/Watermelon). At the Continental Club Friday night, they ripped their way through virtually everything on their 1996 Watermelon disc Jackpot and the new album, plus covers of Owens, Ernest Tubb, Lefty Frizzell and Ray Price classics. From midnight until closing time, the band had dancers ping-ponging all over the room while frat boys downed Shiners as if they were Gatorade.
If you didn’t know it, you wouldn’t have suspected the Derailers were coming off four months of nonstop touring. Lead guitarist Brian Hofeldt carried on like a rockabilly wildman, Hofeldt and lead singer Tony Villanueva’s harmonies were as buoyant as ever, and drummer Mark Horn’s Buddha-like smile never faded during the band’s two-hour set. Horn had reason to feel good: Able to play in any style without sounding like anyone but himself, the newest Derailer not only galvanizes the band’s rhythms, he justifies the clack about their live shows. Guest steel guitarist Marty Muse likewise fired the proceedings, especially his keening breaks on “Lies, Lies, Lies” and “100% Pure Fool”, and his guitar shootout with Hofeldt on the James Burton original “Corn Pickin’”.
Because of scheduling problems, Saturday’s 8 p.m. show at Stubb’s lasted only an hour. But that was probably a good thing, as the Derailers were still recovering from the revelry of the previous night. They caught fire, though, when the Mavericks’ Robert Reynolds joined them onstage for a revved-up version of Buddy Holly’s “Think It Over”. Villanueva, Reynolds and the band then closed the set by storming Waco Brothers-style through “Folsom Prison Blues”, leaving everyone in the cramped basement either breathless or headed back to the bar.
“The neat thing about what we do,” observed Hofeldt over lunch at Threadgill’s on Saturday, “is that it’s part of the whole classic honky-tonk experience. People kickin’ off their shoes on a Friday night, forgettin’ the weary work-week blues, drinkin’ a few beers, and dancin’ with a beautiful woman. You can’t beat that.”