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While some local artists lament the lack of live music venues, Broward's rockabilly phenomenon Slip Mahoney believes this is the right kind of town for him. "In cities like Austin, there are so many bands that artists end up playing for free," the 50-year-old Mahoney says in a sharp Southern drawl. "At least down here there are enough places where a person like me can make a living playing live."
Still, earning a living playing live venues is a tough proposition in sunny, dance-club-oriented South Florida. Even so, Mahoney — the Miami-born lead singer and guitarist for Slip and the Spinouts — has worked his way through the past seven years to become a regional staple at bars and classic car and bike shows. On any given weekend, the band can be found playing hot spots such as Boston's on the Beach, in Delray, and that perennial retro palace, the famous Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale.
The group has found time to release some music as well. Its independently released new album, Crazy Lil Baby, combines cool rockabilly classics such as Vince Taylor's "Brand New Cadillac" (also famously covered by The Clash) and an old-style country-flavored version of Elvis's "One Night with You." The Spinouts even boast a large following outside South Florida on the retro circuit, garnering reviews in magazines including Ol' Skool Hot Rot and performing at events such as the notorious Daytona Beach Bike Week and the famed Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend.
Mahoney's journey into rockabilly began in the early 1980s, when he bought a British import copy of the Stray Cats' eponymous debut. His genuine fascination with the Cats' brash style led him to acquire a rare and precious Gretsch Chet Atkins 6120 model guitar that was once owned by Stray Cats frontman Brian Setzer. After trying his hand in various local groups (such as the Preachers) throughout the rest of the decade, Mahoney finally decided to follow his passion for old-time blues, old country, and 1960s surf classics. His first gig as a full-fledged rockabilly singer took place at the well-known Lauderdale blues bar Rosey Baby. Just like his idol Elvis, he sang a hip-shaking rendition of "That's All Right Mama." "I feel like it's beautiful, happy music," he says. "It can also definitely be a lifestyle."
That rockabilly way of life is clearly apparent in Mahoney's daily living. Beyond his 1950s fashion sense and carefully maintained pompadour, he also collects and repairs vintage Harley-Davidson motorcycles. (His signature ride features a classic '66 frame with a customized '80s engine. "People call me Elvis all the time," he says. "It gets old."
And although the old-school rocker counts a sizable loyal following, he would like to reach out to the younger crowd. "I think some young people down here don't realize they can go out and enjoy live bands," Mahoney says. "For the younger kids, I play the fast stuff. We have over 70 songs in our repertoire, so there's always something for everyone." Still, while he's the de facto rockabilly king of the South Florida bar circuit, Mahoney has his eyes set on conquering other popular retro markets in California and North Carolina. And his greatest musical ambition is to take the Spinouts overseas: "I'm trying to go to Europe, especially England. They have a big rockabilly scene over there."
In the meantime, Mahoney plans to keep expanding his local following, gigging anywhere his guitar chops are required and even playing venues farther south than his usual turf, such as the Miami Beach location of Automatic Slim's. "The owner of Slim's is really into us," he says. "Last time we played, it was really packed and the crowd was especially good."
And though the Spinouts specialize in playing old classics, Mahoney spices up his live shows with original numbers, such as the propulsive "Hillbilly Boogie" and the alluring "Alone and Blue." To the band's credit, the new songs blend in perfectly with the old standards. "I don't think our audience can really tell the difference between the old and our original songs," Spinouts bassist Noah Hall says.
And so it goes, as every weekend Slip and the Spinouts continue to sharpen their distinctive mix of Dick Dale surf rock, Elvis Presley rockabilly, and Johnny Cash old country. Local fans — easily spotted by their classic custom rides and high pompadours — keep the band in high demand. And as long as there are good, old-fashioned dive bars where folks enjoy hard liquor, Slip and his Spinouts are sure to provide the definitive, cool American soundtrack.