There’s a certain irony that has always tailed any talk about the Mavericks. For one thing, they’re a country band of sorts that was birthed in Miami, hardly the most prolific place when it comes to fostering Americana. For another thing, they boast a Latin lead singer whose early heroes included Roy Orbison, Elvis, and Johnny Cash and whose singing style emulates them to the point of perfection.
And then there’s the fact that while, yeah, they wear cowboy hats and wisely relocated themselves to Nashville, the band never neatly fit into the country genre. Elements of pop, rock, and Lain music were regularly integrated into the band's sound, making the Mavericks somewhat difficult to categorize, especially as far as the overall music industry was concerned.
“We never got picked up by the mainstream country market,” singer Raul Malo told me earlier this year. “Of course, you can argue that we never were a part of it. The crowd that listens to country isn’t going to listen to us...We’re making music with no guidelines, no parameters. That’s kind of how we approach making these records, and it’s an interesting turn of events, especially in my life...it’s a lot of fun.”
And there’s the final irony. After years of being marginalized, being all but ignored at country radio and finding themselves in the nether regions of the industry, suddenly they’re being embraced. Granted, it took a prolonged breakup and a pair of albums — 2013’s aptly named In Time and this year’s oddly named Mono — to get them in the industry's good graces, but these days they are clearly the talk of Nashville and the Americana crowd in particular.
At this year’s Americana Music Conference Awards, which took place at the fabled Ryman Auditorium, they walked the red carpet and later picked up the prize for Band of the Year against heavy competition. The group blew the crowd away with their spotlight performance, after which Raul was given the honor of presenting Los Lobos with their Lifetime Achievement Award. He was clearly touched to do so because the significance was apparent. Here were two bands with a common thread spun by a shared Hispanic heritage. He joined them for a jam later that evening and the entire time, he was beaming.
Nevertheless, Raul didn’t have to tout his cultural status. Every time the band was introduced mention was made of the band’s unlikely origins and their diverse musical mix. The same thing was said whenever and wherever the Mavericks performed, including the rousing and riveting set they gave at Music City Roots during a live radio broadcast the following evening. The band blew away the competition with a killer rendition of “All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down” and other songs tapped from their two latest LPs. The crowd went crazy and time and again, whispers of “I love Raul Malo” and “Raul Malo is amazing” could be heard wafting through the crowd.
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“Sociologically, things have changed,” Malo told me in an interview several month back. “The industry is more open now than we were say, 20 years ago, when we first arrived. Imagine, a Hispanic lead singer named Raul. They couldn’t even pronounce my name [laughs]. We’re seeing so many young Latin people coming to our shows. It’s amazing, because I’ve always considered this band a truly American band. It’s a blend of all these things and a blend of all these cultures. After all these years and all the hard work, it’s very gratifying.”
It should also be gratifying for those of us who take pride in the group’s South Florida origins and have been with them long before Nashville hopped on board. Buena suerte, boys. You’ve earned it.