Walkin' with a Kane

Two years ago, in the pages of this newspaper, I wrote an open letter to the Mavericks nominating myself as a replacement for founding guitarist Ben Peeler, who had just been dropped from the band. They chose to go with a Texan, David Lee Holt, instead. They'll tell you it had something to do with talent, but between you and me, it was a hair thing.

So they hired this Austin axman and they cut an album with the pretty boy twangin' the twine and the critics loved it but mainstream country radio wouldn't touch it and the disc, to be kind, disappointed commercially. I mean, more people bought DeLoreans than copies of From Hell to Paradise.

Never one to gloat, I made it known to bassist Bobby Reynolds and drummer Paul Deakin during their last sojourn through these parts that my services were still available. I knew they were about to go into the studio to cut their crucial follow-up, and I figured I was a shoo-in. But, to make a long story short, the phone call never came. My old pals Bobby (who once offered to let me crash at his South Beach apartment when he thought I was too drunk to drive home), Raul Malo (who promised to buy me a big pink Caddy when they made their first million), and Paul (who attacked me with a swizzle stick at the Button South to show his affection) had passed me over once again.

I recently obtained an advance copy of What a Crying Shame, the album that resulted from the sessions I wasn't invited to join. There are two guitarists and one steel-guitar player credited for their work on the album: Bruce Bouton, Brent Mason, and Mark Casstevens (no relation to the guy who wrote "Peace Train"). I gleaned some solace from the fact that it took three guys to get the job done. Then I noticed something eerily familiar about the blurred image of this cat standing between Paul and Bobby in the cover photo. Seen that face before somewhere.

The name Nick Kane may not mean much to recent followers of the local music scene. But Kane, who did two-year stints with Iko-Iko and Richard Shelter's storied punk band the Preachers in the mid-Eighties, is something of a cult hero among local guitar players and aficionados who can remember back to when Tobacco Road was still a dangerous, exotic place and the hub of the original rock scene was 27 Birds. Joel Schantz of Natural Causes, for example, idolizes the guy. Let me put it this way: David Holt was one thing, an outsider, but Nick Kane -- even I don't mind getting snubbed for that guy.

Reached by phone at his home in L.A., the one he'll soon be abandoning for Nashville, Kane confirms that he is indeed the latest guitar slinger to ride with the Kendall cowboys. "Yep," Kane drawls, "I'm their latest guitar victim. Except this time they don't know what they've got themselves into."

What they've got themselves into is a thirtysomething picker who's been playing since he was six, idolized Chet Atkins at eight, toured with the likes of Hank Williams, Jr. and Roy Orbison in the Seventies, played in a succession of rock and blues bands during the Reagan years, and found himself bumping into longtime friend Bobby Reynolds by accident in March.

"It was a completely chance meeting," reveals Kane. "He told me the guitar slot was open again. It took almost four months to coordinate everything -- I had to audition against a bunch of other Nashville guitarists. I was the only one they called back. From that moment on, I was a full-blown Maverick."

So how did he get his mug onto the cover of a hotly anticipated album he didn't play a single note on? "Ain't that something?" Kane chuckles. "I guess we did everything ass-backwards. The record was already done. I think it was the band's doing that got me into the video and the promo photos. I think they fought with the label a little over that. But like I said, from the moment I was in the band they made me a full-blown Maverick."

To those who've never heard Kane play, it might seem an odd choice -- a guitarist best remembered in Miami for his work with blues and punk bands tapped by a country outfit trying to downplay their renegade reputation and highlight their mainstream country appeal. But Kane cut his teeth on country and remains loyal to the genre to this day.

"In the Seventies and Eighties, I'd go out and play four hours of hard rock in a club somewhere, then go home and put on Buck Owens or Chet Atkins and play along. Country is a unique format for a guitar player, very homespun. You can't just get by playing scales; you have to be crafty. And it's not just in the left hand or the right. It's the combination. Fingerpicking, flat-picking, whatever. In the Seventies, to be a good Top 40 player, you had to be a roots player. Now you have to be a technician, like an Eddie Van Halen or a Steve Vai. But it's like those old blues guys. Maybe they weren't the best musicians, but they knew how to do one or two things well. That's what it's all about."

It's been longer than three years since Kane last visited his South Florida stomping grounds. He's a little nervous about this homecoming. "I guess you could say I have mixed emotions about Miami. It's a funny thing. I've been through a lot since I lived there [roughly from 1981 to 1988]. The two bands I was in there, the Preachers and Iko-Iko, were two of the best musical experiences of my life. The Preachers were way ahead of our time. We did swamp, rockabilly, punk. We had it all. If that band had been based out of L.A., I'd be a rich, totally decadent rock star by now.

"It's gonna feel good to come back. I have a lot of fans in Miami [like Schantz] who have followed me through all the bands. I'm nervous and excited. That's the tough part about being a small-time hometown hero. I don't know what people are gonna expect when they hear me. I hope they don't expect the second coming of Alvin Lee or something."

Nah. Just someone a little better than Todd Anthony.

The Mavericks perform Thursday through Saturday at Stephen Talkhouse, 616 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, 531-7557. Times and ticket prices vary.

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