Rock Cesario Column June 19, 2009
New CD pays deserved tribute to music of Chris Gaffney
“Now I look at the years gone by/ And wonder at the powers that be. I don’t know why fortune smiles on some/ And lets the rest go free.”
— Eagles, “Sad Café” from “The Long Run,” 1979
If fortune means fame and monetary richness, then Chris Gaffney wasn’t “smiled” on, as the Eagles said.
If fortune means friends and respect from your peers, then Gaffney had great fortune.
Chris Gaffney died last year from liver cancer at the age of 57.
Until two weeks ago, I had only known of Gaffney as a member of Dave Alvin’s Guilty Men, and the Hacienda Brothers’ accordion player. I had noticed his name on a few songs but really didn’t pay too much attention until lately.
Gaffney and Alvin grew up together in Downey, Calif., in the 1960s at a time when California was changing fast. They were best friends and remained so even after Gaffney moved to Tucson, Ariz.
Alvin had a pretty successful run with his brother, Phil, in the incredible roots/rock outfit the Blasters.
In the meantime, Gaffney released several records with his band, the Cold Hard Facts, with very little commercial success.
After Alvin left the Blasters and decided to pursue a solo career, Gaffney joined him in the studio and then on the road as part of the Guilty Men. Gaffney co-wrote a song about a Vietnam war hero who didn’t make it home. That song, “1968,” is on Alvin’s “Blackjack David” release from 1998.
In 2004, Gaffney and guitarist Dave Gonzalez formed the Hacienda Brothers and they released four CDs before Gaffney’s untimely death.
Alvin was so moved by his friend’s passing that he could not bring himself to reunite the remaining Guilty Men for his new CD. That ultimately led Alvin to get an incredible group of women together for his new record, “Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women,” a somber release that reflected Alvin’s mood at that time.
Alvin also wanted to pay tribute to his dear departed friend, and the result was a various artists CD, “Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute To Chris Gaffney.”
There are 18 songs on this CD with the last one being Gaffney’s last recording, “The Guitars of My Dead Friends.” It was recorded a few weeks before his death.
To give you some idea of the incredibly wide range of musical genres Gaffney’s songs covered and the equally wide range of people he touched, here are some of the performers on this great CD: Joe Ely, Boz Scaggs, Los Lobos, Peter Case, The Iguanas, John Doe, Dan Penn, James McMurtry, Tom Russell, Freddy Fender, Calexico, Jim Lauderdale, Ollabelle, Alejandro Escovedo, Big Sandy, Los Straightjackets and Alvin.
In fact, Alvin’s cover of Gaffney’s “Artesia,” about small-town California and how much it has changed, is a bittersweet song that could bring a smile to your face and then a tear to your eye, as it does to me.
Be sure to pay close attention to Alvin’s spoken introduction to the song.
Alvin has this to say in the CD liner notes:
“All of us would like to thank you for buying and listening to this album and giving Chris and his songs the chance to touch your heart like he touched ours.”
Alvin, you can definitely count my heart as one that has been touched.