Domino Kings – Hamburger helpers
The first thing you notice at a Domino Kings show is the mile-deep fullness of their honky-tonk sound. Their music is as real and natural as breathing. Between songs, you suddenly notice they could not only travel comfortably in a van, but they could almost play in the back of a van.
Drummer Les Gallier plays a Samsonite suitcase instead of a bass drum; his entire “essentials-only” drum set could fit inside, with spare room for guitar cords. “We like it that way,” says Gallier, “not a whole lot of clutter, set up close to each other like we’re playing in a living room.”
That comfort level isn’t just serendipity. Gallier has been playing professionally for 35 years; guitarist Stevie Newman and bassist Brian Capps have been playing and writing together (and separately) for almost six years. “We started off doing a lot of boogie music — Texas shuffle,” says Capps. After a short hiatus, the band regrouped in 1998 and recorded Lonesome Highway, a more rockabilly-oriented CD with hints of a honky-tonk future. “When we got back together,” Newman explains, “we said, ‘Let’s just play what we really like to play, because we might as well go broke playing songs we like.'”
Their new Slewfoot Records release Life & 20, produced by Springfield, Missouri, legend Lou Whitney, is “country” in the way that word was used when Capps and Newman grew up. “I’d love to use the term country,” Capps says hesitantly, “but country’s almost a dirty word now, so I guess ‘honky-tonk’ is about as close as we can get.”
Life & 20 is full of great cheatin’ songs, first-name bad girl songs, and the requisite murder ballad. “I write all of the killin’ songs,” laughs Newman.
The Domino Kings stress original material (there are no covers on the new disc), but they’re not afraid to educate the crowd in their shows with a nugget such as Faron Young’s “Wine Me Up”. And they’re still occasionally forced to throw their crowd what they call a “hamburger.” “In the old days, the hamburger was ‘Proud Mary’; now the hamburger is ‘Stray Cat Strut’,” says Gallier, chuckling. “We’re trying to condition them, show them that our own stuff is just as good.”
The last song on the disc, “Letting Go Of You”, is a great example of how this band works. The heartbreaking ballad “came partially out of a family tragedy,” says Capps, “and I wrote a lot of it out of that.” Yet it’s Newman whose singing tears listeners up, because, as Capps says, “He falls right into something like that.” Gallier accompanies them on mountain dulcimer. The version on the album was a first take, and it’s perfect.
For the Domino Kings, such things just seem to come naturally.