Lloyd Maines – The reins run plainly in the veins
The map of West Texas is dotted with towns bearing names such as Plainview, Levelland and Grassland. In this case, each word is worth a thousand pictures. Marking the southern boundary of the Great Plains, West Texas is big, and it’s flat.
If you’re a kid growing up in Lubbock, centerpiece of this big sky country, you could…well…you could play high school football — as they do with a skill and passion that is rare elsewhere on earth. Or, you can play music; and, just like football, they do it with skill and passion. The roll call of musicians from Lubbock is significant: Buddy Holly, Joe Ely, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Terry Allen, David Halley, Jesse “Guitar” Taylor and others. Ask why there’s such a wealth of talent and the answer is likely to be, “There’s just nothing else to do.”
For Lubbock-born studio musician and producer Lloyd Maines, having nothing to do is no longer a problem. Maines is a busy man. As a top-shelf studio player, his pedal steel, dobro and guitar have sweetened tracks for Joe Ely, Dale Watson, Radney Foster, Uncle Tupelo, Wilco and Bruce Robison. In the last decade, he has produced over 40 projects for artists such as the Maines Brothers (his own band), Terry Allen, Butch Hancock, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jerry Jeff Walker, Will T. Massey, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Richard Buckner, Wayne Hancock, Robert Earl Keen, and, most recently, Wagon.
Maines’ professed mentor is country pedal steel virtuoso Jimmy Day, who used to play with Willie Nelson at Lubbock’s Cotton Club and who recorded at one time or another with legends including Elvis Presley and Patsy Cline. “I’d sit at the corner of the stage and watch everything he did,” Maines recalls. Another country bias was the sound of Lloyd Green’s steel, fast and muted. In the early ’70s, the fusion of rock and country produced players such as Poco’s Rusty Young and the Flying Burrito Brothers’ Sneeky Pete Kleinow, both of whom attracted Maines’ interest. Today, Maines is a versatile player for whom labels such as country, blues and rock have little significance.
Maines approaches production from a musician’s perspective. He likes to work with a good engineer who will take care of technical matters so he can concentrate on the music and the overall vibe of the session. “A good engineer is invaluable,” Maines professes. “If it takes an hour to patch or route, it makes a big difference in your energy level. You can get pretty downhearted, particularly when you’re on a budget.”
As producer, Maines is in the pilot’s seat, but the artist is the navigator. “I always try to keep in mind that I’m working for the band,” Maines says. “You can’t lose sight of that; otherwise you can become too domineering. If it’s tuning or a technical thing like that, I’ll stand my ground. But if it’s a tossup, I’ll always go with what the band wants. They’re the ones who have to go on the road and sell it.”
Which is not to say his production philosophy is lassez faire. “If I’m producing something, I want to oversee every note,” he stresses. “I want to make sure everything that happens is as good as it can be. I try to help the artist get the most out of their performance with the least amount of stress. But, I won’t settle for anything less that what I think an artist can do, even if we have to come back the next day.”
If producers’ sounds were assigned colors, then perhaps Michell Froom would be black; Jeff Lynne might be chartreuse; T-Bone Burnett, plaid. Lloyd Maines could only be tagged “clear”: His recordings sound like the artist. “I like to hear as live a cut as you can get,” he says. “I just did a live album for Robert Earl Keen. … If you were there, then you heard the album. All Robert’s vocals are as-is.”
If the Keen project was live, then Wayne Hancock’s Thunderstorms and Neon Signs should be classified “almost live.” It was recorded in four days, with very few overdubs. “It was all live tracking, though I had to overdub some of my steel parts,” Maines recalled. “Wayne is definitely a ‘live cut’ guy. He had a little cedar fever at the time and his voice was a little raspy. We tried to overdub, but he just wasn’t having fun, so we wound up using the scratch vocal on almost every cut because the scratches felt so much better.”