We chat to The Paladins, one of rockabilly’s most iconic bands

We chat to The Paladins, one of rockabilly’s most iconic bands

Photo: Ralf Colaris
Words by Tammy Walters

The globally revered band drop in for a special show at The Corner this weekend.

The Fonzy hairstyle, the comb in the back pocket of cuffed Levi jeans, the leather jackets, the hot rods, the pinstripers and the double bass; the rockabilly era sounds as tantalising as ever with bands like The Paladins and festivals like GreazeFest Kustom Kulture serving as a strong reminder that rock‘n’roll is here to stay. San Diego’s The Paladins will be returning to Australia for the vintage appreciation festival in Brisbane while they will also pop up at The Corner on Friday August 2.

The trio, who were part of the rockabilly revival of the early ‘80s amongst the Stray Cats and the Beat Farmers, were drawn to the sound of rock‘n’roll in its rawest, most primitive form; the granddad of rock‘n’roll from the roots way down south.

“Dave (Gonzalez) and I met in high school in ’78. We liked Johnny Winter, and ZZ Top, and BB King. We weren’t aware of too much except that we hated disco,” founding member Thomas Yearsley reminisces. “Then we met Whitney Broadly (former rhythm guitar and vocals). He was a very cool kid. He had a job at Tower Records stocking the rockabilly section.”

It may have been here that Yearsley’s obsession for vinyl came to light.

“I don’t own a TV, and play vinyl every day. My collection is more than 2500 records – 78’s, 45’s, and 33 1/3. Martin Denny’s Quiet Village is on the turntable at the moment,” says Yearsley. “78’s are my bag. Wynonie Harris’ ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ is the single most important record to me as a bass player.”

From here the ‘50s rockabilly rhythm and blues was brewing, while touring non-stop for the greasers, including sharing the stage with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Los Lobos, the Blasters and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, was also to come.

“Everybody loves to party and nothing beats a rock‘n’roll show,” claims Yearsley.

“In the early ’80s we were hot on the rockabilly scene, often on the bill with The Blasters or Los Lobos – even played with the Stray Cats. Then toward the mid ’80s we wanted to travel playing music so The Paladins began touring in Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. The shows were mostly blues clubs. We made a lot of friends and got pretty good at playing the blues, and blues fans liked that we knew the rockabilly sound too.

“The fans liked that we wrote our own songs that sounded natural to the ’50s styles. By the mid-’90s we had travelled over a million miles crossing every state in America and Europe too, but we didn’t make enough money to stop touring.”

By 2004 it seemed The Paladins were done, but their hiatus ended in 2011 after a reunion concert. Since their last appearance in Australia at 2015’s Bluesfest, The Paladins have been busy keeping their roots-rock sound alive. They released 11-track album, New World in 2017, over 14 years after El Matador, have been continuously touring and Yearsley has been fostering the rockabilly sound for generations to come at his studio, Thunderbird Analog Recording Studio in Oceanside, California.

“I’ve recorded at least four young bands, including several in their teens, who have that old classic rockabilly/roots rock‘n’roll vibe. One of them, Colton Turner, was playing at the same festival as The Paladins this summer in Europe. Many of these bands cover Paladins’ songs too which is such an honour,” he says.

No doubt bands will be covering Paladins’ songs for years to come as they have no intention of slowing down. Their shows are as lively as ever, their new material is as tight as ever and their vibrant guitar licks, simple crisp drumming, slap-bass and classic lyrical content remains.

“We sing about chicks, cars and rock‘n’roll – we’re gonna just keep doing that – because it’s fun. Our legacy is in your hands, fans.”

The Paladins play The Corner on Friday August 2. Grab your ticks via the venue website.