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Interview: Mavericks' Raul Malo talks fame, power of his pipes

Raul Malo says he and the Mavericks just wanted to make music they liked. “I think our sound was ahead of its time,” he says. 

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Raul Malo says he and the Mavericks just wanted to make music they liked. “I think our sound was ahead of its time,” he says. 

After a few scheduled interviews fall through — his fault, my fault, life's fault — Mavericks frontman Raul Malo calls my iPhone, unplanned, on a Monday morning. I laugh and say the apologetic DIY approach is not a very "rock star" maneuver.

"Rock star?" deadpans Malo, 48. "Let me go find one for you."

Funny about that: The burly Miami native is one of the greatest singers of his, or any other, generation; that rich, soaring baritone is earthy yet operatic.

And yet Malo, for all his rabid fans, has never achieved all-star standing with the masses. Blame his restlessness: country (1989 hit O, What a Thrill), blues, R&B, Latin, torch songs that tear your heart out. And have you ever heard him do the Hollies' The Air That I Breathe or Roy Orbison's Crying? Whoa. He wants it all, as a solo act and with his bandmates.

"I do consider myself a restless creative spirit for sure — unfortunately or fortunately, I don't know," says Malo, who will bring the Mavericks to Clearwater's Capitol Theatre for two shows next week.

These days, that restlessness has taken on one more dimension: appearing on TNT reality show Private Lives of Nashville Wives, supporting wife Betty. "It's so silly," he laughs. "I have fought my whole life that kind of fame. Now it's in my life. It's fun, but I never really wanted that. I didn't want to be a boat captain. I didn't want to be an astronaut. I always wanted to be a musician."

After a slew of go-it-alone albums, Malo reunited the Mavericks last year, releasing In Time, their first studio record in a decade. Per usual, it's a wildly eclectic mix, not so much trying to please everyone (Nashville never knew what to do with those guys, and just as well), only trying to please themselves — another not-so-rock-star move.

"Being solo and playing with the Mavericks is two different feelings," says Malo, who tends to be more swaggery with the band, saving his lonely-crooner stance for solo gigs. "There's such a sense of joy with the Mavericks. That's why we put it back together. The time apart really put it in perspective. It's like breaking up with a girlfriend; after awhile, you just remember the good times."

As for the Mavericks' fame being small but cultish, Malo says they would have been better off starting now, 2014, rather than 25 years ago. "I think our sound was ahead of its time," he says. "One of my son's friends said something the other day, and it really summed up the Mavericks. We were talking about different types of music he and his own band wanted to play. He said, 'I think we're just going to do what the Mavericks did: call ourselves a country band just to get a record deal, and then go out and do whatever the hell we want!' That was an 18-year-old kid! I thought that summed up my life pretty well, too."

Part of the allure behind dabbling in so many genres is that otherworldly voice; it's fun to see all the things he can do with it.

"There is a certain power you have when you sing," says Malo of his pipes, which have led many meet-and-greet fans to spill all-too-graphic recountings of how his music helped them in the bedroom. "I've heard just about every version of that. Sometimes it's a little much. Like, whoa, dude!"

Malo's epic covers of classic songs have also provided frenzied YouTube watches and, in some cases, shout-outs from the original artists themselves. After the Mavericks took on Springsteen's All That Heaven Will Allow, "We did get a little note from Bruce; he loved it. I covered a Wayne Newton song once, too, and I got a signed picture. So that was pretty cool."

And who knows: Maybe a call from Nikki Sixx is coming soon, too. In typical Malo/Mavericks kitchen-sink, let's-try-this style, the guys have just recorded a tribute to Motley Crue, their own version of Dr. Feelgood.

"It's very film noir, very Mavericks," says Malo. "We went the other way with it."

Of course they did.

Sean Daly can be reached at sdaly@tampabay.com. Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.

IF YOU GO

The Mavericks will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday and May 3 at the Capitol Theatre, 405 Cleveland St., Clearwater. $45-$55. (727) 791-7400.

Interview: Mavericks' Raul Malo talks fame, power of his pipes 04/22/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 2:04pm]
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