Dave Alvin on rough-tuff creampuff Chris Gaffney
Last Thursday, Chris Gaffney – a sweet bruiser who led the Cold Hard Facts, partnered with Dave Gonzalez in the Hacienda Brothers, played accordion for the Guilty Men, and was married to his wife Julie for almost 25 years – died of liver cancer in Orange County. Gaffney was a man of smoky voice and wit, and he wrote two of our all-time favorite lyrics: “You’re looking for a man who wouldn’t love you if his life depended on it,” and “I met your brother yesterday, he’s a loser / He’s living in Fontana with a kitchen for his farm.” A benefit that was organized before he passed will still take place Sunday at Anaheim’s storied Doll Hut with the Ziggens, Big Sandy, Kid Ramos and others, and a proper memorial will be held Wednesday at the Cellar in Long Beach.
His best friend, Dave Alvin, talked to CityBeat.
CityBeat: When did you and Gaffney first meet?
Dave Alvin: ’Bout ’87 maybe, ’88 somewhere, at Raji’s, this club on Hollywood Boulevard – a dump where like Guns ’N Roses came out of. I was dating the bartender. I was down there, heard this band. After two songs, I started shouting requests, and we got this whole banter going between the heckler and the band. Then he says, “We’re gonna do a song about Hawaiian Gardens” – when have you ever heard somebody say “We’re gonna do a song about Hawaiian Gardens”? – and being a Downey slob, it was like, “Hey, cool!” He was one of those people that you’ve known all your life, you just haven’t met ’em yet. We were instant friends, and then within a couple of years we were best friends, till … well, whatever.
Was he with you in Ireland?
Oh, you mean the Van Morrison thing?
Yeah, when Van Morrison kicked Glen Campbell out of his dressing room … . The way Gaffney put it was, “He kicked Glen Campbell out of Glen Campbell’s dressing room, so he’d have more room not to be in.”
No, I wasn’t there. That was with the Hacienda Brothers. He told me the story though … a couple of times, as he was wont to do. He was always very sensitive about slights. So even though he and Glen Campbell weren’t exactly golfing buddies, well, he didn’t like people throwing their weight around. One reason I loved him so much was he had this great sense of right and wrong. Sometimes he was wrong, and you’d convince him of it, but he always had people’s backs. But look at this way: It was Van Fucking Morrison in Fucking Ireland – so yeah, you give up your room. Now, if it was in Branson … .
So … tell me something else.
How do I cover 20-something years? “He wore socks, frequently!” “He was partial to food.” What do you wanna know? When did we realize we were gay for each other and should get married? I will tell you one of his least proud moments. He had the Cold Hard Facts, and they were playing some hotel in Long Beach – the Breakers maybe? – a big outdoor gig. And the next band hadn’t showed or couldn’t make it, so they offered Chris like another hundred bucks or something to stick around and play another set and judge the hot buns contest. “Sure, no problem,” Chris says, but it’s the best male buns contest. And Danny Ott says, “Another feather in our hats.”
Danny Ott is a very fine guitarist.
He’s a great, great, great guitar player. He was at the Gaffney house yesterday. We were putting together our benefit for late August. You know, Gaffney, it’s not like he’s Mariah Carey, but he does have thousands of fans all over the world. I truly believe that 10, 15 years from now, it’ll be like, “You saw Gaffney at the Upbeat?” You go to Europe now, it’s like that already. But it’ll be like, “You touched Gaffney?” “You got drunk with Gaffney?” There’s gonna be an awful lot of people who never met him, saying they played with him, they were his friend.
I was his friend.
I know you were.
Whenever I’d walk in during their set, they’d launch into “Fade to Grey,” even if they’d already played it, because he knew it was my favorite.
He was a giver. When we were touring, I used to give all the guys their per diems in a lump sum at the beginning of the week, but he’d come to me like two days later: “I need another hundred bucks.” “Well, what happened to what I gave you?” “I gave it to a guy. He was in pretty bad shape.” I learned to give him like 25 bucks a day instead. The lesson is: He was bad with money. I know I’m rambling. That okay?
You know, after the chemo started, he didn’t want anyone around, except for Julie and his sister Helen. So Helen’s sitting with him in his living room, and he’s sitting there in his man-chair, and he accidentally answers his phone. Someone’s on the line going, “Anything I can do for you, Chris, anything you need, please just let me know,” and he goes, “Yeah. I want a couple of tickets to The Pirates of Penzance.” You know, he was a Golden Gloves champ, just like fucking Sinatra! “Oh, nobody wants to know about that,” he’d say. He was irreplaceable! Where do you find a guy like that, who then has a voice that gives Lou Rawls a run for his money?
Apparently, Costa Mesa.
Yeah, or Hawaiian Gardens. He was my best friend, he was a rough-tuff creampuff. I’ve known great singers, everyone from Big Joe Turner to my brother to Little Milton to Bob Dylan – “I’ve known ’em all!” – but Chris was one of the purest musicians I’ve ever met. It came natural to him. I used to think he didn’t know how good he was, but he knew way how good he was. The last few years, touring with me and then when Gonzalez put together the Haciendas, were the happiest of his life. He’d spent so many years being abused playing in shitholes in Garden Grove. You know, so many of my friends … Buddy Blue, Country Dick … I never got over Buddy’s passing, I don’t know how I’m gonna recover from Chris’s.
And Dick Cheney’s still alive. Explain that one to me, smartypants.