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Alt They Ain't

Photo by Wild Don Lewis

Kingsizemaybe singer-guitarist Gary Eaton writes catchy, unpretentious classic-rock songs that would go over well in the heartland with their feel-good, anthemic choruses and his easygoing, room-filling vocals. He’s backed by a sympathetically tight group of friends and family who bring it all home — aching harmonies from bassist-wife Shelli Eaton and drummer Adam Maples, Blonde on Blonde keyboard glow from Robert Lloyd, and snarling-bobcat guitar solos from Robbie Rist.

“I think that we have an audience out there, if people would hear us,” Eaton says before a recent show at Taix. “But I know my enemy. We’re not in a niche, we don’t wear bell-bottoms —

well, Shelli wears bell-bottoms — we don’t have the Ashton Kutcher shag haircuts. And we’re not really depressed, we’re kind of happy.”

With a set list of highway-driving rockers like “Rolling Vatican Blues” and the reverentially unfolding ballad “Beautiful North,” Kingsizemaybe would probably stand out more in Chicago’s Bloodshot Records mini-scene, or New Orleans, where one of Eaton’s previous bands, the Continental Drifters, relocated in the early ’90s (with Eaton staying behind in L.A. to raise his family). Locally, the Maybes seem to fit in best with those few alterna-cowpokes who don’t strictly adhere to a faux-twangin’ retro formula. “I have an affinity for some of it,” Eaton says. “And there are some bands, you know, I don’t really . . . uh . . . really care for.” “Be politically correct,” Shelli sarcastically advises.

“There are a lot of bands in the alternative-country scene that are boring. I don’t know what they’re trying to do,” Gary says. “I’m not trying to be alt-country or country; I’m just playing all the crap that I know.” After taking a supporting role in most of his previous projects — including the Continental Drifters, 4-Piece, the Ringling Sisters, Devil Squares, and even stints with Motorcycle Boy and Tex & the Horseheads — Eaton got the gumption to front his own group, an early incarnation of Kingsizemaybe with drummer Maples, in the mid-’90s. Despite sporadic solo appearances over the next decade, Eaton kept a low profile until Maples got on his case last year to bring back the band with new members. Says Maples, who’s drummed with Legal Weapon, Sea Hags, Earthlings and (“for one month”) Guns N’ Roses, “I dug out an old Kingsize tape and said, ‘These songs are sitting idle — why? Let’s play!’”

 

Although Eaton dismisses his songwriting as a jumble of “wild imagery, that’s all,” he crafts deceptively simple stories that are often deeply moving, especially “All Roads Lead to Dallas,” with its soul-stirring, Stax-y crescendos and enigmatic lyrics that allude to the first Kennedy assassination through a sequence of palpably Southern evocations. “It’s the way the lyrics fit into the music when you hit the chorus, with those harmonies and those big chords, and everything’s thundering and crashing,” says Lloyd, a Weekly contributor (Eaton is also a Weekly staffer) and multi-instrumentalist who’s backed the songwriting likes of Syd Straw, John Wesley Harding and Steve Wynn. “I love ‘Dallas’ because I’m never going to crack the mystery of that song.”

“‘Dallas’ is kind of a collage,” Eaton explains. “When I was 5, I lived in Wichita Falls, Texas. It was November ’63. I was really bummed, because my [TV] cartoons were canceled when Kennedy was shot. My dad was a frustrated guy, pushing a pencil in the Air Force, in his office next to where all these glorious jets were parked . . . I remember slate-gray clouds, and ditches across the road from the Piggly Wiggly, and thinking we’re going to have to hide in there if a tornado comes down . . . that kinda stuff.”

Once Rist finishes mixing the group’s debut CD, “that kinda stuff” should get the sort of attention that Eaton’s beloved Anaheim Angels finally won in 2002. “This is the best band I’ve ever been in,” he says. “Every at-bat counts. If somebody needs to bunt the runner over, they’re going to bunt the runner over. We’re not all swinging for the fences, saying, ‘Where’s my guitar solo?’”

Kingsizemaybe perform at Taix, Saturday, November 20.


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