Soulful singer, gifted songwriter and accordion player Chris Gaffney, was all about the music of the American Southwest. Although Chris did not make many inroads into the pockets of pop music consumers, he is credited as having been influential among musicians and fans in the Southwest regions of Arizona and California where he was both raised and a resident. It was said that Chris wasn’t particularly interested in “cultivating a career,” but instead chose to focus and work hard at being a performer and songwriter, which may explain why he is not well known outside of the Southwestern U.S.A. But, there are those that have observed that Chris Gaffney is now receiving more recognition after his death than he did while alive.
Born in 1950, Chris Gaffney was raised in his early years in Tucson, Arizona with siblings, Greg, Robbie and Ellen, and moved as a child with his family to Southern California. He eventually settled in Costa Mesa, California. While growing up, Chris listened to the music of northern Mexico, rock ‘n’ roll, soul and country music. He stated that the two consistent influences in his work were soul and country music. Chris graduated from high school in 1968 and worked the remainder of his life as a musician in bands, primarily an accordionist and also a guitarist.
In 1986, at age 36, Chris Gaffney released his first solo album, “Road to Indio,” which featured Chris on the piano accordion in songs arranged in various styles such as honky-tonk, soul and Bakersfield influenced country music. For the late 1980’s, in the midst of “glam,” his work was and is both innovative and a throwback to an earthier, perhaps more honest era. His next album in 1990 was released as “Chris Gaffney & the Cold Hard Facts.” Two years later, Gaffney released “Mi Vida Loca,” then “Loser’s Paradise,” in 1995, produced by friend, Dave Alvin. The album featured contributions from Lucinda Williams and Jim Lauderdale. His work often dealt with issues of poverty and working-class life.
Chris toured as a member of the Guilty Men, backing band for Dave Alvin. As co-lead singer of the Hacienda Brothers, a group he formed in 2002 with Dave Gonzalez, a third studio album, “Arizona Motel,” was recorded shortly before Chris’ death in 2008. In his career, Chris Gaffney also contributed to albums by Lucinda Williams, The Iguanas, Tom Russell, Christy McWilson, The Lonesome Strangers and Billy Bacon.
Along with music, boxing was high on his list and he participated in a Golden Gloves championship in 1967 while still in high school. In his National Public Radio interview, Chris speaks of the connection between music and boxing and his experiences as a boxer. His fighting spirit was evident as he battled and finally succumbed to cancer in 2008. His untimely death left a gaping void in his tight knit community but it allowed friends and fans to recognize Chris Gaffney’s unique contribution to the music of the Southwest and to the piano accordion.
Still missed ten years after his death, a crowd of 400 of Chris Gaffney’s family members, friends and fans came together to remember the accordion player and front man. In the sold out 2018 concert, groups that Chris either performed with, or was a founding member, participated. For five hours bands performed, such as The Guilty Men, the Cold Hard Facts, the Hacienda Brothers, Los Fabulocos (a Cali-Mex quartet fronted by Jesus Cuevas, a vocalist and button accordion player), Kid Ramos, and James Intveld & the Honky Tonk Palominos. That night, with his accordion and cowboy hat resting proudly on a pedestal for the entire concert, Chris Gaffney was definitely ‘up front, and center’ and in the house, once more.
Bonus: “Cowboys to Girls” by the Hacienda Brothers with vocals by Chris Gaffney
Additional articles about Chris Gaffney: