The band hit on this approach because guitarist-accordion player Rod Hodges and baritone saxophone man Joe Cabral have Mexican bloodlines and they had grown up around the music. The group decided to answer any questions of authenticity or intent by writing their own tunes within traditional Latin and polka guidelines while adding some rock 'n' roll punch.
"If we have our own material there's nothing more authentic than that. It's hard to improve on what the masters have done," Huston says paraphrasing Hodges' original explanation of the group's approach.
The switch in style quickly caught on in New Orleans bars. The group began a regular Sunday night run at the Maple Leaf and within a year, Huston, Cabral, Hodges, bassist Rene Coman and drummer Doug Garrison found themselves on stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, one of the country's most prestigious gigs. Jimmy Buffett and his record label signed them to a deal and the group began crisscrossing the country with its horn-driven Latin dance rhythms, while Iguanas music was featured on half a dozen movie soundtracks in the '90s. But according to Huston, the Buffett affiliation was a mixed blessing. Distribution got the music to the public but Parrot Head connections "queered any kind of hipster appeal we had." The deal eventually went south and hard business knocks tested the band during that time. But Huston says the group realized its positives and weathered the bad times.
"The band," Huston offers, "is its own greatest asset. if we stay together."
Once again working with Justin Niebank who produced the band's first two recordings, Huston says the group is now in the middle of recording a new project that takes the Iguana's music in a new direction. Huston says the project, recorded in a 1930s "celebrity party pad" formerly owned by Al Capone near Nashville, Tenn., has a more spontaneous feel to it than past projects, and there is new energy in the air as the group comes to Richmond and Swingin' on the Tracks Thursday.
"It's definitely shaping up to be a real departure. There's more between your eyes rock 'n' roll, maybe some more stuff that's overtly garagey. and Rod's playing some guitar that's some sort of mutation of country blues. There's the rompin', stompin' stuff where everybody's gonna get up and shake it and some quieter things," Huston explains before concluding, upbeat and positive about the future:
"We're definitely taking it to another stage. Just to be able to go out and work and play your music, it's a pretty good life." S
The Iguanas play Swingin' on the Tracks at the Science Museum of Virginia, Thursday, Oct. 3, 6- 9:30 p.m. David Barton opens. Tickets are $8 in advance available at the museum or at www.swinginonthetracks.com or $10 at the door.
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