Interview: Sweet and Tender Hooligans Drive the Love of Morrissey and The Smiths

Sweet and Tender Hooligans - Courtesy
Sweet and Tender Hooligans play OC - Courtesy

Beloved Tribute Band to Play OC Fair and Events Center


Since you’re reading California Rocker right now, you’re probably thinking you’d much rather be watching live music than surfing the Internet. Sweet and Tender Hooligans gave an interview in connection with their recent appearance in Autosonic Concerts’ drive-in show at the OC Fair and Events Center.

LA-based Sweet and Tender Hooligans have been described has the ultimate tribute to Morrissey and the Smiths. Formed in Los Angeles in 1992, the group is led by Jose Maldonado, who is not only a vocal smitten image for The Moz but is also a Latino (and Latinos make up a surprisingly big part of Morrissey’s fanbase – especially in Los Angeles). LA Weekly even named Sweet and Tender Hooligans the best cover band in Los Angeles. So, in anticipation of the group’s upcoming high-profile gig, Maldonado took a few minutes to answer some of CR’s most pressing Morrissey/Smiths questions.

California Rocker: A lot has been written about Morrissey’s Latin fanbase. As a Latino, how would explain this unusual cross-cultural connection?

Jose Maldonado: Indeed, a lot has been written about that subject. Similarities between the cultures is the Catholic working-class upbringing. The love of soccer and boxing. Trying to fit in to the culture while retaining your own cultural identity. The book Mozlandia by Mel Hidalgo delves deeply into this phenomena.

Sweet and Tender Hooligans play OC - Courtesy
Sweet and Tender Hooligans play OC – Courtesy

California Rocker: Sweet & Tender Hooligans formed shortly after the Smiths broke up, and Morrissey’s politics have seemingly evolved quite a bit since then. Has his more conservative leanings impacted your affection for the man and his music in any way?

Maldonado: Morrissey’s biggest influence on me has always been his great songs. The rest is secondary. The closing lyrics to “Speedway” seem to sum it up best for me. “In my own sick way, I’ll always stay true to you.”

California Rocker: How did you discover your ability to perform like Morrissey?

Maldonado: I was always a pretty good mimic. In school, I was the guy that could do a pretty good impression of my classmates and teachers. I used to make people laugh with my Pee-Wee Herman or Homer Simpson. When I’d sing along to an Elvis song, it only felt natural that I should sing it like him. So as soon as Morrissey entered into my consciousness, it only made sense that I do my best to try to sound as accurate as I could to the vocal. Fortunately for me, people seem to enjoy it.

California Rocker: Did you ever have the chance to see the Smiths live?

Maldonado: Sadly no, I was too young to go to concerts on my own in those days. My first experience seeing Morrissey live was when he first toured as a solo artist. And what a show that was. I was at The Forum to see him joined by David Bowie when he closed the show with T.Rex’s “Cosmic Dancer”. I also stood in line for over 24 hours to see him blow Johnny Carson’s mind on the Tonight Show. It was like The Beatles on Ed Sullivan for us here in Burbank. Priceless memory.

California Rocker: What are your three favorite Smiths/Morrissey songs, and why did you choose these three?

Maldonado: I could never choose just 3. Even if I could, it changes every day. “Boxers” is always up there. So are “There is a Light that Never Goes Out” and “Lost”. I can find something relatable in just about every one of his songs. Those random 3 describe the emotions of longing, happiness, loss, and encouragement better than anyone could ever express the way Morrissey can in his beautiful lyrics and unique voice.

Sweet and Tender Hooligans

California Rocker: Are there any Smiths/Morrissey songs that you do not like and will not perform?

Maldonado: There aren’t any songs that I’d ever refuse to play. We always make an effort to tailor our set list with as many songs that people will enjoy and be happy to hear. This means that some of the less upbeat, lesser-known songs wind up not getting played, but not because we don’t want to. Over our 27+ year history we’ve managed to cover every song by The Smiths at one point or another. Morrissey continues to be prolific and it would be a monumental challenge to get to every single one of his solo songs. Not to say we won’t try, but there are only so many songs you can do in one show.

California Rocker: Do you anticipate you’ll still be performing this music when you’re old and grey (like Moz is today). If so, what do you think that will be like?

Maldonado: Morrissey is 10 years older than me, so I guess if he’s still going strong than I can certainly hope to keep it going till at least 10 years after he decides to hang it up. Maybe longer? As long as people still want to come see us, then we’ll be out there playing his music in the retirement home if they’ll have us.

California Rocker: What are some of your favorite non-Smiths/Morrissey artists, and can you imitate these just as well as Moz?

Maldonado: I grew up on all the classic 80s KROQ bands like DEVO, Depeche Mode, New Order, Oingo Boingo, The Cure, Erasure, the B-52s, you get the idea. If the idea for a Morrissey tribute hadn’t come along, maybe I would have been an Elvis impersonator. Shoot. No, El Vez already took that idea.

California Rocker: Have you toured in England and visited Morrissey’s roots? If so, what was that like?

Maldonado: I travel to England annually for the Moz Army Meet at the Star and Garter in Manchester. The Hooligans have also toured the UK a few times over the years and it’s always a blast to visit the city where it all began. When you’re in Manchester, it is a must for every Smiths/Morrissey fan to have their picture taken in front of the Salford Lads Club.

California Rocker: Johnny Marr was just as instrumental in the creation of Smiths music. Has his artistry been an impact on your musical evolution, as well?

Maldonado: Definitely. It’s insane to think that he was creating some of the greatest music ever written at the age of 19, for God’s sake! I was busy throwing rocks at my neighbor Robbie Joyner at that age. (No, wait, that was Kevin [formerly of KROQ’s Kevin & Bean show]).

California Rocker: Lastly, what are the odds of a Smiths reunion? If it were to happen, how would you celebrate that event?

Maldonado: I used to believe it would happen someday, but now I think it’s a nice dream and that’s how it will stay. Morrissey enjoys great success with his solo situation and Johnny Marr has achieved his own greatness with his band and working with everyone from the Pretenders, Pet Shop Boys, Bernard Sumner of New Order, Modest Mouse and even Hans Zimmer. I don’t wish for a Smiths reunion like I once did. I enjoy it as a beautiful moment forever hermetically sealed in a beautiful glass case.

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