King Records, as noted in last year’s piece about The Impacs, was not known for its twangin’ surf sounds. “Seat Belts Please” by The Exports, intriguingly, would straddle the same line between garage and surf as The Impacs and include a secondary riff [beginning at the 0:34 mark] that would sound right at home on a Los Straitjackets album:
Once upon a time, American automobile designs were the envy of the world. Today’s piece is a tribute to the creative genius who not only designed Batman and Robin’s iconic mode of transport but also the Munster Koach, and the unbelievably spectacular Voxmobile that guitarist extraordinaire, Jimmy Bryant, once befriended. As Barris’s son, Brett, sadly informed the world this week, “Sorry to have to post that my father, legendary kustom car king, George Barris, has moved to the bigger garage in the sky.”
Apparently, I wasn’t the only Ohioan who was smitten in the 1960s with Barris’s radical design for the Batmobile. Youngstown’s The Squires would bequeath to future generations their musical interpretation of Barris’s most famous creation in pop’s peak year, 1967:
“Batmobile” The Squires 1967
Guitar: Phil Keaggy
Guitar: Al Frano
Drums: Jim Love
Bass: Bob Flamisch
Wow, I just discovered that the lead guitar work on “Batmobile” is from thatPhil Keaggy – here’s a link to the bio on his website.
As it turns, landlocked musical combos can create credible surf sounds – not just West Coast bands. Cincinnati’s King Records, you might recall, even delved into the “surf rock” genre via The Impacs, whom Zero to 180 profiled just over a year ago.
Bless those masked marauders, Los Straitjackets, whose first two albums – 1995’s The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound and 1996’s ¡Viva Los Straitjackets! – would give the instrumental an outsized and much needed shot in the arm.
The B-side of the band’s first single was a spare arrangement of an original western theme – “Lonely Apache” – for indie garage/punk label, Sympathy for the Record Industry, that was issued February 1995, one month before their debut full-length release. The group would record a suitably more elaborate arrangement of “Lonely Apache” for their second album:
“Lonely Apache” Los Straitjackets 1996
Eddie Angel – noted rockabilly guitarist with Tex Rubinowitz and the Bad Boys, and later, the Planet Rockers, Neanderthals & Eddie Angel’s Dinosaurs – and Danny Amis – guitarist for (Twin/Tone’s) Overtones and The Raybeats, and later, engineer for the Grand Old Opry and Hee Haw – would link up with Nashville session drummer, Jimmy Lester, to form an (unmasked) aggregation as The Straitjackets in 1988 that played locally for a few shows.
1981 Eddie Angel 45 1982 Mitch Easter-produced 12-inch 45
In 1994 when the trio reassembled, Danny Amis would introduce the wrestling masks – and thus, Los Straitjackets. Conan O’Brien, an early fan, would have the group perform fairly regularly on his Late Night show, one appearance each for the first two albums. By the late 1990s, Conan would have Los Straitjackets perform Christmas songs during the holidays. 2003 would find Los Straitjackets as Grammy-nominated artists for their collaboration with Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater on Rock ‘n’ Roll City.
Hard to believe that Los Straitjackets are over 20 albums into their career. More recently, Los Straitjackets would join forces with Southern Culture on the Skids and The Fleshtones in 2013 for Halloween stocking-stuffer, Mondo Zombie Boogaloo. The Straitjackets would also reveal themselves to be surprisingly nimble breakdancers in their video for 2012’s “Brooklyn Slide” – from standout album, Jet Set.
This instrumental band, it bears noting, is not afraid to collaborate with vocalists, and has worked in the past with such singers as Big Sandy, Freddy Cannon, Mark Lindsay, Exene Cervenka, Dave Alvin, and Deke Dickerson, most recently, who teamed up with Los Straitjackets in 2014 to record an album of famous instrumental songs with lost or rewritten lyrics – such as “Apache,” “Sleepwalk,” “Popcorn,” and even “Hawaii Five-O” (see Sammy Davis Jr.’s 1976 vocal A-side).
Link to Eddie Angel interview from the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website — Eddie Angel’s own discography available here. Also, Danny Amis tells the LA Weekly that the Mexican surf scene is “by far bigger than anyone else’s in the world.” Amis – or, “The Godfather of Mexican Surf” as he is also known – reports in his bio that over 50,000 fans attended each performance at Mexico City’s Foro Sol. Check out the band’s back catalog at Yep Roc.
Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions: Zero to 180 Q&A with Eddie Angel
Q: Is there a back story behind the inspiration to “Lonely Apache” (e.g., did the song come to you in a dream)? A: i was listening to a lot of duane eddy at the time and really liked his version of the song “high noon”
Q: Curious to know why “Lonely Apache” was not included on your first album even though I recall hearing it at some of your earliest shows (if I’m not mistaken)? A: i can’t recall…i think i didn’t play it for the other guys until after we had recorded our first CD.
Q: Do you get any particularly strong reaction to that song [which, by the way, is Eddie’s mother-in-law’s favorite] when you play it live? A: hmm, i don’t think so, but we don’t play it often…i guess we should tho, huh.
Q: Where are some of the more far-flung (or “surprisingly distant”) places that the Straitjackets have played? A: australia, moscow, helsinki ….moscow was the by far the weirdest. we had a 2 week residency at a club called chesterfields and we lived in an apartment a block from red square, it was in 1998 and it felt like the wild west there.
Q: How much support were you getting from Upstart/Rounder during those early years? Is Yep Roc treating you guys well? A: upstart was great, they really helped us get going on those early tours and they got our songs in movies and tv, one of the upstart guys is now our manager jake guralnick…yep roc is a really good label and they’re friends of ours, the owners used to work for rounder (upstart was part of rounder).
Q: I get the sense that being a band that primarily plays instrumentals (when not touring with a vocalist like Big Sandy) means that your music is able to transcend language barriers that might inhibit the reach of more traditional bands that sing vocal tunes – is this in any way true? A: i think its true in mexico, that’s where we have our largest audience by far. in mexico we’re credited with starting a new genre of music, “surf mexicano”…surf instros with mexican wrestling masks and one big difference is young kids are into it, its almost like punk rock there.
Did the Straitjackets Unknowingly Back Bruce Channel in 1962?
When I playfully inquired whether the Straitjackets – as it clearly says on the 45 – backed Bruce Channel in 1962 on “Number One Man,” follow-up to #1 hit, “Hey Baby,” Eddie Angel wryly responded —
Bruce Channel lived across the street from me for 16 yrs, we just moved but still own the house across from him….he never mentioned the straitjackets ; )
Bruce Channel … and Straitjackets?!
Belated tip of the hat to Bill Hanke for putting this band on my radar from the earliest.
“The Customs were one of several studio groups put together by Richard Delvy for the 1963 LP, Hot Rod City (Vault 104). This LP included the Customs’ noncharting ’54 Corvette’ and another Customs’ song entitled ‘RPM,’ plus ’41 Ford’ by the Grand Prix as also heard today. Key members of the Customs included Gary Usher who wrote most of the Customs’ songs and was the lead vocalist. Usher was a major songwriter and producer throughout the 1960s who worked with the Beach Boys and many other top bands and artists. Usher also recorded and/or produced many other surf rock, hot-rod, and other songs under different band names.”
King wasn’t the only independent label in the early rock era to dabble in various sounds and musical genres; nevertheless, it’s still pretty hard to beat King for its sheer stylistic breadth. While never really considered much of a “rock” label, King nevertheless signed another Beatle-sounding group (besides Them) called The Impacs, who – judging by the Fender guitars on their two King album covers – look like they might also have a little west coast surf in their sound.
The Impacs first recording session on December 10, 1963 yielded 28 songs, of which 12 (including “Cat Walk”; “The Grab”; “Hamburger”; “Ambush”; “Love Struck” & “The Breeze”) would remain unreleased. One more round of recording on May 12-13, 1964 would yield 8 more songs, all of them seeing light of day as single and/or album tracks. All recording was done “principally” in Miami.
An avid collector of 45s once described The Impacs as “surf rock” within the context of “pre 65 garage” music. Of the five King 45s released, only one is available for preview, however, on YouTube – but it’s classic:
I suspect the B-side, “Cape Kennedy Fla,” and album track, “Music for a Space Station,” are both instrumentals, as I know “Kool It” and “Zot” both to be.
The Impacs King Discography
King 45 #5851 “Two Strangers” b/w “Jo-Ann” 1964
King 45 #5863 “Shimmy Shimmy” b/w “Zot” 1964
King 45 #5891 “Kool It” b/w “She Didn’t Even Say Hello” 1964
King 45 #5910 “Ain’t That the Way Life Is” b/w “Don’t Cry Baby” 1964
King 45 #5965 “Your Mama Put the Hurt on Me” b/w “Cape Kennedy Fla” 1964
“Surf Finger,” such an obvious candidate for the A-side of a 45, alas, was never issued on wax and seems only to have surfaced with the release of Ace’s 2006 CD anthology, Hard Workin’ Man – The Jack Nitzsche Story Volume 2:
“Surf Finger” Jack Nitzsche 1966
Video features “Surf Finger” paired with vintage footage of Sunset Strip in its 60s heyday.
Spectropop‘s detailedJack Nitzschediscography affirms that this track was recorded in 1966, thus forty years consigned to the can. Thanks to Scene of Screen 13 cinema blog, I learned that this instrumental served as part of the soundtrack for “documentary” film, Mondo Bizarro —– to hear the “Surf Finger” segment in the documentary, click on the triangle (media player) below.
Could this possibly be Jack Nitzsche’s abstract response to the classic Bar Kays near-instrumental, “Soul Finger,” I wondered. Highly unlikely, I had to conclude, since that Stax/Volt 45 did not come into being until the following year, 1967.
Jack Nitzsche, T.A.M.I. Show Arranger & conductor, with Jan berry – 1964
June 1967’s single release, “Hit the Surf” by The Sea Shells, may or may not have been the last recording of surf music’s original Golden Age: Sgt. Pepper‘s release that same month might well have been the final nail in surf’s fiberglass coffin.
The music scholars at Rhino Records — in the liner notes to their surf music box set, Cowabunga! — inform me that “In 1980, a surprisingly large number of surf bands appeared in major cities across the country and overseas. However, most of the action was smack dab in Southern California.” DC’s Slickee Boys, fortunately for the rest of humanity, pioneered an East Coast surf sound in 1983 with the release of their seminal single, “When I Go to the Beach”:
Second-place winner of MTV’s Basement Tapes in 1983, “When I Go to the Beach” consequently gave The Slickee Boys the distinction of being the first DC-area band to appear on the burgeoning music network (it’s true: MTV once played music videos). “When I Go to the Beach” – written by Mark Noone and featuring the twin guitar attack of Kim Kane & Marshall Keith – was included on The Slickee Boys second long-playing release, Cybernetic Dreams of Pi, a Twin/Tone album that also enjoyed release in Germany and France. Voted Record of the Year in 1985 at the first Washington Area Music Association Awards, “When I Go to the Beach” would also be featured, thrillingly enough, in Frankie and Annette “retro-surf” film, Back to the Beach from 1987.
All Roads Lead to Mark Noone
If Pete Frame – pioneer of the Rock Family Tree – were to map out the DC music scene of the 1970s, 80s and beyond, Mark Noone would certainly be in the thick of things. In addition to his work with The Slickee Boys, Mark has not only sung and/or held down bass duties for The Wanktones, The Hula Monsters, Ruthie & the Wranglers, and The Rhodes Tavern Troubadours but is once again tapping into the Zeitgeist via current side project, The Yachtsmen – “dock rockers” for our New Gilded Age.
don’t make me tell you again: Dc’s the telecaster town
Even if only for his pioneering production work with one of my guitar heroes, Duane Eddy (e.g., using a gigantic grain tank as an echo chamber), let it be known that Lee Hazlewood, while himself not a hotshot guitarist, co-wrote some of Eddy’s best tunes (including half of his excellent 1965 album, Duane-a-Go-Go), as well as penned a fair number of surf classics for other artists: “Baja“; “Movin’” and “Batman” for The Astronauts, plus all of Al Casey‘s best instrumentals – “Surfs You Right“; “The Hearse“; “Surfin’ Hootenanny“; and “Guitars, Guitars, Guitars.”
Is Hazlewood’s 1961 instrumental – five years before Neil Hefti’s “Batman Theme” – the first musical tribute to the Caped Crusader?
Allison Anders’ 1996 fictional film, Grace of My Heart – a clever and heartfelt tribute to the great sounds of the 1960s and early 70s – features original songs that take their inspiration from Brill Building & girl group pop, as well as Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound,” British Invasion beat groups, and confessional singer-songwriter balladry that later set the stage for “adult contemporary” pop. The soundtrack’s effectiveness is due, in part, to the fact that a number of songs were written by veteran songwriters of the classic pop era in collaboration with more contemporary artists, as in the case of “God Give Me Strength,” which was written by Burt Bacharach with Elvis Costello.
“Take a Run at the Sun” – a deft blend of surf and theremin that is one of the soundtrack’s highlights – was written and performed by J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. and is notable for sounding nothing like the gargantuan guitar roar for which the 90s “alternative” rock trio is famous:
The following year saw the release of a Dinosaur Jr. 3-song single (in the UK and Australia only) which featured “Take a Run at the Sun” as the A-side with “Don’t You Think It’s Time” and “The Pickle Song” on the flip side.
Zero to 180 has been working tirelessly to determine who recorded the final surf song of the original era and when. Two previous posts (A and B) featured a pair of surf tunes from 1967 that seemed to spell the end of surf’s first wave. But then I was recently startled to recall a 45 by The Turtles I had acquired a couple years ago – “Surfer Dan,” B-side of “Eleanor” from their concept album, The Turtles Present the Battle of the Bands:
This is undoubtedly the first surf song whose lyrics include the word “Maharishi.”
Is it possible that, in “Surfer Dan,” The Turtles have to come to bury surf music, not praise it?