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Los Straitjackets’ Eddie Angel Talks Surf, Masks + Genuine Rock and Roll

Yep Roc

For going on two decades now, Los Straitjackets have been proving themselves as the ‘World’s Number One Instrumental Combo’ time and time again. Whether you’re drawn in by the driving rhythms, the surging surftastic guitars or, perhaps, the outrageous Mexican wrestling masks, you have been given access to one wild and rollicking rock and roll party. All the band members have been at this a long time, doing what they love, and making it fresh, time and again. With the release of their new album, ‘Los Straitjackets: Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits,’ the guys have put yet another twist on their sound and approach.

Collaborating with rocker Deke Dickerson is a match made in heaven. Both Dickerson and the Los Straitjackets are scholars in all things genuine rock and roll, and it shines through on this record. Diffuser recently talked to guitarist Eddie Angel about the past, present and future of Los Striatjackets.

The new album is great! Who’s idea was it to put lyrics to these classic instrumentals?

Well, most of the songs, believe it or not, had lyrics put to them back after they became hits, somebody tried to cash in on. The only ones that we … there’s a couple of our songs that I wrote, that a friend of mine, Mark Winchester, put lyrics to. And then ‘Pipeline,’ for instance, the lyrics were put on by Johnny Legend, but all the other ones, somebody had the bright idea to put lyrics there at some point.

A lot of them, I had no idea there were ever lyrics connected to them.

Like the ‘Hawaii Five-0′ theme, that was Sammy Davis Jr.

Right! From his 1976 album ‘Song And Dance Man.’ He also does a mean version of the theme from ‘Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.’

Oh God! You know that record?! Crazy! Pretty wild stuff!

And how did Deke get involved with this? I know you guys have worked together over the years.

Well, actually, Deke came up with the idea. It was his idea. He proposed it to us and, you know, we’ve been friends with Deke for years and we’ve done lots of stuff together, tours, and we did a 45 with him like 10 years ago. So yeah, we cross paths and run in the same circles.

How did you go about picking the material? Something like ‘Popcorn,’ for instance — not a typical choice.

Yeah, I don’t know how we chose that one. I just remember we all thought it was cool sounding, and something different, you know? Others we just felt had to be on it cause they’re just classic songs. ‘Pipeline,’ ‘Sleepwalk,’ Miserlou,’ you know? Then the rest, just whatever we felt was cool.

It’s a great variety, plus Deke gets to do a little of his country thing, and there’s the Trashmen influence that comes in with ‘Kawanaga.’

Yeah, I mean, ‘Surfin’ Bird’ is one of my favorite all time songs and just to have something that is remotely in the ball park is great. I’ve got to become really good friends with the Trashmen. They’re just really great guys, very down to earth and unassuming. They’re bewildered that anyone even gives a s–t about ‘Surfin’ Bird,’ you know?

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In it’s own little world, it’s a cultural phenomenon to this day.

Absolutely! I got one for ya. Deke Dickerson had it played at his wedding in the church while they were walking down the aisle!

The new album sounds as fresh and exciting as ever. Hard to believe, but you guys are coming up on the 20th anniversary of Los Straitjackets.

Yeah … this is our 20th year. Crazy!

All you guys have been doing this for a long time, even before Los Straitjackets. I remember Danny Amis going back to the Overtones and the Raybeats and all that.

Wow … you remember the Overtones?! That’s amazing, that’s great! Danny is something. He’s only ever played in instrumental bands. The Overtones, the Raybeats and Los Straitjackets. That’s it!

Los Straitjackets always seem to change things up and add a lot of variety to what can often be a more generic genre.

Yeah that’s exactly right. Danny, for instance, was always more into lounge and exotica. I’m probably more into rockabilly, Chuck Berry side of things, Pete is probably the total surf guy. I mean, there are certain things we’re all into like the Ventures, the Beatles, but there’s certain things that we each bring to it. When we started Los Straitjackets, we weren’t thinking we were a surf band. We were just thinking rock and roll instrumental band. But Pete had played in real authentic surf bands like the Torquays, so he comes from that, even though he’d probably like to deny it. Then Ray, our new guitar player, he likes soul music and pop, Brill Building type stuff.

That helps keep it interesting.

Right! I think we always went for songs first, a good song. That’s one thing about a band like the Ventures or the Shadows, they always had good songs.

You guys have all worked with a wide array of people over the years, is there any one that stands out for you?

Well, I got to work with Ronnie Dawson, which was great. He was really influential. He always gave 100% when he went on stage, like a rocket blasting off!

It seems like the band are always on the road or in the studio. The business has changed so much in recent years but you guys still seem to have a strong footing. Do you feel like your niche is solid?

We were always a grassroots, do it yourself band. We never relied on big record labels or big promoters and all that. Even though we’re not a punk rock band, we have that aesthetic. I think bands like us are pretty well situated. We can make the record we want and go out and tour and make money. We tour lean and mean. We pile in a 15 passenger van, and we carry our own equipment and set it up ourselves, you know?

And Europe is always hungry for genuine rock and roll.

Oh absolutely. I go to Europe a lot. Besides Los Straitjackets, I still have a rockabilly band called the Planet Rockers and a ’60s styled band called the Neanderthals. In fact, we just played Spain last weekend! Europe is where there’s really a lot of enthusiasm for it.

Any other snazzy concepts in the pipeline for future Los Straijackets projects?

Oh yeah man, we have more than we have time to fulfill. One thing I would like to do is to put out some 45s with artists I like, you know? Like, we did one with Freddie Cannon a couple years ago. I would love to do something with Chris Montez, Jacki DeShannon, people who weren’t huge superstars but were really great. We’d also like to do some kind of Latin American record, like a Bossa-Nova thing. We’d like to do a kids record too.

It keeps things fresh.

That’s the key!

I know it’s a cliche question , but where did the whole mask thing spring from?

Danny Amis was and is a big fan of Mexican culture. When we started the band, he was going to Mexico City a couple times a year. He would go to the wrestling matches and buy these masks. He had a big box of them, and when we were rehearsing, we were looking for something fun to do, a fun way to present the band. And we thought, let’s wear the masks! I remember our first gig, here in Nashville, we were opening up for Man or Astroman, and we were backstage wondering if we should put the masks on or not. We were kinda chickening out, you know? It was all our friends out there and we thought, oh man, they’re gonna laugh at us. But after that first gig we knew that we had a winner with the masks. And honestly, I don’t think we would have had a career without the masks really. I mean, I think our music is good and holds up on its own, but people just took to it. Got their heads to turn.

In fact, when we started the band, I was at the point where I didn’t want to be in a band again. I had been in bands my whole life and every one of them had crashed and burned. So I thought, when we started doing this, this will be just for fun, but lo and behold, it just took off! The timing was right, you know? It was right around the time of ‘Pulp Fiction’ and all of a sudden there was this resurgence in instrumental music. We put the record out and just toured non-stop, living in a van. That’s how we built up a following and have been able to make a living from it. We’ve been lucky over the years.

Our goal right from the beginning was to be entertaining. We were sort of like, that was, and is, our philosophy on what rock and roll should be!

Next: ‘Los Straitjackets: Deke Dickerson Sings the Instrumental Hits’ - Album Review

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