Los Straitjackets keep the instro-rock flame alive
Die-hard instro-rock fans—the type who worship at the altar of Duane Eddy and feel immense joy whenever a passerby whistles a Ventures tune—have it pretty rough these days. There was a time when instrumentals like “Walk, Don’t Run”, “Telstar”, “Pipeline”, and “Memphis” were Top 20 radio hits, but that time was called the ’60s, and since then—apart from the boost brought on by Quentin Tarantino’s use of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou” in 1994’s Pulp Fiction—there hasn’t been a huge resurgence of interest in the genre.
That comes as no surprise to Eddie Angel, guitarist for Nashville-based instro-rock vets Los Straitjackets.
“Nah, nothin’ surprises me,” says Angel, on the line from a rehearsal in Santa Monica, California. “I’m more surprised that we’re able to make a living doin’ it. I never thought that we would last 17 years, touring and playing instrumental rock ’n’ roll.
“And the thing is,” he continues, “in Mexico it’s really big. We’re pretty huge in Mexico, and it’s all kids—it’s like punk rock or somethin’ down there. So the kids in Mexico get it. And people in places in Europe get it. In America, unfortunately, you have to be on the radio; you have to somehow catch the wave. But we’ve found a niche, a cult following, and we’ve been able to compete by getting our songs in movies. So we’ve done all right, you know.”
Though far from a household name, Los Straitjackets have kept the instro-rock flame alive via 13 studio albums, starting with 1995’s The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets and leading up to the new Jet Set, which boasts 15 original tracks of gorgeously melodic guitar music. The quartet reinforced its underground status by writing music for and appearing in the 2000 indie flick Psycho Beach Party. And it also felt a flicker of mainstream success when it was nominated for a Grammy for its 2003 collaboration with Eddy Clearwater, Rock ’N’ Roll City.
“It was in the traditional blues category,” points out Angel. “Eddy Clearwater’s a blues artist, but he’s sort of a rock ’n’ roll singer too—he’s like a Chuck Berry protégé. There was a real good chemistry between us, and it was just a lot of fun. We got to go to the Grammys in our wrestling masks.”
Ah, yes—those wrestling masks. For the uninitiated, the members of Los Straitjackets perform wearing Mexican wrestling masks, and—although they’re “hot and very hard to breathe in”—always have. The gimmick caught on when cofounder and guitarist Danny Amis—who is undergoingcancer treatment, and has been temporarily replaced by the eloquently named Gregorio el Grande—brought back some souvenirs from Mexico.
“Danny is a big fan of Mexican culture,” notes Angel. “He goes down to Mexico City all the time and goes to the wrestling matches and buys these masks. When we got together to start the band he had a whole box of them, and we all thought they looked cool, so we went, ‘Hey, man, what about wearing these?’ We just did it as a joke, but after the first gig we knew we had to keep wearing them.”
Los Straitjackets play the Vancouver FanClub on Thursday (September 20).
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