Los Straitjackets Biography 2012
No one equals the finesse and power of Los Straitjackets when it comes to delivering high-energy rock and roll instrumental music. Since first donning their trademark Lucha Libre masks before a record store appearance in 1994, the band has recorded 11 albums, played around the world, and never failed to inspire an audience to smile while rocking out.
That’s why it came as such a crushing blow when original guitarist Daddy-O Grande was diagnosed with Multiple Myeloma in the spring of 2010. After Daddy-O was unable to finish a European tour, the band—Teen Beat, Mister Peet & Eddie Angel turned to his cousin from Guadalajara—Gregorio El Grande—to fulfill their obligations. After stepping on stage with no rehearsal at an outdoor gig in Haddon Heights NJ, the band has not missed a beat since. They’ve burned up the road since—including a memorable benefit concert for Amis at Los Angeles’ Mayan Theater that featured guest appearances by the likes of Conan O’Brien, Johnny Rivers and many more.
Of course, we can’t substantiate their actual identities, but it has been theorized that the “Clark Kent” guises of the band has contributed to their sound. Originally from Minneapolis, where he had formed The Overtones and first recorded his now classic instrumental Calhoun Surf, Danny Amis cut his teeth as the bass player for No-Wave instrumental favorites The Raybeats.
Amis met a mask-less Eddie Angel at a Nashville show where original drummer Lord Chevron/Jimmy Lester was playing and discussed their mutual love of Link Wray. Angel was playing with his legendary and recently re-formed Planet Rockers—but he cut his teeth on the DC music scene, where he got his first lead guitar job with Rockabilly aesthete Tex Rabinowitz’s band The Bad Boys.
Amis and Angel recruited Lester for a band called The Straitjackets. Then after adding a “Los,” recruiting Scott Esbeck on bass and donning the masks— they recorded two classic albums for the Boston-based Upstart label and beginning putting mileage on their Econoline van. Their second album, Viva, had a minor radio hit with the top-down, Pacific Coast cruising song “Pacifica,” put them on the map.
Amis and Angel continued their partnership—first replacing Esbeck with multi-instrumentalist Pete Curry, and later drummer Jason “Teen Beat” Smay signed on to replace Lester. When Amis fell ill, and his cousin Gregorio stepped in, many observant fans have noticed that “Gregorio’s” look and guitar style closely resembles that of Smay’s bandmate in the Hi Risers’ Greg Townson. Townson, who also played with James Brown sideman Pee Wee Ellis, and produced records by Bill Doggett and Willie John Ellison (lead singer of The Soul Brothers Six and writer of the classic “Some Kind of Wonderful”), brings an R&B sensibility to the band as evidenced by his show-stopping live covers of “You Send Me” and “Soul Finger.”
When Amis’ successfully underwent a stem cell transplant he began to recover, thoughts turned to new recording. It was decided to go into the studio with all three guitarist: Amis, Angel and Townson. And to produce the sessions the band tapped an old friend: drummer Janne Haavisto from Finland’s sadly defunct (and amazing!) Laika and the Cosmonauts.
With Haavisto in tow, and armed with a fresh batch of songs from Amis and Angel, the band entered The Pow Wow Fun Room studios in the Mar Vista neighborhood of LA. Los Straitjackets’ last record—The Further Adventures of Los Straitjackets, as well as both their Christmas albums and the Twist Party album—were all recorded here. The studio is a veritable museum of vintage guitars and amps, all collected over the years by Pete Curry. With Curry tweaking the knobs, a great guitar sound was never more than seconds away. Haavisto placed an emphasis on melodic songs, and he also played live percussion alongside Smay: picking up bongos, tambourines and shakers as the situation dictated, and creating a monster groove on every song.
The result is an album that rocks as hard as ever, but with a diversity and originality that is unparalleled in the Los Straitjackets oeuvre.
When two of the songs suggested horns, the band called in a favor from their pals at the Conan show- and Jimmy Vivino sketched out charts and brought The Basic Cable Horns in to add firepower to the swinging spy-jazz of Amis’ “Crime Scene” and the lilting Ska of Angel’s “Walking Down Third Street.” Organ was provided on several songs by fellow Cosmonaut Matti Pitskinki. And Finnish actress and musican Irina Björklund contributed Musical Saw to “Low Tide” as well vocalizing on “Sardinian Holiday.”
One song, “Mr. Pink,” which was spontaneously created at an earlier writing session, actually features Curry on drums (his first instrument—his career dates back to a job as an emergency fill in for Garage pioneers The Chocolate Watch Band at age 14). Haavisto fleshed out the demo with a counter melody line, and the band used it as is. “Brooklyn Slide” takes a dance groove, and slaps on Townson & Angel’s soulful melodic guitars over the top. A memorable video, with the World Famous Pontani Sisters shows off the Straitjackets heretofore unknown Breakdancing chops.
But guitar raveups are their bread and butter. And this record has plenty of those. Surf goes to Russia on Amis’ “New Siberia” and to Lake Placid on Townson’s “Bobsleddin’” And “Yeah Yeah Yeah” marries a power-pop melody with a trademark guitar sound that fans of Laika and the Cosmonauts may be familiar with.
Photos (click for hi-res)