I discovered The Hi-Risers quite by accident, but they’ve been a branch of a growing musical family tree for years. The tree sprouted for me when my love of Jimmy Buffett’s laid- back, Margaritaville empire led me to Will Kimbrough, who writes and plays occasionally with Jimmy and lives in Nashville. Ms. Marshall Chapman, a singer/songriter and Nashville legend, also wrote for Jimmy and plays regularly with Will. When my husband’s company moved their corporate headquarters to northern Alabama, we made a trip to Nashville last summer and got to meet and visit with Will and Marshall. Marshall also wrote a book about Nashville artists called They Came To Nashville and included a chapter about Eddie Angel, who used to be lead guitarist for her band. Following so far?
Eddie Angel is currently fronting Los Straitjackets, an instrumental surf band. Two weeks after I read Marshall’s book, Los Straitjackets played at Slow Food Roots Music Festival just north of Seattle. Two members of Los Straitjackets, Gregorio El Grande (guitar/vocals) and Senior Jason Smay (drums) also play in The Hi-Risers, based in Rochester, NY. Gregorio El Grande, a.k.a. Greg Townson, founded The Hi-Risers in 1997 with his long-time music collaborator Todd Bradley (bass/vocals). When Greg and Jason aren’t playing with Los Straitjackets, you can catch the trio tearing the place apart in a Rochester venue, various cities along the East Coast, or maybe even Europe.
After meeting Greg and the rest of Los Straitjackets briefly at the festival last summer, he was kind enough to send me a copy (via Todd Bradley–thanks, Todd!) of The Hi-Risers’ latest album, Once We Get Started (Spinout Records, 2008). They have several albums out, including some on a Spanish label, Rock & Roll, Inc. Greg was involved in writing most of the songs and collaborated with several talented people, including Todd, to complete the album. Some of the songs were previously recorded on Rock & Roll Inc., then re-recorded for this album. The history of the making of each song, tour dates and music store can be found on The Hi-Risers website.
I asked Greg how he managed to get so big in Europe, especially Spain. “We first went to Spain in 2004. A promoter there heard our second record, In The Spotlight, and hired us to play an amazing festival in Gijon. After that the band started to tour there on a regular basis and we built up a nice following. We’ve also played Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Finland, Belgium, Sweden and more. Rock & Roll Inc. is run by a good friend of mine and is based in Madrid. He’s a big fan and one of the nicest people I’ve met in the business.”
Once We Get Started is a delightful 14-track mix of multiple decades and genres of rock ‘n’ roll, surf, swing and rockabilly, but with original songs and their own trademark sound. Greg’s superb guitar skills rock each song with complex rhythms and runs, while Todd keeps that rock ‘n’ roll beat on bass. Greg and Todd also have sweet retro harmonies on many tracks. Jason Smay absolutely kills on drums and adds depth and speed to the poppy tunes. Their songs have very addictive lyrics; the title track stuck in my head the rest of the weekend. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly simple composition of these songs, though. As Greg says, “We work very hard to make it sound like we don’t work very hard, if you know what I mean.”
They tear the place apart on the first song, ”Foundation Rock” and end the disk with a screaming guitar solo on the frenetic “Two Week Notice”.
“She’ll Be My Ruin” makes me want to learn to swing dance:
“ATM Inside” has a modern rock tone and a darker quality as the boys lament their loss of funds from a girl with a heart like an ATM.
“Katy Did”, a pun on the katydid grasshopper, even includes a lyric about finding her in a meadow!
“One Note Joe” is frustratingly funny, as he literally only plays one note throughout the guitar solo:
Other tracks include heartbreakers and sweet love songs, as well as one that sounds like Jimmy Buffett himself should record called “Slack Jawed & Trout Mouthed”.
The Hi-Risers have a new album coming out in July called Hang Around With You. I look forward to reviewing that and spreading the word about this band made for sock hops and summer lovin’.
Here’s another video, just for fun:
Gregorio El Grande steals the show with his solo in “You Send Me”
Check out the Randomville article here: http://randomville.com/wordpress/?p=11564 for a more concise review. The blog below contains more details of our day at the festival.
Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets coaxed the devil out of his guitar Saturday afternoon at a quiet little food and music festival in Stanwood, Washington.
I first heard of Los Straitjackets while reading They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman. I saw Ms. Chapman perform in Nashville in June of this year and purchased her book soon afterward. Eddie Angel was featured in her book because he used to play in her band back in the 80′s. He then formed Los Straitjackets in 1994. Chapman named Los Straitjackets as her favorite Nashville band, and Eddie Angel as her favorite guitar player. When I heard they were coming to the Seattle area, I had to go.
My husband was golfing the weekend they were supposed to play The Tractor; by the time I started scrambling to find someone else to go with, they sold out. Their website mentioned they would be playing at Slow Food Roots Music Festival in Stanwood. I looked them up, and decided to ask my teenage son if he could go with me, since the festival was family friendly. He surprisingly agreed, so I purchased the $20 tickets and told him we were in, and not to make any other plans.
My goal was to not only introduce my son to some unique music, but also feed him some decent fair food. I’m always surprised at the paradox of our local fairs to showcase beautiful animals, vegetables and fruit, and then serve heavily processed, greasy fast food. But this festival tried something different. The vendors were local. The food was grown locally, and the menu included burgers, beef brisket (cooked 15 hours on-site), veggie wraps, fruit smoothies, salads, roasted corn, desserts from a local bakery, and locally roasted coffee.
After a slow drive through heavy Everett traffic, we arrived about 2:00. It was a perfectly warm, sunny day, with a little breeze to keep us from overheating.
We were hungry and purchased delicious hamburgers with fixin’s that included rhubarb ketchup, herb-infused mustard, beautiful butter lettuce, ripe tomatoes and fresh buns that were hand-cut. They were so flavorful.
We grabbed some water bottles and found a seat in the small set of wooden risers just a few yards from the stage. In front of us, there were people scattered about in beach chairs and blankets. A few hundred people gathered in the vicinity of the stage and beer garden.
The Moondoggies were finishing up a tight set, and sounded fantastic on this warm summer day. I kicked myself for not driving up a bit earlier. I do plan to see them again soon.
We wandered around after their set to find some dessert – a giant, tasty snickerdoodle. We walked back to the stage and settled in again on the risers. The crowd picked up a bit when it was announced that Los Straitjackets would be coming on stage in a few minutes.
My son refused to see a video or any pictures of the band. I thought he was just being a lazy teenager, but he told me he really wanted to be surprised. I only told him they were an instrumental surf band, and they wore Mexican wrestling masks. That was good enough for him!
I watched my son’s metallic grin spread all the way across his face as Los Straitjackets took the stage, decked out in their campy, colorful spandex wrestling masks, black bowling shirts with their names embroidered on the pocket, and black pants.
They started out the set with a slower song that showcased their unique surf guitar sound. Their matching, sparkly Galaxie 4 guitars were custom-made by DiPinto Guitars, based in Philadelphia, PA. They put those guitars to work.
By the third song, “Casbah,” more people showed up and started paying attention. Senior Angel thanked the audience in pidgin Spanish, sans accent, and introduced the song: “Gracias, damas y caballeros, otro cancion es…Casbah! The three guitarists lined up and jutted their heads like pigeons to the beat of the song.
The fifth song was a cover, “You Send Me” and I felt like I was a 50’s sock hop doing a slow dance with Marty McFly.
“Despues, a new…nuevo cancion called Space Mosquito, o Mosquito del Espacio!” This was a new song from their upcoming album.
Senior Angel’s skillful guitar playing was magical. I’ve really never seen anything like it. Maybe even the best I’ve ever seen, for pure entertainment value. He was all over the frets, throwing his pick hand behind his head making it look and sound like he had some kind of telepathic control over that guitar. He was plucking, picking, pounding on the neck, making that thing scream out sounds I’ve never heard. Maybe he was possessed. Dios Mio! El Diablo!
A second guitar, played by and introduced as El Stupendo, El Fantastico Senior Gregorio El Grande (Greg Townson). He rattled out the solos, playfully hit harmonics, slowed it down, and complemented Angel’s guitar to perfection. He stopped through part of a solo, threw his arms up toward the crowd in a show of triumph, and they whooped and clapped for more. When not touring with Los Straitjackets, El Grande plays in another band with the drummer, Jason Smay called The Hi-Risers, based in Rochester, NY.
The drummer, Senior Jason Smay, had his hands full keeping up with the fast surfer pace, banging away in the hot August sun. He had a remarkable solo of his own during a cover of “Sing Sing Sing,” and received a well-deserved standing ovation.
The bass player, Senior Pedro (Pete) Curry, whose mask was epic with winged sides like some loco Jurassic lizard, had very difficult runs and some fun coordinating dance moves with the two guitarists during the long set. They would stand together and play or cross their legs at the same time, pose, throw their arms up in unison, and mug for my camera.
Many of the songs were fun covers, but they are also getting ready to drop a new album and played two more original songs, including “Bobsleddin’,” and one called “Positively 6th Street.” I only wish we were watching their act at a beach party in Southern California, where we were free to dance and get a little…Psycho! (Cue the Psycho Beach Party Video!)
Some of the other covers included “Tequila,” in which Angel asked the beer garden: “Quiere Tequila?” and blasted into that famous song. They also played “The Munsters” theme song, the Stones’ “Time is on My Side,” and–uh, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” from The Titanic. It sounded so cool, though!
Senior Angel kept forgetting where he was playing and exclaimed to the crowd, “Viva, uh, viva…Stanley? No? Stanwood. Viva Stanwood! Y viva…[he read off the festival name from Gregorio's wrist band] Slow Food Roots Music Festival!” The crowd laughed and cheered heartily, and he continued, “Viva Beer Garden!” More cheers. “Viva Batman!” and plowed right into the “Batman” theme song to a happy crowd.
We moved to the side and sat on hay bales next to the right side of stage during encore while they played a Ritchie Valens instrumental, and it was a perfect, beautiful rendition.
After the quick encore, I told Jacob to make a dash for the side of the stage, as I hoped we could catch them before they left. It was so open, it was easy to see them. There was a lone security guard who cheerfully helped bring the guys over to meet us.
Eddie came over first, and I had my copy of Marshall Chapman’s book in my hand. He recognized it immediately and was taken aback. He said he’d never seen anyone with the book at a show before. I quickly told him how we were just in Nashville in June and saw Marshall’s show, and realized they would be coming to town! He happily signed my book on the picture in chapter about him. The drummer Jason signed it too, and thanked us for being there.
The security guard brought over Gregorio who also signed the book, gave me his card, and was glad to hear I was doing a review of the show. I told him I heard they tore it up at The Tractor last night, but I couldn’t get tickets. He remembered they sold out. He said they had a great time. I told him The Tractor was our favorite place to see live shows, and he said he’d come back as long as The Tractor is still there. He said hello to my son, whom I quickly introduced. He shook Jacob’s hand (Jacob later admitted that was pretty cool). Gregorio then called the bass player over, who also signed and after hearing my explanation of how I acquired the book, said to me, “Marshall–she’s a smart one!” Yes, she is.
I was shaking when I left. I was so excited to get not only Eddie Angel’s autograph, but the whole band’s! Jacob said, “Calm down, Mom!” and smiled as he said it.
We were almost hungry again and purchased peach smoothies, a beef brisket sandwich, then went back for roasted corn cob and pecan pie bars for dessert. The entertainment, the food, the perfect weather…Yeah, it was a good day at the festival.
Viva Los Straitjackets!
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