Who were those masked men? | August 4, 2006 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |


Palo Alto Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - August 4, 2006

Who were those masked men?

Los Straitjackets bring surf music -- and Mexican wrestling masks -- to Twilight Concert series

by Brooke Thomas

Wearing a black and gold Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) mask, guitarist Eddie Angel looks downright sinister. His fellow Los Straitjackets band members -- guitarist Danny Amis, bass player Pete Curry and drummer Jason Smay -- look equally intimidating.

Until they break into their instrumental surf music and accompanying choreography, which -- Angel said self-deprecatingly -- is "nothing you would see on MTV."

Los Straitjackets is scheduled to perform, masks and all, in Palo Alto on Aug. 8 as part of the annual Twilight Concert series. While the musicians mainly focus on instrumental surf music, they often bring in guest vocalists or break out into rock songs. They've even done a cover of Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On."

Why the wrestling masks? "We just wanted to wear them because we liked them," Angel said.

Angel started working with Amis after meeting him in 1988. Angel was opening for country rock band Webb Wilder in Nashville, Tennessee, and Amis was in the audience. With the addition of Webb Wilder drummer Jimmy Lester, the three briefly played together as a band under the name The Straitjackets.

"We played around for about six months and then we went our own ways," Angel said. However, the band reformed in 1994 with Curry on bass and Smay on drums. Before their first performance, they donned the masks and became Los Straitjackets.

The band is used to wearing the masks after 12 years of performances, but Angel admits they can still become uncomfortable, especially during hot, outdoor performances. "It's kind of like being asphyxiated," Angel said.

As well as wrestling masks, the band took on stage names appropriate to a band named Los Straitjackets, including Daddy-O-Grande (Amis) and Pedro Del Mar (Curry).

As for Angel himself, he said, "I've been Eddie Angel for longer than anyone can remember," declining to mention his real name.

Twilight Concert series producer Suzanne Warren saw Los Straitjackets years ago at a Palo Alto concert, and has been wanting to book them ever since. This will be the band's first performance with the series.

The band has produced several instrumental CDs, including "Viva Los Straitjackets!" "The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sounds of Los Straitjackets," and a Christmas album, "'Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets." The musicians were also featured on the Grammy-nominated "Rock 'N' Roll City" CD by blues guitarist Eddie "The Chief" Clearwater.

Los Straitjackets' newest album, set for an Oct. 3 release, is titled "Los Straitjackets with the World Famous Pontani Sisters Featuring Kaiser George, Twist Party!!!" It has vocals by Kaiser George of the Scottish rock 'n' roll band The Kaisers. There's also a DVD featuring the Pontani Sisters -- a burlesque act frequently touring with the band -- who teach viewers accompanying dance steps.

Los Straitjackets also just finished recording a new album last month, featuring vocals by several Spanish singers, including Big Sandy, Little Willy G and Los Lobos singer Cesar Rosas. It's slated for release in 2007.

Angel attributes his band's success not to the costumes, but to good luck and good timing. Quentin Tarantino's film "Pulp Fiction" came out in the band's early days, including instrumental and surf music on its soundtrack.

"Instrumental music around the country became popular," Angel said. "(The band) took off on its own because the timing was right."

Some fans say the band's broad musical appeal has contributed to its success.

On Amazon.com, reviewer Beau Yarbrough praised Los Straitjackets' cover of "My Heart Will Go On." He said it "nicely encapsulates both the humor and artistry of Los Straitjackets, who manage to produce classic surf music without sounding like they're simply emulating Dick Dale or the Ventures and without straying into other forms in order to find a way to inject new life into the music."

The band claims musical influences ranging from Chuck Berry to garage band legends like The Sonics and The Mummies, among others. The musicians like "everything from country music to mambo," Angel said.

Although the band describes itself as instrumental American rock 'n' roll music, it has a large following with the Mexican surf scene. An estimated 70,000 people attended a concert they headlined in Mexico City last year, Angel said.

"When we went to Mexico City, it caused a big stir," he said, attributing it to the masks. The Mexican people must have liked the idea, Angel said, since when the Los Straitjackets returned months later, they saw several bands imitating them.

What: Los Straitjackets, performing as part of the Twilight Concert Series.

Where: Mitchell Park Bowl, 600 East Meadow Drive, Palo Alto.

When: Tuesday, Aug. 8, from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Cost: Free

Info: Call 650-463-4940 or go to www.cityofpaloalto.org and click on "Arts and Culture" under "Featured Sites."


Posted by Jim R, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 19, 2007 at 5:31 pm

Web Link
Palo Alto Online
Arts & Entertainment - Friday, August 4, 2006
Who Were Those Masked Men?
Los Straitjackets bring surf music -- and Mexican wrestling masks -- to Twilight Concert series
by Brooke Thomas

Hi, nice article, and good to see attention given to a fine group of musicians. I wish to point out an inaccuracy related to this item in the article:

"However, the band reformed in 1994 with Curry on bass and Smay on drums."

In actuality the reformed group included bass player Scott Esbeck and Jimmy Lester on drums (Jimmy left the group just 3-4 years ago).

From the Los Straitjackets website:

Web Link
"1994 May The Straitjackets get back together for kicks and add Scott Esbeck."

Web Link
"1995 January Jimmy Lester is also nominated as Best Drummer"