STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
“I never thought we were going to get out of Nashville,” recalls Los Straitjackets’ guitarist and co-founding member Eddie Angel, from his home in Nashville, Tennessee. “I thought this band was just going to be for fun and entertaining our friends.”
Originally conceived in 1988 by Danny Amis (guitar), Eddie Angel (guitar) and L. J. “Jimmy” Lester (drums) as “The Straitjackets,” the group split and reformed in 1994 as “Los Straitjackets.”
Influenced by Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Link Wray and The Beatles, Los Straightjackets offered straight ahead rock and roll with a heavy dose of surf music. Following the release of the highly successful film “Pulp Fiction” (1994), which prominently featured surf music, Los Straitjackets caught an unexpected wave of success.
Signed to Upstart Records, they released their debut album, “The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets,” in the spring of 1995.
“We just came out at the right time,” recalls Angel. “Pulp Fiction had just come out, and all of a sudden surf instrumental music was very cool. Again, you can’t plan these things. They just happen. We just got in the van and started touring and we toured for three years straight. The next thing I know, we had a career going.”
As tight as the band was musically, it was the visual presentation that set them apart. Immaculately dressed in matching suits and ties, Los Straitjackets elected to cover their faces by sporting uniquely individualized Mexican wrestling masks.
“When we first started the band, we were rehearsing at Danny’s house and he had been going to Mexico City,” recalls Angel. “Whenever he could, he would go to wrestling matches and he would buy these wrestling masks outside the event. So he had this big box of them where we were rehearsing and somebody said, ‘What about wearing these?’ It was just one of those serendipitous things and we almost chickened out.”
“I remember our first gig wearing the masks. We were backstage thinking, ‘Are we wearing them or not wearing them?’ So we wore them and we knew right away when the reaction was good. There was no real thought. It was a lucky accident that has given us a career.”
“In my mind I’m thinking, ‘we are an instrumental band and we’re going to have to do something to keep people’s attention,’” adds Angel. “People are used to seeing a singer. I really thought it would be hard to hold people’s attention for an hour just playing instrumental. The masks had a lot to do with it. The music was good and everything, but we wouldn’t have a career without them. Wearing the wrestling masks allowed us to be kind of a different person on stage. You can be a super hero. I don’t know? It allows you freedom that you may not otherwise feel.”
“With our outfits, we wanted to dress like a vintage rock and roll band,” says Angel. “We started speaking Spanish and people started thinking we were Mexican. Then we got the matching guitars. Then we had the Pinto guitars. Then we started throwing in the choreography. So it’s all happened little by little over the years.”
In 2010, Amis was diagnosed with multiple myeloma and was sidelined from recording and touring. He returned to the band in a limited capacity in 2012. Townson, who was recruited to fill the void left by Amis, remains with the group. Los Straitjackets’ current line-up features Danny Amis (guitar), Eddie Angel (guitar), Pete Curry (bass), Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague (drums) and Greg Townson (guitar).
Danny Amis, Eddie Angel, Pete Curry, Chris “Sugarballs” Sprague, Greg Townson
Los Straitjackets latest effort is a 7” vinyl single split with NRBQ featuring two original songs. Los Straitjackets’ “Scram! It’s The Fuzz” and NRBQ’s “Never Cop Out.” Los Straitjackets and NRBQ will offer the single during their current co-headlining tour.
“We’re always looking for opportunities to do something different,” says Angel. “It seemed that the time was right to do a tour like this. I’ve been a huge NRBQ fan for over 30 years. So we’re really excited and happy to be working with these guys. I think it’s a great double bill.”
As frequent collaborators with a variety of obscure and high profile artists, Los Straightjackets’ latest effort pays homage to one of the band’s music heroes.
“We just recorded a tribute to Nick Lowe, where we’re doing instrumental versions of Nick Lowe songs,” says Angel. “Cruel To Be Kind,” “Peace, Love and Understanding,” “All Men Are Liars,” “You Inspire Me,” “Christmas at the Airport,” “Shake and Pop” and a few more. Hopefully that will be out by the end of the year.”
Angel attributes the success of Los Straitjackets to an unselfish team effort and a commitment to creative excellence and showmanship.
“The tightness is from touring over twenty years,” says Angel. “None of us are virtuosos, but I think we’re all band people. You have to have the right songs, and I think we’re really good at coming up with them. We’re songwriters first and foremost then accomplished guitar players. I think we all had the same sensibility about what we liked about music, so there’s no bumping heads over one of us liking a totally different kind of music. We’re all on the same page. Right from the beginning our philosophy was to be entertaining for an audience. That was our main goal.”
“We’ve kept it interesting for ourselves and for our fans,” adds Angel. “We always try to come up with something that’s different. We know we’re not going to reinvent the wheel. We’re not trying to reinvent rock and roll. We’ve been really lucky!”