By Jim Clark
Relax, folks. The guitar wielding men wearing the black clothing, gold Aztec medallions, and personalized Mexican wrestling masks won’t hurt you. They are merely there to entertain you, as only they can do.
Los Straitjackets, the notoriously riotous neo-surf rock, garage punk, an instrumental guitar outfit, roars into town with a performance at Johnny D’s on May 31.
Don’t be fooled into thinking that the image they present reveals a reliance on mere gimmickry to please an audience. These guys are the real deal musically, displaying extraordinary instrumental virtuosity while sweetening the proceedings with their unique brand of tongue-in-cheek humor.
Their music pays homage to and takes inspiration from the great surf and rockabilly artists of the 60s, such as The Ventures, The Shadows, Link Wray and Dick Dale. Creating original songs based on the sounds and rhythms of these sources, their high-energy onstage delivery of them has garnered the group a special place in the hearts of their sizable and loyal fan base. Some wonderfully re-imagined cover songs are often presented as well.
Contrary to what one may presume on first encountering the group’s exotic image, they do not hail from south of the border, down Mexico way. Rather, they can be regarded as immigrants from below the Mason-Dixon Line, having originally formed in Nashville, TN.
Noted rockabilly guitarists Eddie Angel and Danny Amis met one another in Nashville in 1988 and formed an early version of the group, which they named The Straitjackets. They played several dates that year but eventually disbanded until 1994, when they reformed as Los Straitjackets.
Over the course of the following years they developed a strong cult following, while adding in their signature look and performance style.
A typical Los Straitjackets performance is a non-stop romp, with the band firing off one after another selections from their vast repertoire of songs. With eleven studio albums, two collaboration albums and three live albums under their gilded belts, the band has a virtual treasure trove of material to select from.
As sole spokesman, guitarist Danny “Daddy-O Grande” Amis delivers rapid-fire, badly accented Spanish banter between numbers. The rest is pure entertainment as the band does what it undeniably does best: rock the house down.
Although primarily an instrumental band, Los Straitjackets has collaborated with vocalists in the past with great success. Their 2001 album Sing Along with Los Straitjackets features guest vocal performances by eleven artists, including Big Sandy (of Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys), Raul Malo (of The Mavericks) and Mike Campbell (of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers). 2007’s Rock en Español, Vol. 1 consists of Spanish language covers of classic 50s and 60s English language rock songs, again sung by guest vocalists.
A new single is in the offing with vocals by Sarah Borges of Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles. One side features a cover of The Rolling Stones’ Let’s Spend The Night Together while the flip side will have Wild Romance, a great version of a song by The Hi-Risers.
Los Straitjackets are currently touring the country, and their appearance at Johnny D’s will also feature a performance by singer-songwriter Eilen Jewell, a face and voice familiar to Somerville music lovers.
So, be brave, gentle readers. Take the plunge into the Straitjacket zone. You’ll be glad you did.
Los Straitjackets – Thursday, May 31, 7:30 p.m., at Johnny D’s, 17 Holland St., Davis Sq., Somerville. For tickets go online: http://www.johnnyds.com/advance-tickets/