ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 18, 2003
By Steve Newton
Guitarist Eddie Angel was playing at a Nashville club in 1986, opening up for underrated roots-twang merchants Webb Wilder, when his future bandmate, Danny Amis, showed up. During the set, Angel caught the attention of the instrumentally minded Amis with a Link Wray cover, which led to the two pickers meeting after the gig.
A few years later they formed the nucleus of Los Straitjackets, and the rest is instro-rock history. Good thing Angel was so adept with Wray’s 1963 barnburner “Run Chicken Run”. “I’d been playing that for years,” he says from his Music City home. “I’ve probably played it more than Link Wray has.”
By 1994, Angel and Amis had formed a quartet called the Straitjackets, which also included former Webb Wilder drummer Jimmy Lester, the guy behind the kit that fateful night in Nashville. Before their first gig, Amis pulled out a bag of wrestling masks he had picked up in Mexico City, and the Los Straitjackets schtick was born.
“I thought they looked cool,” Angel recalls. “I mean, I was way into the idea of doin’ somethin’ that was fun and theatrical, because I was a big fan of the Mummies, a band from San Francisco that dressed up like mummies. And I also thought, you know, we’re gonna be playin’ instrumental music, and people are used to watching a singer, so we have to do somethin’ to kinda hold people’s attention.”
Since donning the masks, Los Straitjackets have recorded seven albums, been featured on several movie and TV soundtracks, and appeared on Late Night With Conan O’Brien half a dozen times. “He plays guitar himself,” Angel says of the redheaded talk-show host, “and he’s a big fan of rockabilly music. He walks around backstage playing a really great Fender Telecaster.”
The quartet’s most recent CDs were last year’s holiday release, ’Tis the Season for Los Straitjackets, and the brand-new Supersonic Guitars in 3-D. The latter disc sports the coolest three-dimensional cover art since Voivod’s Outer Limits.
“I love to see people’s expressions when they open the CD and see those glasses,” says Angel, who points out that the album includes guest appearances by the Blues Explosion’s Jon Spencer on vocal and theremin and X guitarist Billy Zoom on sax and flute. So does that mean the X-man wasn’t “supersonic” enough to handle his normal instrument? “I guess we felt like we had the guitar work covered,” replies Angel with a chuckle.
Los Straitjackets play their first-ever Vancouver show at Richard’s on Richards on Friday (September 19), with local guests Big John Bates and the Voodoo Dollz. They don’t plan on pulling a Kiss trick and unmasking anytime soon, although Angel sometimes wishes they would.
“When we’re playin’ outside in the middle of summer in 100-degree heat it gets a little hot,” he explains. “But we’re kinda used to it. I’ll tell you what’s worse than the heat is the smell. Smell’s funky, man. We carry around Febreze. We should do a Febreze commercial.”