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MUSIC / SQUARE ROOTS : Ska Kings : The band that surfs together, has stayed together. As for style, they call themselves the Spike Jones of reggae.

May 28, 1992|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Square Roots, nine Giants' fans out of the Santa Cruz area, will rock Toe's Tavern on Friday night, unless there are waves. These finheads pray for surf first, and make you dance second. They're very good at both. And no snide Giants jokes this week--they're in first.

Much like Lion I's, Spencer the Gardener and Raging Arb & the Redheads around here, the Square Roots have basically conquered their area and are ready for the next step. Usually, the next step entails getting bigger or getting bored and getting going. The Square Roots are getting bigger. The nine-piece band can be heard on a lot of college radio stations and seen taking more and more road trips. And they have a 10-song CD they'd be happy to sell to you.

The Square Roots have performed with the Wailers, Santana, Los Lobos, the Untouchables, Aswad, Blues Traveler, Burning Spear, David Lindley, the Ventures, the Bonedaddys, Fishbone and lots of others. You'll notice that, except for the Ventures, none of these groups are surf bands. The Square Roots may be a bunch of surfers, but they don't play surf music. They play music more like the English Beat, the Specials and the Untouchables.

Band leader Dan Young, who was one of the founding members of the Surfrider Foundation, was caught between sets, and agreed to talk about his favorite ska band.

How often do you Giant fans venture south?

Twice in our life. This will be the third time. In January we opened for No Doubt at the Whiskey. That was the first time half the band had ever been to Southern California. Also, wherever we play, there has to be salt in the air. On that same tour, we played Spanky's in Riverside and we were all choking.

We're all connected with the surfin' and ska industry. We've actually been reviewed in Surfer Magazine, and an article is coming out in Surfing Magazine.

How'd you guys get started?

Everyone surfs at Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz. The core of the band has been together for about 10 years; we've been playing as the Square Roots for about five years, and we've been really dialed in for about three years. But there's so many of us, once we get the rental vans and all that stuff, we can't afford to take some gigs.

But you guys are a bunch of finheads, so why ska music?

Reggae's been coming here since day one. Bob Marley played here, then the whole ska thing happened in '79 and '80. We look at ourselves as sort of the Spike Jones of reggae. Most bands play the traditional Jamaican ska from the '60s. We sort of took ska and ran with it and add more modern music like rap and rock and just everything in our lives.

What's the Santa Cruz scene like?

Well, it's the second most expensive place to live in the state after San Francisco. No one can afford to buy a house, so we all sort of live in the surf ghetto. We try to live a surf lifestyle and play enough music to get by. We play at a place in Santa Cruz called the Catalyst every six weeks or so. It holds 800 people, and we pack the place. It's like going to a gig with 800 of your best friends. The bouncers love us--there's never any trouble at our gigs. And the girls are beautiful. People can slow dance, slam dance or just stare when we play.

How did you guys get involved with Bill Graham?

A surfing buddy of mine turned out to be a producer for Graham. We did a couple of gigs at the Fillmore, then after the earthquake, we were part of a benefit show in Watsonville, my hometown. We've had some great gigs in the Bay Area, opening up for Santana and then another time for Los Lobos at the Santa Cruz County Fair. After Los Lobos, all these people came up to us and told us how good we were, but in Spanish. Other people tell us they use our music to exercise at the spa.

You play the flugel horn?

Yes, and the trumpet. I used to be a big band player. I was doing sort of a Doc Severinsen thing.

How can so many guys in a band get along so well?

In and out of the water, everyone has a good heart. Everyone in this band is friends and there's just a lot of righteousness and honesty. We're all tight and tan--we could kick ass in a pickup basketball game.

The show at Toe's Tavern is free?

Yup, it's cheap at twice the price. I met the manager, John, at the Pasadena Toe's Tavern. They raise about $10,000 every year in benefits for the Surfrider Foundation. They're a surf bar and it fits their motif.

Have they screwed up the beaches up there too?

That's why we started the Surfrider Foundation. There are some statewide issues, but local chapters tackle local problems such as water quality. Up here, we like to keep jet skis out of the lineup because they're dangerous. When we see one, we take down their number or just throw rocks at them.

So were the Surf Punks right about the beach when they sang "My beach, my waves, my sand, shuddup, go home . . ."?

Those guys were wonderful, great songwriters, and funny too.

Tell me about the no-pay parking initiative.

We're trying to get an initiative on the November ballot to abolish pay parking at the beach. It started up here in Sonoma County. They put this iron gate across the road to this local surf spot--we call them "iron rangers," which is basically a pay gate. They want people to pay six bucks to park at a place where they've been surfing all their lives. The state figures, "Gosh, we got to make some money." But we pay taxes; those beaches are bought and paid for, and all this goes against the Coast Commission, which insures free access to the beach.

* WHERE AND WHEN

Square Roots at Toe's Tavern, 416 State St., Santa Barbara, Friday at 8 p.m. No free pizza but no cover charge either. For more information call 965-4655.

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