Nashville, home of the Grand Ole Opry. One would expect to find about a zillion cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats. But four guys wearing Mexican wrestling masks and playing all-instrumental surf-rock?
That might get your attention.
Which isn't the only reason that Los Straitjackets, who are based in Nashville, first donned the masks, for a record store gig about two years ago. (Although, like anyone else, they did want to make an impression. And it worked. The band--guitarists Danny Amis and Eddie Angel, drummer E. Scott Esbeck and bassist Les James Lester--got signed to Upstart, the roots-rock offshoot of the respected Rounder Records label. Los Straitjackets have released two albums.)
"We're just trying to be entertaining on stage. That's why we wear them," Amis maintained by phone from a tour stop in San Francisco. "We put together something that we all thought would look really cool. I mean, I'd like to see a band [looking] like that. Rock 'n' roll isn't supposed to be that deep, I don't think."
The masks are "just keeping in the spirit of rock 'n' roll," Angel added, taking a turn on the phone. "It's tongue-in-cheek fun. Besides, as long as the music holds up, it doesn't matter how much shtick we do." Fans can see the masks and hear the music for themselves Thursday night at Linda's Doll Hut in Anaheim.
Dick Dale and Ventures influences dominate the band's first album, "The Utterly Fantastic and Totally Unbelievable Sound of Los Straitjackets." With the new "Viva! Los Straitjackets," the group has headed for deeper waters, incorporating rockabilly, R&B, '60s-era rock 'n' roll, Memphis soul, Western twang and fret-burners, conjuring up all sorts of vivid soundscapes ("Lonely Apache," "Brains and Eggs," "Nightmare in Monte Cristo").
A great part of the band's flavor stems from the divergent yet complementary talents of the two guitarists. Angel, whose influences include Link Wray, Duane Eddy and Chuck Berry, spent 16 years in rockabilly bands before he joined the 'Jackets. Amis, a former member of Minneapolis' Overtones and New York's Raybeats, prefers the more reverb-drenched licks of Dale and the Shadows.
"Danny and I play different grooves, but there's great chemistry between us," Angel said. "Even when we collaborate as songwriters, it just seems to happen naturally. It's intangible. . . . I honestly have no idea how it works. All I know is that we can't force it."
He further noted that the band's many facets aren't all "necessarily by design. Like when we started jamming to what became the song 'Swampfire,' we had no intention of gettin' into this swampy, Louisiana kinda vibe. But that's Los Straitjackets!"
And lyrics? Simply unnecessary. "Seventy-five percent of the world's music is all-instrumental," Angel said. "Obvious examples are classical music and jazz. Do you think anyone misses lyrics in a Coltrane or Mozart piece?"
* Los Straitjackets and Brazil 2001 play Thursday night at Linda's Doll Hut, 107 S. Adams St., Anaheim. 9 p.m. $5. (714) 533-1286.