Rockabilly and surf-guitar master Eddie Angel hails from Rensselaer, New York, but took wing years ago for Nashville, where he’s become, in the words of www.rockabillyeurope.com, “a legend in his own lifetime.” Once a mainstay on the Capital Regional music scene, Angel (formerly Eddie Heeran) added his twang to a broad range of local acts including Jeannie and the Hurricanes, Johnny Rabb, The Star Spangled Washboard Band, The Rockin’ Dakotas, Tino and The Revlons, The Neanderthals, and others.
Since 1984, Angel’s reverb-laden sound has found its home with six-string kings Los Straitjackets, a quartet whose members, for reasons that remain mysterious, wear Mexican wrestling masks when they perform, and whose instrumentals are reminiscent of surf icons The Ventures. Relentless touring has given them a high national profile, including multiple appearances on “Late Night with Conan O’Brien.” For all his traveling, though, Angel still comes home at least once a year to play and visit family. This year, he and his Straitjacket cohorts will be on a “Los” double bill, as Albany’s “Alive at Five” (a free outdoor concert series presented Thursdays at 5pm through August 16) pairs the band with Los Lobos on August 9. All concerts will be held on the riverfront stage at the Corning Preserve. For more information, visit www.albanyevents.org. Angel recently took some time to talk via cell phone while touring in Maine.
David Malachowski: Cesar Rosas from Los Lobos just produced your latest CD, Rock en Espanol, Vol. 1 (Yep Roc Records). What was he like?
Eddie Angel: I had never met him till the day we drove up to his home studio, which was east of East LA. It was a pretty cool immersion into his world. We had fish tacos for lunch. He was very open to our suggestions, but had a lot of ideas of his own. He brought in Little Willy G from [East LA garage-rock legends] Thee Midniters to sing—which we probably couldn’t have done on our own—and he played cool guitar and sang. It was really a fun experience.
When other guitarists of our demographic [40s and 50s] were starting out in the late ’60s and early ’70s, they were enamored of British blues guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, and Jimmy Page, as well as Jimi Hendrix. You seem to have arrested development, stopping just short of that era and staying there. What’s up with that?
I attribute that to the fact that I had older sisters who were into ’50s rock ’n’ roll, that’s what I heard growing up—Elvis and Chuck Berry—so maybe my brain was wired to play like that. When Hendrix and those guys came out, I was already wired to play ’50s rock, and ’60s garage, too. I had learned to play guitar from The Ventures. It’s funny; I tried to play like Hendrix and Jimmy Page, but I just couldn’t do it.
Are you looking forward to another return to the Capital area?
It’s always fun to come back, and I still have a lot of friends and family here.
Kiss eventually took off their makeup. Will Los Staitjackets ever remove their Mexican wrestling masks?
Yeah, we’re never going to do that. Nobody wants to see us play guitars without our masks on. I tell people I never made money playing music ’til I put a wrestling mask on. So it’s probably not a good idea to take it off.