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Los Straitjackets: Helping Out Bandmate Danny Amis

Western swing/rockabilly titan Big Sandy (left) stopped into the Fresh Air studios with tourmates Los Straitjackets in 2007. A series of benefit concerts will be held this summer to raise money to help cover medical expenses for bandmate Danny Amis. (Yep Roc Records)

On June 11, 2007, Fresh Air broadcast a concert and conversation with Los Straitjackets, the Nashville-based indie-rock band that's made a name performing surf-rock classics from behind Mexican wrestling masks. Today's Fresh Air will close with excerpts of that appearance.

A series of benefits shows featuring Los Straitjackets and other performers will be held this summer to raise money for band member Danny Amis, who is recovering from a cancer treatment after being diagnosed with multiple myeloma. Information is available on their website.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, host:

Los Straitjackets is a band whose signature sound is the instrumental guitar rock of bands like The Ventures and Link Wray. Their signature look is wild, with colorful Mexican wrestling masks on the face of each band member as they play.

Los Straitjackets is on tour this summer, but without one of their founders and guitar players, Danny Amis. Last year Amis was diagnosed with a form of cancer. He had a stem cell transplant last month and this week, many of his musician friends are holding benefits across the country to help with his medical expenses.

Tuesday night, Conan OBriens band, the Basic Cable Band, will host a concert at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, which will feature many artists such as Big Sandy, El Vez, Exene Cervenka, Ben Vaughn, members of Los Lobos and Conan OBrien himself.

Back in 2007, Los Straitjackets came to the FRESH AIR studio and performed songs from their album Rock En Espanol, with Chicano rockabilly singer Big Sandy.

Heres part of Terry's conversation with Danny Amis of Los Straitjackets.

TERRY GROSS: Welcome to FRESH AIR. And I'd like to start, Danny, by asking you to introduce the first song as if you were introducing it in concert.

Mr. DANNY AMIS (Guitarist, Los Straitjackets): (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of song, All Day and All of the Night) (Foreign language spoken)

LOS STRAITJACKETS (Indie rock band): (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

GROSS: Thats great. But you know it as All Day and All of the Night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, that sounded so fantastic. And that was Big Sandy singing, Eddie Angel on guitar, Danny Amis introducing the song for us. How did you get the idea to do these Spanish versions of early rock 'n roll songs?

Mr. AMIS: Well, theres, it was quite a popular genre. In the early 60s in Mexico there were quite a few groups inspired by the arrival of Bill Haley who was down there avoiding income tax evasion.

GROSS: Wait, Bill Haley was in Mexico?

Mr. AMIS: Yeah. He moved to Mexico City for a while and inspired a whole scene in Mexico City and there were all these groups doing American rock 'n roll songs in Spanish. And they changed the lyrics sometimes drastically. Some were faithful translations, but a lot of them were just completely different. And it's wonderful. I love these records and I've been collecting them for a long time. And we've known for years we needed to do an entire album of Mexican rock 'n roll with Big Sandy and we finally got around to doing it this past year.

GROSS: A wise choice to have Big Sandy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIG SANDY: Why, thank you. (Unintelligible)

GROSS: Love your singing. So you were mentioning that the lyrics for the Mexican version, the Spanish language version of the songs were sometimes close, sometimes not so close.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah.

GROSS: What about the lyric we just heard? How close is it to the Kinks original?

BIG SANDY: Its fairly faithful to the original.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah.

BIG SANDY: But, you know, some poetic license there. But, yeah, that was one...

Mr. AMIS: Yeah, that was really close.

BIG SANDY: But there's other ones like, you know, like what is it?

Mr. AMIS: El Microscopio Bikini...

BIG SANDY: Yeah.

Mr. AMIS: ...which was "Dizzy Miss Lizzy" and they changed it to a song about a girl on the beach with a tiny bathing suit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: As if it were itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny, yellow polka dots.

BIG SANDY: Exactly. Yeah.

Mr. AMIS: Similar to that. Yeah.

GROSS: Which it wasnt.

BIG SANDY: Exactly. Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah. So, how about another song?

BIG SANDY: All right.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah.

BIG SANDY: Lets see. This is if you dont mind me saying it.

GROSS: No. No. No.

BIG SANDY: This song was originally done by Brenton Wood who is kind of like a local hero in East L.A. We thought it would be cool to do a Spanish language version of it. So we got a friend of ours who is in a band called Lil Luis Y Los Wild Teens. And he did a great its own translation of this song. But later we found out that there is, there was of Mexican version of the song.

Mr. AMIS: Yeah. We got our friend Lil Luis Arriaga to translate this for us because we couldn't find a Mexican version. And then after we recorded it, I played it for some friends of mine in Mexico City who told me yes, there was a version by Roberto Ordon. So I spent the whole year trying to find that record and I couldn't find it anywhere. And I was in a flea market in Mexico City and I found a picture sleeve of, Mohair Sam and Land of 1,000 Dances by Los Hitters, and I was happy to find that. I pulled out the record to check and the condition to see what it was in and it was the wrong record.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: But it happened to be (Foreign language spoken). Which is a version by shear luck. So...

BIG SANDY: Which is the version we were looking for.

GROSS: Thats amazing.

Mr. AMIS: It was really a funny coincidence.

GROSS: Well, Danny, you should introduce this the way you'd introduce it on stage.

Mr. AMIS: (Foreign language spoken) Eddie Angel and Big Sandy Con, (Foreign language spoken) Dame Una Senal.

(Soundbite of song, Dame Una Senal)

LOS STRAITJACKETS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken) Just give me some kind of sign girl, oh my baby. Show me that you're mine girl. All right. Just give me some kind of sign girl, oh my darling. Show me that you're mine girl. All mine. (Foreign language spoken) Come one now. Sing it. Just give me some kind of sign girl. Now give some kind of sign girl. Oh, give me some kind of sign girl. Ooh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Well get back to our conversation and concert with Los Straitjackets and vocalist Big Sandy after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: We're listening to Terry's 2007 interview and performance with the indie rock band Los Straitjackets and featuring Big Sandy on vocals, Eddie Angel on guitar and Danny Amis whos introducing the songs in Spanish. Amis is battling cancer. A series of benefit concerts are planned for the summer.

GROSS: Danny, do you have any like Spanish background or is it just the music that you love?

Mr. AMIS: None whatsoever.

GROSS: Its not...

Mr. AMIS: No I just I first...

GROSS: Not like an ethnic heritage kind of thing?

Mr. AMIS: No. I heard some rock 'n roll records in a Mexican restaurant in Nashville.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: And when I heard that I went okay. I've got to go to Mexico and look for some of these records. And that's why I went to Mexico. And then I fell in love with the culture and I've ended up spending more time there than I do at home.

GROSS: You should describe the mask that you're wearing that you always wear onstage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: Well, this is the Daddy-O Grande mask. Its silver and blue...

BIG SANDY: Quite stunning, I should add.

Mr. AMIS: Well, thank you. It was, it was inspired by the mask of a wrestler named Atlantis. And actually, the man who makes my masks is the same guy who makes the masks for the wrestler Atlantis.

GROSS: Its I think when you walked in my engineer didn't understand why you're wearing the mask and I think she might have thought you were a highly decorative robber.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: Oh, no, I wouldnt do that.

BIG SANDY: The Federal Reserve Bank is next door.

Mr. AMIS: It helps me. Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. AMIS: It helps me to get into character.

GROSS: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Danny, how did you learn to speak such good Spanish or at least sounds good to me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I'm not Spanish speaking.

Mr. AMIS: Its a good trick. No, I just, just from going to Mexico and I've made a lot of friends down there and I just spent a lot of time down there and I just picked it up there.

GROSS: Whats it like when you play in Mexico? How does the reaction compare to when you play the states?

Mr. AMIS: Well, we have a pretty strong following down there. At first, I think a lot of the band, I wasnt as worried as the rest of the band. But I think a lot of the band was worried how we'd be perceived showing up wearing the Lucha Libre masks and speaking in Spanish and...

GROSS: Like you were just appropriating their culture.

BIG SANDY: Right.

Mr. AMIS: Right. But, yeah and they could tell that we were actually paying tribute to it. And the first time we went down there to play you would never catch a hipster on the scene wearing a Lucha Libre mask. After we left, within a year, there were over 20 bands in Mexico City wearing masks and doing instrumentals. And it's almost like, well, a friend of mind, and I don't want to compare us to the Beatles, but a friend of mine said it was kind of like when the Beatles came here and sort of spoon-fed our culture back to us that we neglected. I think a lot of people didn't realize they have some really cool aspects of their culture they were ignoring.

GROSS: Can I ask you to do one more song for us?

Mr. AMIS: Yeah. Sure.

GROSS: You do Lonely Teardrops, which, you know, Jackie Wilson had the big hit of. I'd love to hear you do it.

BIG SANDY: Okay. Yeah. Let's try that.

GROSS: And we should ask Danny to introduce it.

Mr. AMIS: Okay. (Foreign language spoken) Muchas gracias. (Foreign language spoken) Big Sandy and Eddie Angel, Lagrimas Salitarias.

(Soundbite of song, Lagrimas Salitarias)

LOS STRAITJACKETS: (Singing) Shoo we doo whop bop, bop, hey, hey. Shoo we doo whop bop, bop, hey, hey, hey. (Foreign language spoken) Just give me another chance.

DAVIES: Danny Amis and Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets and Big Sandy on vocals recorded in 2007 in the FRESH AIR studios. Danny Amis is battling cancer. A series of benefit concerts is planned for the summer. You can find out more by visiting our website freshair.npr.org.

For Terry Gross I'm Dave Davies.

(Soundbite of music)

DAVIES: After abruptly departing MSNBC in January, Keith Olbermann returns to broadcasting later this month with a new version of Countdown on the Current TV network.

On the next FRESH AIR we talk with Keith Olbermann about why he left MSNBC and about his plans for the new show. Join us. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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