Do you remember Frankie, Annette, Eric Von Zipper, and the Beach Party movies? That sounds a bit like the beginning of a Ramones’ song. If you do not, you really did not miss much. The movies were not cinematic masterpieces by any stretch of the imagination.
Annette Funicello starred in the Beach Party movies. She was the dream girl of a whole generation of young boys. She gained fame as a Mouseketeer on the Mickey Mouse Club. She matured, and pre-teen and early teen boys noticed. Putting her in a bathing suit meant kids in the seats at the theater.
“The Funicellos” thus certainly would be a natural name for a surf band -- risky, but incredibly clever. Just how seriously should we take a surf band named “The Funicellos”? Yet, at the same time, you keep asking yourself, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
I first learned of The Funicellos when somebody handed Paul the Pyronaut a business card after one of our gigs in the Mall. Paul asked, “Have you ever heard of The Funicellos?” I replied, “No. Why?” He handed me the card which I kept. At the time, my thought was, “What a clever name.”
Some time later, the time came to check out the Funicellos. The bottom line is that they are much more than a clever name. They are talented and experienced musicians who play some really nice surf and retro rock with a sprinkling of Latin as a three piece. Like the Ramones, each is a “Funicello”: Johnny Funicello on guitar; Tony Funicello on drums; and Robby Funicello on bass. Of course, like the Ramones, those are pseudonyms.
Through ample reverb provided by a Fender Twin Reverb, emphasizing middle and lower tones over treble, and chords shimmered by a Tuna Melt pedal, Johnny Funicello plays lead and rhythm guitar at once. He also sings -- a bit of Jimmy Buffet and a bit of BoDiddley.
Johnny has played guitar since college in the 1980s. Like many of us, he was a closet guitarist. He took the plunge into a band in 1996 -- as an adult 17 years ago. Since then, Johnny has played in bands. Even though they formed in 2003, the current iteration of Funicellos started up in 2008.
Tony also is a seasoned musician. He has “several decades” -- whatever that means -- on the drums under his belt. Talent always is in demand. So Tony has played in many bands covering a wide range of genres and styles. That suits the Funicellos perfectly.
Robby has played professionally for more than 30 years. He majored in music. Since college music programs do not offer degrees in rock ‘n roll, he performed in jazz and symphonic groups. He is a catholic (a universalist) and an eclectic in his musical tastes.
We caught the Funicellos playing during the Amador Vintners’ “Behind the Cellar Door” event -- a weekend of wine tasting and fun in the Shenandoah Valley. Crowds of folks go from winery to winery. Surf and retro rock fit right in with the frivolity and fun of tasting and buying wines. Some vintners, however, put on an air of high-brow sophistication with jazz combos.
The Funicellos’ set included a mix of surf classics like Pipeline, Surf Rider, Endless Summer, and Baja, a western medley -- Ghost Riders in the Sky and the Magnificent Seven along with the Good, the Bad and the Ugly -- and retro standards like Walk, Don’t Run and Last Date.
A group of women danced to Miserlou and Tequila. Wine and old-fashioned rock ‘n roll are a great combination to get people moving and smiling. The dancers clearly loved instrumental music with a melody as they shook, shimmied, and strutted their stuff.
You know what? We loved the music too and left thinking about how talented musicians make playing look so easy and fun.