Sierra Surf Music Camp 2013 No. 3: The Steelheads

Early Thursday evening, the instructors selected and posted the bands for Surf Band 101.  Our band meet and greet was on Friday.  Three camp veterans and a newbie.  The veterans were Glenn and I, whom you know all too well, and John, who like last year brought his two daughters.  Over the year, they moved to Trinidad on the California north coast.  That probably shortened their drive time to camp to a mere 7 hours; they rolled in late on Thursday night.  Carla was a new camper.  She came to camp with Joe, who returned from last year.

Our instructors were Matt Quilter of the Reventlos and Tim Stephenson of the Pyronauts.  As “luck” would have it, both John and Carla had lessons with Matt earlier in the day.  Their lessons included “Apache.”  Do you think that was a coincidence?  So “Apache” would be one of our songs featuring John -- unbelievably on an Ocean Turquoise Jazzmaster -- on lead guitar and Carla on rhythm guitar. 

Her instrument was a double cut gold sparkle Gretsch Duojet with a Bigsby.  She had won it at a “Gretsch Round-up.”  Upon hearing of her good fortune, the Nagging Little Voice squelched any thoughts of envy. “Hey, you once won a golf club-shaped soap dispenser so don’t be jealous.”  Before her lesson with Matt, Carla had neither heard nor played “Apache.”  “I don’t know any surf songs.”  She, however, proved to be an amazingly quick learner with a natural ear for music and rhythm guitar.

Matt -- with some help from Tim and Dusty Watson -- worked Glenn and me through the drum and bass parts for “Apache.”  Glenn, of course, caught on quickly as he had played It once with the Pups and, every so often, at jam sessions over the years.  Thus, as usual, I was the potential weak link since I had not played anything but lead on the song.  The good news was that I at least knew the melody and structure.  So all that was required was to dumb it down enough for me to muddle through on the blue Chinese cheapie Pup bass. 

After two hours, we had a workable version that we could play as a band.

John brought steel drums to camp; Carla a lap steel guitar.  With “Apache” under our belts, we attempted to figure out a song that allowed us to use those instruments.  We went for the obvious first:  “Do you know ‘Sleepwalk’?”  “No.”  Well, that was the end of any ideas.  John suggested “Our Favorite Martian.”  “It basically has two chords -- A and G.”  Even though only John knew the song and none of the other band members had heard it before, we agreed to try it out Saturday -- our next and only practice session before the performance. 

We would feature John on lead steel drums.  Lead steel drums!

We jettisoned the idea of lap steel -- too much to figure out in too short of a time.  Overnight, we added Elia -- John’s younger daughter -- to the band.  “What do you play?”  “I’m a percussionist.”  With Tim’s and Paul’s aid, we came up with hand drums -- bongos and a djembe -- and shakers.  Now, all that we had to do in our one remaining practice session of two or so hours was learn “Our Favorite Martian,” polish it and “Apache” up, and feel comfortable enough to get through them at the Surf Band 101 performance.

Oh, yeah, we had to come up with a band name.  Quickly and cleverly, Carla suggested “Steelheads.”  Thumbs up around.  We had a name and gimmick.  The rest . . . ?

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