The last time surf-rock legends The Trashmen toured California, we were fighting the Vietnam War, gas cost 30 cents per gallon and Bob Dylan caused a folk music uproar by using an electric guitar. The Minneapolis-based garage band visited the West Coast in the mid-'60s, promoting the release of their first album, which featured the hit single "Surfin' Bird."
"We were kind of apprehensive going out there, being a surf band from the Midwest. 'What are people going to think?"' guitarist Dal Winslow recalls. "But it turned out good. The tour went very well."
The Trashmen roll into Anaheim on Jan. 15 for the Eighth Annual Guitar Geek Festival.
Promoter Deke Dickerson says he thinks the Trashmen are the most talented and underrated surf-rock band, and before he dies, he has a personal goal to fulfill with his favorite band. "I know it's an overused term, but I've got this bucket list of things that I want to do before I pass away," he says, "and one of those things is that I must sing 'Surfin' Bird' with the Trashmen."
Fortunately, he will accompany the Trashmen on vocals for that hit. When Dickerson was 17 years old, he was in a sort of Trashmen cover band. He was quick to point out the band's talents reach far beyond the iconic song. "Everybody knows 'Surfin' Bird,' but not a lot of people have heard of their instrumental work," he says. "I would put Tony Andreason, the guitar player, in the top surf guitarists of all time. He's that good."
In 2008, the song had half of an episode of Family Guy dedicated to it. Peter Griffin received a single of "Surfin' Bird," his favorite song, and drove his family insane by constantly playing it. When Winslow was told their song would be on the show , he says, he completely underestimated how much the show would feature it. "I figured it would be on there for two seconds or whatever. I never thought there would be a whole story on it. That just took off, and it went bananas," Winslow says.
After the "I Dream of Jesus" episode of Family Guy aired, "Surfin' Bird" was the No. 1 downloaded song on Amazon, according to Winslow. It also charted among the top 10 rock songs on iTunes. "It's just like you're breathing new life and new blood into that song," he says.
It's a song that has kept popping up through the years. It was used in Full Metal Jacket, Pink Flamingos and several commercials. It's been covered by acts such as The Ramones and The Cramps. "Isn't it ever going to go away? Well, no, probably not," says Winslow. "It's still alive and healthy 40-some years later. As long as people request it, we'll keep doing it."
The Trashmen are playing with a near-original lineup. Bassist Robin Reed, the son of Bob Reed, will fill in on drums for Steve Wahrer, who died in 1989. They call Rob "The Trashkid" because he was born in 1963, the same year "Surfin' Bird" was cut. Winslow and the rest of the band believe that playing shows now is not too different from how it was in the '60s. "We've always enjoyed it. Now it's strictly because it's a lot of fun and people want to hear us play," he says. More than 40 years later, people are still drawn to surf-rock music. Winslow believes "it's just the pure, raw rock & roll of it."
Dickerson ran into the Trashmen at the Ponderosa Stomp music festival in New Orleans in September. It was there that Dickerson invited them to play the Guitar Geek Festival. Winslow couldn't wait to play again. He recalls saying to Dickerson, "Sure, we will play. Why not? Sounds like fun!"
"It's the most ambitious lineup I've ever put together," Dickerson says. "Technically, I have two headliners: Junior Brown and the Trashmen, who would be equally great on their own, but I figured why not go for broke?"
Winslow is also impressed with the lineup. "You know what I look forward to most is all the other guys that are playing. We've played with Davie Allan before. We're friends with him, and he's a great guitar player," he says. "The guys who are backing him up--Dusty [Watson], he's from the Slacktones. Looking forward to seeing Junior Brown. He's a phenomenon."
Dickerson started the festival eight years ago because of dissatisfaction with what other guitar festivals offer. "I grew up watching these terrible guitar festivals, where you'd have these guys wanking onstage for 30 minutes, playing solo after solo, and 19 guys all jamming some Lynyrd Skynyrd song," he says. "And I said, 'Man, you know, I want to see a guitar festival where Nokie Edwards and the Ventures play and obscure guys you've never heard of, but are equally as great. I realized that the only way that was going to happen was if I did it myself.
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"We jokingly call it the Guitar Geek Festival," he continues. "It's self-mockery to show that we don't take ourselves too seriously. It's a [group of people] who are woefully neglected in every other aspect of American life, and that is the guitar nerds."
Even though it is a guitar festival, he says, anyone with an appreciation for music should enjoy it. "There's going to be a lot of people singing as well, so it's not going to be just 10 hours of instrumental music, which I think would make most people want to commit suicide," he says.
In addition to the concert, the festival offers a guitar raffle for charity, a "Stump the Geek" guitar trivia quiz and a guitar museum. The museum started off showcasing Dickerson's collection, but audience members began bringing their own instruments, and it now takes up one full wall of the venue. "We've got some celebrity-owned instruments. Last year, we had Duane Eddy play, and this year, we're going to have a double-neck guitar that was built for Eddy in 1960. There's going to be an amplifier for Scotty Moore, who played for Elvis Presley. Things that you won't see at any music store or might see in a book and wouldn't see in person unless you came to something like this."
The Eight Annual Guitar Geek Festival featuring Junior Brown, the Trashmen, Skipp Pitts and more at the Anaheim Plaza Hotel, 1700 S. Harbor Blvd., Anaheim. Jan. 15, 3 p.m. $35 in advance; $40 at the door.