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I wrote a longform story about the Sacramento instrumental band the Tiki Men. They came up in the 1990s, during the West Coast surf music revival, and they recorded two of the best 45s in the genre I’ve ever heard, just pure, powerful, catchy. The guitar tone is epic.

Below are the opening graphs. You can read the rest of the story, and see previously unpublished photos, here at Medium.

* * *

In 1958, when guitarist Link Wray poked pencil holes in his amplifier to record the song “Rumble,” he was only trying to muddy his guitar tone. Link’s impromptu modification ended up creating a distortion-heavy brand of rock and roll that not only paved the way for punk rock, heavy metal, the Who, you name it, but also lifted the lowly rock instrumental, or “instro,” into the popular consciousness, fueling a style that thrives to this day. What Coltrane is to jazz and Howlin’ Wolf is to blues, Link is to rock in general, and so-called surf instrumentals in particular.

Bob Dylan knew this when he called “Rumble” “the greatest instrumental ever.” John Lennon went further and said, “Gene Vincent and Link Wray are the two great unknowns of rock and roll.” The irony? “The only reason I was doing instrumentals,” Link once said, “was because I couldn’t sing.” He’d lost a lung to tuberculosis contracted during the Korean War, which made it hard to catch his breath.

In early 1993, Scott Miller, Micah Kennedy, and Pete Husing, three friends in Sacramento, CA, went to see the Phantom Surfers play Old Ironsides, a small down- town club that was also the center of what little garage scene then existed in California’s capital. Pete, a guitar player, had suggested the show. Even though Scott and Micah were longtime music obsessives whose broad tastes included everything from pop to the Kinks, John Fahey to Blue Cheer, Pete was the sole surf music fan of the group. For Scott, a drummer, the show proved revolutionary.

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masthead At The Believer, I talked visual art, music and making things with Shannon Shaw of Shannon and the Clams, Greer McGettrick from The Mallard, and Hannah Lew of Cold Beat. These are smart, talented musicians who offer many fascinating insights into the creativity and creative cycles. You can read it here.   OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA HANNAH LEW: I think abstracting on our reality and making our own shapes out of our feelings and responses to our world is vital to our understanding. If we don’t include our emotional responses to things into our vocabulary about our temporal existence, we can’t really move forward as a society. You can get away with confronting a lot of taboo subject matter within the realm of abstraction and reproduction that you can’t in normal dialogue. There is a lot of truth telling by way of telling lies, which is all an artist is really ever doing.

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I’m working on another essay involving mid-century jazz and the Blue Note label — this one involving organist Jimmy Smith and record company vaults, for The Threepenny Review — so I wanted to toss out links to some interesting, related video clips. One is an interview with engineer Rudy Van Gelder, one of the most important people in modern music, period. Nearly every jazz session on Blue Note, he was in the room taping it, countless sessions for Verve and Prestige, too. When you hear the warmth and richness of Coltrane’s “Blue Train” and Hank Mobley’s “Soul Station,” it’s because of Rudy. When you hear every fine detail of a jazz drummer’s brushes, or every crystaline note on Kenny Burrell’s guitar — and when Jimmy Smith’s organ sounds neither overdriven or like a chirping circus tent nightmare — we have Rudy to thank. He is, without question, the Coltrane of the control room.

Clip from the Blue Note “Perfect Takes” DVD:

Then there’s this short oddity, about Blue Note in general. Shake what nature gave you:

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To celebrate the publication of the first section of my second novel, “Run Chicken Run,” at storySouth, here are some of the songs that inspired it: Link Wray’s “Vendetta,” “The Fuzz,” “Pancho Villa” and Link’s best vocal track, “Hidden Charms.” Like so many things in my creative life, Link provided the drive and soundtrack to this project, which is still ongoing. Now that there’s an excerpt published, though, I should probably get back to work on this novel; it can’t be the forever forthcoming novel forever. Endless thanks to editors Terry L. Kennedy and Drew Perry for taking a chance on it and for their careful reading and edits. Time for some fuzz:

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To celebrate the release of Mark Yarm‘s epic book, Everybody Loves Our Town: An Oral History of Grunge, and my review of it for Paste magazine, here’s The Scientists’ epic swamp dirge blues, a taste of the Australian sound that fueled Mudhoney’s and so many more after:

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