Passing The Torch Of DC Guitar History

Los Straitjackets bring their no-holds-barred guitar sounds to The Hamilton on June 16. Photo: Yep Roc Records

The lineage from rockabilly to punk rock runs straight through Link Wray, a guitarist who lived and played around DC in the late 1950s and early 60s. He led the house band on local TV’s version of “American Bandstand” and recorded influential hits like “Rumble” and “Rawhide” here.

Los Straitjackets
Eddie Angel moved to DC in 1980 and joined a rockabilly band fronted by singer Tex Rubinowitz. Although Wray was no longer around, his distortion-drenched guitar sound still held sway among local rockers. “Link was Tex’s favorite guitarist, so we started doing his songs,” Angel said. “I took to playing Link’s style like a duck to water.”

Angel moved to Nashville in the 90s and was a founding member of Los Straitjackets, who carry on Wray’s tradition of brash guitar instrumentals. They toured with Wray before his death, and “he’s still my favorite guitarist,” said Angel.

Angel returns to DC when Los Straitjackets play at The Hamilton on June 16. They’ll perform selections from their new album of songs by Nick Lowe, and also play a set with another great songwriter, Marshall Crenshaw.

Recording instrumental versions of Lowe’s songs was a revelation, Angel said. “One of the things I came away with is what great melodies he writes. Sometimes that gets lost because his lyrics are so strong,” he said. “I hope we did justice to his songs.”

A band that plays only instrumentals is a rarity, but that’s not the most unusual thing about Los Straitjackets. Since their first appearance, they have performed wearing Mexican wrestling masks, which somehow makes their no-holds-barred music seem more dramatic. “At our very first gig we almost chickened out,” said Angel. “But we wore them and we knew immediately we had a winner. Now it’s second nature to me … I don’t even realize how strange they must look to the audience.”;

Hollertown is a traditional bluegrass lineup that plays plenty of classic tunes. But over a decade, as new members have joined the band, they have brought songs from other genres that adapt surprisingly well to a bluegrass treatment. On a recent Thursday night at Mr. Henry’s, Hollertown started its set with the Tex-Mex number “Hey Baby Que Paso?”

The band will be back at Mr. Henry’s on June 8, continuing more than a decade of performing around Capitol Hill at spots like Sova, The Argonaut, and the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival.

Hill resident Chuck Andreatta, who started playing banjo in high school, and Nick Backer, who got a mandolin as a graduation present, started playing together in The Woedoggies. When other members left, they became Hollertown, and the current lineup has been in place for a couple of years. It includes Jerry Del Rosso (bass), Tom Lalley (guitar), Lee Benaka (fiddle), and Belen Pifel (vocals).

While it takes time to get back up to speed after any personnel change, new members have helped keep the band fresh. Andreatta estimates that about half of Hollertown’s material has changed since the last lineup adjustment.

One thing that will never change is the basic sound. Whether it’s a Tex-Mex song or the Cheap Trick hit “I Want You to Want Me,” any Hollertown number is going to be “grassed-up,” as Del Rosso said. And they’ll always do standards like “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.”

Andreatta has been hooked on bluegrass and old-time music since he was a teenager. Just as he has seen band members come and go, he has seen the popularity of those genres rise and fall. “I’ve ridden about three of these waves,” he said. Hollertown plans to keep riding it out.;