From its very first gig, this surf quartet sounded like they’d been playing together for years – which isn’t surprising, considering the pedigree of its members. Mike Guerrero was lead guitarist of Austin’s Sir Finks, while Joe Emery led the spaghetti-surf Death Valley, and drummer Bobby Trimble is best known for his work with Big Sandy & The Fly-Rite Boys. Shaun Young is one-third of rockabilly’s High Noon; was a member of Ronnie Dawson’s band; has backed Marti Brom and others; and led various solo projects.
Normally seen strumming acoustic rhythm or swinging behind a drum kit, Young trades reverby leads with Emery and Guerrero, who alternate bass duties.
Speaking of reverb, the boys’ Myspace page declares, “Our dwell knobs go to 11,” and they aren’t kidding. The speedster “Buzzard Coupe” is equal parts Dick Dale and the Astronauts, while “Off The Board” is sort of “Moondawg, Part II.” But the more melodic “Deep Six” is reminiscent of Paul Johnson’s Belairs tunes, and “Drag-N-Fly” has a great sense of humor – with Young’s doublepicking sounding uncannily like a fly.
But just when you had the Chiefs pigeonholed into the surf instro slot, they deliver a Buddy Holly-esque original, “Our Last Night,” featuring Young on vocal. And “Pretty Eyes” has a distinct Everly Brothers feel – if Phil and Don were backed by the Lively Ones. Mixing vocals and instrumentals can be tricky (just listen to the “folk-rock era” Surfaris LPs), but the Thunderchiefs pull it off in fine style, because the songs hold up as well as their voices.
Showing respect for an older style without becoming overly reverent or nostalgic is a quality the Thunderchiefs share with Emery’s band of garage rockers, the Ugly Beats. The Beats’ stellar sophomore CD, Take A Stand (Get Hip), breathes life into ’60s staples (electric 12-string, combo organ, group harmonies) with strong originals that could slip undetected into Rhino’s Nuggets box.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sep. ’07 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.