Retro-Sonic: 15 Years of Twang
Rev Hank (then known as Mr Mumps) recruits bassist Brain, and Spunky to play in a surf band. When I asked Spunky if he wanted to play surf he replies, “Sure thing, count me in! What’s surf?”
Urban Surf Kings have their first rehearsal in December 1995. We had no idea if anybody would want to hear this kind of music, but we were having fun.
The band’s first show took place February 1996 at Kings University’s Ward Room where Brain is studying. Though the crowd was not big, the reaction showed us that people do indeed enjoy surf, and we’re booked for the end of the year party. That show was crazy with lots and lots of drunken people hooting and hollering for the band. At one point I turn around to cue Spunky, and end of looking into the face of a fan standing between us. At the end of the gig I end up dumping a bottle or 2 worth of beer out of the bottom of my open back amp.
We decide to record our next show at TUNS T-Room (March 2006), resulting in the 6 song cassette, Looking Sharp. This is released in 1996 and receives a lot of local airplay on CKDU, as well as selling a whack of copies at shows.
Brain leaves the band for a computer job in Ottawa, and is replaced by Crash Flagg. Crash receives his name at his first gig, when we collect suggestions from the audience on what we should call him. Obviously there was a Ray Dennis Steckler fan out there.
USK records the legendary Surfin’ Santa 7-song cassette in the Green Room (November 2006), above Musicstop (where Crash works). This release becomes a local phenomenon, and gets us an interview with Much Music’s Mike Campbell at our Bike Shop gig. Since we have no video to show, we get him to play the Esquires Man From Adano during the segment along with some live footage shot at the gig.
Both our first releases, and several compilation songs were recorded on a Yamaha 4-track (cassette). Our miking technique was one mic on the guitar amp, one on the bass amp, one on the drum kit, and a room mic. It’s simple, but effective.
We continue to play at various venues around Halifax when we run into Sustain Studio owner Andrew Watt (the Heavy Blinkers, Andrew Watt and Glory, Glory) backstage at Birdland. In his lubricated state he raves about the band and how he wants to record us for practically free. USK enters Sustain to record the 7 song The Man From S.U.R.F. live in the studio. This is released on cassette, and is voted number 6 on the Best East Coast releases of all time by local paper The Coast. The ep is later reissued on CD.
Phil Dirt gives the release (sent to him on DAT) a 3 star review, comparing it to Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party. At the time I had no idea who Eddie Angel was, but now am a huge fan of his work (thanks Phil!)
Moncton Stomp! and an early version of Radarmen From the Moon appear on the Loud Noise From the Valley CD compilation.
Spunky leaves USK for fame & fortune in Toronto, and is replaced by Tiki deLuxe on the kit. No recordings exist from this period, but the band debuts its all Henry Mancini show at its home bar Cafe Mokka.
Tiki is replaced by Inky in September and the band ‘s line up remains stable for over a decade. The new line-up records Brickton Flats for the Stardust CD comp, and plays a record setting 3 gigs in one day at the East Coast Music Awards. We also record a 4-song ep called Evidence of Surf on Mars (including Danelectro Twist) that is never released. All 1998 recordings are done on the trusty Yamaha 4-track at Crash’s oceanfront home.
Award winning filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald (the Hanging Garden) was making a movie (Beefcake – the AMG story) and needed some music for it. We were under the impression that one of our previously recorded songs would be placed in the film. It turns out there was no decision on the music, as we were led to believe. USK ended up with about a dozen new pieces in the film. We recorded the soundtrack at Solar Audio with Hayward Parrot & Chris Mitchell at the controls just before Christmas. This was the first time we recorded music synced to picture, but there were no problems. We had a blast
USK records 5 songs at Terry Pulliam’s SoundMarket studio. Memories of Gay Paree appears on Deep Eddy’s Better Than an Average Weekend Shadowy Men tribute (2001), while the other 4 (originals) are slated to be the debut release for Ontario-based Spin Me Round records. The label never materializes so we release the el Toro! ep on red vinyl ourselves with help from Halifax’s Cinnamon Toast Records.
USK book 2 more days at SoundMarket and record the debut full-length CD Get Instro-MeNTAL ! This is done with Cinnamon Toast Records on board in name only (but it is a well known name).
I had 3 musical wishes for the band up to that point. The first 2 were to appear on an international compilation (we were on 3, including Swivlin’ Wahine from NYC’s Skully Records), release a 7-inch (we did), and do some music for tv or a movie.
The music I wrote for Beefcake won the Atlantic Film festival Award for best soundtrack, and I was nominated for a Genie Award (Canada’s Oscars) for the same. What an honour!
Get Instro-Mental! with the Urban Surf Kings is released in February and charts across Canada on the Campus stations (as all our subsequent release will do).
Ed Beals, our artist pal, does a video for Giant Cow. This is the first music video to be done exclusively in Flash Animation, and gets into rotation at Much Music.
Get Instro-MeNTaL! continues to do well around the world. As a result of its success in Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Kite and Music Festival fly us out to play their fest (thanks in part to radio DJ Jeff Monk lobbying to get the band out there). The night before the fest we play a sold out show at the infamous Royal Albert Hotel with the great Farrell Brothers. We are Canadian “stars” LOL.
Better Than an Average Weekend is released, and we appear for the second time on Continental Magazine’s CD comp. Several songs from Get Instro-MeNTAL! are licensed to Hawaiian tv series Board Stories, and to the Ski Board video Sickness & Health. Over the years every track from our debut full length is licensed at least twice for tv/ movie.
Our first contact with Italy’s OmOm Records occurs with the recording of Only You for the American Graffiti Revisited tribute. This is our first recording with Brad Conrad at the board. Brad is the 4th Surf King; filling in on bass & playing guitar with us on many occasions.
Songs are licensed to Powerski International, and the movie short This Boy.
Thom Fitzgerald licenses Chicken Pot Pie for his film the Event. We record Heaven’s on their Mind for OmOm’s Jesus Christ Surferstar CD at our own Old Asylum Road studio (my basement). Due to rented recording equipment not working, we end up recording the drums set with one SM57 strapped to a broken music stand with a broccoli elastic, placed in front of the kit. The song is later placed in a European Nissan commercial.
USK also appear on the Mexican comp Locos Instrumentales Around the World (Isotonic Records).
USK’s follow-up to Get Instro-MeNTAL! is recorded with Brad Conrad at the helm. Surf vs. the Flying Saucers is the band’s most ambitious recording to date, featuring the standard instrumentation plus sitar, keyboards, baritone guitar, pedal steel and more. This 16 track CD features a cover of David Britten’s surf classic Man From Adadno. USK will work with David up until his death in 2010.
This CD is nominated for a Canadian Aboriginal Music Award, and Rev heads to Toronto for the festival to find out a lot of people know the band.
Snowman Rumble, USK’s Xmas ep is recorded at Old Asylum Road, and features 7 holiday faves.
This is a lucrative year for tv licensing with YTV’s 15 Love (runs for 3 seasons around the world), City TV’s documentary The Making of the Snow Walker, and the Canadian movie doc Weird Sex & Snowshoes. I’m still not sure how we ended up in the last one, but the cheques keep coming!?
2004 turns out to be the year that compilations peak. USK appear on OmOm’s Hair, Charlie Does Surf (Rickshaw Records’ Clash tribute), Lemme Take You to the Beach (Cordelia Records’ Zappa tribute), Solid Gold Hits (Double Crown), and Continental Magazines CD sampler.
Rev Hank makes his debut solo recordings for Solid Gold Hits and Hair.
After a couple of years of negotiating with Italy’s OmOm Records, Live in Hell is released to celebrate the band’s 10 years together. USK, not happy with the final product, releases a limited run, remastered version of this disc that quickly sells out. It was recorded in Hell’s Kitchen (Halifax, NS) by Brad Conrad.
The CD is nominated for an Indian Summer Music Award & an Aboriginal People’s Choice Music Award. It wins best Aboriginal recording from Music Industry of NS.
Compilation appearances include Evil Fuzz (OmOm), Charlie Does Surf (Rickshaw Records), NESMA Alive! (NESMA), and Beyond the Sea (Cordelia).
Several tunes from Surf vs. the Flying Saucers are included in the horror film The Teeth Beneath, while Tango el Rollo is featured in the Thom Fitzgerald short the Young Astronomer.
Half of the tunes from Surf vs. the Flying Saucers are used in the Brian Gillogly documentary Accidental Icon: The Real Gidget Story.
USK appear on the compilations Wild Sazanami Beat vol. 3 (Japan), and Seasonal Favourites vol. 1 (Double Crown).
USK are featured on Seasonal Favourites vol. 2 (Double Crown).
The Bang Howdy Partner full length CD is released to rave reviews around the world. USK’s spaghetti western-style release was recorded by the band at Old Asylum Road, and features another great David Britten song, Renegade. The disc is mastered by Reverb Masters (Phil Dirt). Like all the other USK CDs, this one charts extremely well across Canada, and posts the strongest sales of any of the band’s CDs in the first month of release.
The band wear cowboy regalia at shows to promote the album. Yee Haw!
Inky retires from the band (that was a sad day). As luck would have it, original drummer Spunky had returned to Nova Scotia, and rejoins the band. His debut performance is at a Music NS showcase in New Glasgow. The band sounds different, but still very good!
The year’s highlight is getting the Great Scots to reform after 40 years to play USK’s yearly Guitar-Fest at the Seahorse Tavern. It was one wild night!
The band records with Hayward Parrot again, this time at his new St. Cecilia Studios. The session produces the 4-song 7-inch Ski School. The recording took place in December 2007, and is Inky’s last recording with the band.
Rev, Crash and Spunky demo 2 songs, Do the Earl and Twist & Twang at SoundMarket Studios. The tunes are done in mono as a favour for the studio owner. The unreleased demos appear on 2010’s Retro-sonic. These are the first recordings of with Spunky since 1997.
Rev Hank creates the surf & twang label Reverb Ranch.
Rev Hank plays with Antigua/Italy-based Wadadli Riders at the Surfer Joe Summer Festival in Livorno Italy. With no rehearsal, the band essentially meets on stage, and plays a handful of USK songs, and covers. The trio goes over like gangbusters, and vow to work together again.
USK celebrates 15 years together with a big show at the Seahorse Tavern in February. Many players past and present show up to sit in with the band.
Retro-sonic: 15 Years of Twang (Reverb Ranch) is released as a retrospective of the group’s career. Aside from songs from available recordings, other pieces are unearthed and included on the release. A live, bonus digital only ep, Monday Night Surf Club, is included with direct orders. The CD is mastered by Phil Dirt in California.
Reverb Ranch co-releases the Rev Hank meets Wadadli Riders CDep for the trio’s Antiguan tour in April with Surf Joe.
Rev Hank & Crash Flagg debut several USK tunes played on the ukulele & bass ukulele around Halifax.
Rev Hank & Inky record Rev Hank’s debut solo album in February (to be released in 2011).
And so on:
Urban Surf Kings continue to play & record, and show no signs of slowing down. In fact, Rev Hank is already writing the tunes for the band’s next release. Songs are still being licensed for TV, and Movies.
Rev Hank’s debut solo album will be released in Feb 2011 on Reverb Ranch.
Rev Hank/ Wadadli Riders will be recording a full length to tour behind.