On the Casino el Camino patio, it's one of those gorgeous spring evenings that Austinites savor for a few blissful weeks before the temperature shoots up to 160 degrees or so and stays that way until November. "The Sir Finks can blow smoke rings," declares bass Fink Jason Gentry. To back up that assertion, he sends a perfect doughnut of gray smoke moving lazily into the air. Can every band do that? The Finks don't blow smoke on Instrumentals In The Key of... BOSS!!!, though. On the cover of their Wildebeest Records CD, the three hodads pose in circa-1964 Ventures-style dark suits that add some 15 years to their profiles; open the sleeve and find a photo of a Boss 429 Mustang, legendary Dearborn tire-roasting muscle waiting to spank spoiled, unsuspecting punks in '99 5.0s.
The kickoff track, "Weird Beard," sounds innocuous enough, a Fender guitar spitting underwater reverb melodies, until a buzz-fuzz guitar invades like an oversize cicada and sets the tone for the Finks' approach to surf music. Just when you think a Finks song has made it safe to go back in the water again, another wave of raunch comes crashing over your head and you come up sputtering and spitting saltwater. Echoes of Memphis instrumentals and even Buckaroos-style country rear up from time to time, with the occasional gurgling sax and organ around the edges.
"There was a flea market down in Corpus ... an old guy down there who sold records," reflects guitarist Mike Guerrero on his band's early influences, "and we'd go down there every Saturday and found all kinds of surf records, about six Davie Allan records, all kinds of obscure stuff for a buck each. All that kind of stuff made up our earlier set lists; all these pristine records and I don't know how he got it. I found two copies of the first Davie Allan record, sealed, for a buck each, the first Astronauts record, sealed. Some old guy, about 75 years old. They closed down, though, before we could go back and really finish ransacking the place."
These Finks made the trek up from Corpus Christi some five years ago; it might seem that the Gulf city would lend itself well to surf music, but the cruel sea and the indifferent town were none too fertile for an up-and-coming instro band.
"I don't know if you've really spent much time in Corpus, but it's kind of a quiet place," muses Gentry. "There's not a whole lot of live music going on, and there are no independent record stores, so you've gotta kinda dig for stuff. If you want to have fun, you have to make it yourself."
The band arose from the ashes of the Counts, a somewhat rawer ensemble featured on Au Go Go Records' 1997 Texas Garage Punkers compilation. ("We never played out, but we did play a couple of impromptu parties," notes Guerrero.)
Gentry and Guerrero dragooned drummer Damien Llanes into the band, and before long, the Sir Finks were ready to hang ten. After a pedigree of playing in various rock and cover bands, Llanes had to take a crash course, as in waves, but soon warmed up to the genre.
"It took me a while to kinda get it down," he admits. "I'd never really paid any mind to it before. I dig it a lot now, drummers like Dick Dodds, [the Ventures], Mel Taylor, guys like that."
Upon moving to Austin, the threesome made the acquaintance of Mike Borelli, head 'beest of Wildebeest Records and big kahuna of KOOP's Dragsville program. There was, however, no such marquee as Wildebeest before the Sir Finks blew into town and caught Borelli's ear.
"I ran into other people who did labels, and it didn't seem like such a big deal," recalls Borelli. "I got a demo tape of the Sir Finks for play on the show, and so we started talking, and I asked them if they had considered releasing that stuff. We put out a 7" a couple of years ago, [and] I got the idea for a Herb Alpert surf album [Surfin' Senorita]. I started recruiting bands that I came into contact with for the radio show to see if they were interested in contributing to the compilation, and it just kind of went from there."
Surfin' Senorita teams the band up with acts like the Insect Surfers, the Halibuts, Satan's Pilgrims, and Austin natives Herman the German and 3 Balls of Fire; the Finks take on "Spanish Flea" for a toast to Mr. A&M himself. The Wildebeest stable also boasts surf tyrants the Sandblasters, as well as a split 7" with the Finks and Italian instromaniacs I Cosmonauti. Borelli had corresponded via e-mail with Cosmonauti's manager in regards to booking a tour (the surname had to help), and in light of the bands' common direction, the split 45 resulted. As might be expected, Cosmonauti's approach to instrumental rock is somewhat ... quirkier than what American ears are used to.
There was a minor hitch or two to the Finks' arrival, though. In short order, the band lost a '73 Fender bass, Fender Twin amp, and Ampeg SVT bass amp, all pilfered by various light-fingered goons, but the boys pressed on undaunted. Coming into the scene during the garage-punk heyday of '95 or so, the Finks fit in nicely with bands like the Satans, the Inhalants, the Cryin' Out Louds, and the Sons of Hercules. Gigs at Emo's, the Blue Flamingo, Electric Lounge, and San Antonio's Green Onion soon followed; the boys recall gigs with ? and the Mysterians, Jackie and the Cedrics, and the Dropouts as high-water marks of their garage salad days.
On the other hand, there was a gig at Zero's in Corpus Christi ("They billed us as the Sir Franks," Gentry ruefully notes), where mullet-haired heshers hollered for "Sweet Home Alabama." Closer to home, there was a gig at a party for the Ice Bats where a crowd of Northwest Hills androids ignored the band completely, but went nuts when the DJ started. And then, of course, there was the time on the way back from New Orleans when a rear wheel went flying off of the band's Cadillac hearse. Aah, yes, paying those dues.
So now the wheel is back on the Caddy hearse, and the Finks are armed with a skeleton drum set, Fender guitars, and a Fender Showman amp (for which Fender sought design input from none other than Dick Dale himself). Hopes are high to toss all that gear into the rulin' death wagon and point the prow of that mighty land yacht west for a tour of California. Until that happens, though, watch for the Finksters to plug away locally and continue with the simple, direct surf -- with just a touch of sleaze -- they've been perfecting for a few years.
And if you ask nice enough, they might even blow some smoke rings for you.
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