True rock and roll aficionados are no doubt familiar with Sami Yaffa. Sami was the bass player for the Hanoi Rocks during the ‘80s. He also played with the New York Dolls, and is a part of former Hanoi lead vocalist Michael Monroe’s new band. But he also has a project of his own, called Mad Juana, and they are currently touring in support of their album Kumpania.
The band consists of Sami on guitar, Karmen Guy on lead vocals, Danny Ray on sax, Marni Rice on accordion, Satish on trumpet, Mal Stein on drums, and George Devoe on bass. Danny is well known on the scene for his time spent playing with Johnny Thunders, Sylvain Sylvain, and Robert Gordon, among others.
Sami actually put together the band while he was living in Spain in the mid ‘90s, along with Karmen, his wife. With such an eclectic array of instruments, you might wonder what kind of sound the group produces. “A mix of punk rock, mariachi, Balkan gypsy music and flamenco in break neck speed, done acoustically,” says Sami. And the description, as crazy as it may sound, is pretty accurate. It’s an intense mix of genres, done with dexterity and precision, yet still retaining the feel of punk and in-your-face rock that Sami has become known for.
Karmen and Sami do most of the writing together, usually starting off with a riff that Sami will come up with, or a chord progression that strikes their fancy. They then add in hand drums, various percussion instruments, and add on the horns and accordion and see where it leads. Karmen comes up with the vocal melodies and the lyrical content.
If there are any influences to be heard in the music, Sami would cite artists such as The Clash, Goran Bregovic, KAL, Bo Diddley and Patti Smith. A wide ranging amalgam of textures, to be sure, but one that fits what they are doing.
In fact, Patti Smith had a bigger influence on the band as well, as the basis for the name Mad Juana came from her. “It’s from a Patti Smith poem and from our, Karmen’s and mine, neighbor when we lived in Spain—a tiny Indian man who thought he was the re-incarnation of the 16th century Spanish Queen Juana La Loca,” Sami explains. “He would go in the fields during full moon and howl.” The Patti Smith reference was actually to one of the poems in her 1978 book, Babel.
One of the most popular songs, both among the band members and audiences alike, is “Valhalla.” As Sami says, “It goes down well with fans and band alike, usually inducing a flurry of spontaneous dancing and drinking, both by the fans and the band! And the song ‘Revolution Avenues’ groove has been blamed for creating babies.”
In fact, the group did a video shoot for the song “Valhalla” that caused quite a stir. “We recorded the video for ‘Valhalla’ in Zagreb, Croatia, with Fernando Apodaca directing,” Sami recalls. “We recruited some beautiful girls around town, and bums from the railroad tracks, with a promise of free booze and beautiful girls. The location was a bar run by an old Cuban man who had ended up in Croatia during the communist era in some kind of exchange program. The bar was fitted with Yugoslavian submarine parts. The man was happy that someone spoke Spanish and let us use the bar for free with free booze all night. One of the bums ended up with a hard-on while filming the dancing girls and had to be chastised for this unfortunate occurrence. And one of the girls had her cell phone stolen after one of the bums suddenly left. All about the shoot is a bit blurry…”
With an idea to mix together all these disparate instruments along with the mix of genres, Sami and Karmen have created something that actually mixes the eclectic sounds along with commercial elements. Sami discusses his goal for both the project and music by hoping to “Spread this thing of ours worldwide, remain creative and uncompromising in music and biz alike, and make people happy and make merry in every part of the globe,” he says. To do that, they plan on continuing to tour extensively in between Sami’s other endeavors. After stops in New Jersey and New York, they will head to Europe and then hit the festival scene this summer.
You can catch Sami and Mad Juana on Feb. 24 at The Record Collector in Bordentown, NJ, which is a very intimate venue that is a great way to see a show. They will also be at the Bowery Ballroom on Feb. 25 and 26. All the shows will be with the opening act, Brothers Of Brazil.
To find out more about Mad Juana, check out facebook.com/madjuana and myspace.com/madjuana.