You have to hand it to a band who is so in love with their genre of music that their efforts to turn everyone else onto it turns into a regional trend. That is the case with Black Flamingos, whose members co-founded the Asbury Park Surf Music Festival, where they and several other instrumental acts will return on Aug. 26. In the meantime, guitarist Robbie Butkowski, drummer Vincent Minervino, and bassist Declan O’Connell will release their full-length debut, Neon Boneyard, on May 19 as a joint venture between their own Hi-Tide Recordings and initial label, Little Dickman Records. The Asbury Park-based instrumental trio then will celebrate their follow-up to a 2015 self-titled EP with an in-store performance on May 21 at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank. The show is part of a spring tour of the East Coast.
Now, I’ve heard of gig swaps, but theirs with Lorenzo “Surfer Joe” Valdambrini of Livorno, Italy, is intercontinental. From June 19 to 27, Black Flamingos will tour Italy with Surfer Joe, including his Summer Festival, the world’s largest surf music event. In early 2018, Black Flamingos will return the favor by bringing Surfer Joe to the East Coast for a tour to sunny Florida and back.
But first, upon their return home from Italy, they’ll gear up for Asbury Park Surf Music Festival, which will feature several events Aug. 24 to 27. In addition to Black Flamingos, the main event on Aug. 26 will feature Los Straitjackets, The Fathoms, Aqualads, Slowey & The Boats, The Surfrajettes, Great White Caps, The Televisionaries, The Reefriders, and DJ Hi-Tide (Minervino and his wife, Magdalena O’Connell, Declan’s sister) at The Anchor’s Bend and Grand Arcade at Convention Hall.
Black Flamingos and DJ Hi-Tide also play first Fridays at The Anchor’s Bend—either inside Convention Hall or outside on the promenade when the weather cooperates. Their Aloha Fridays are a blast, with folks wearing Hawaiian shirts, hair flowers and leis and sipping tropical cocktails. Now that the weather is friendlier, the fun really will heat up, while the Flamingos play a couple of sets of inspired originals mixed with spirited covers, to the visual accompaniment of classic surf and tiki clips. Between sets, DJ Hi-Tide spins surf and other instro nuggets.
Other upcoming shows include Wilmo a Go-Go Car Show, May 28, Wilmington, Del.; The Race of Gentlemen, June 9, Wildwood, and VIVA EAST Rockabilly Weekender, July 13 to 16, Marlborough, Mass. Black Flamingos will support Russian surf group Messer Chups (Asbury Park Surf Music Festival 2016 headliner) on their October U.S. tour. That tour hits Asbury Park for a homecoming show on Oct. 17 at Wonder Bar. Around that same time, the trio will pair last year’s “Haunted Hall” Halloween single with a B-side to be released on a 45. Winter holiday music is also expected.
In January, Black Flamingos will bring it all back home when they tour the West Coast, where instrumental surf music was born in 1960s with the bass as the wave, the drum as the crash of the wave, and the guitar as the surfer who navigates between the two. They will support Double Crown Records group The Volcanics on stops in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Las Vegas, San Diego, Pacifica and more. Somehow with all the waves Black Flamingos are making, Butkowski and Minervino found the time for the following chat.
Who or what is the surf-rock influence that you most have in common and how did they influence each of you?
Robert Butkowski: There are so many great surf and instrumental musicians that have influenced BF, but I think the most important one of all is Dick Dale. You’d probably get the same answer from any surf band. I personally think the world of rock ‘n’ roll owes so much to that man. His innovations span from modern guitar technique to the many developments in Fender guitar equipment. Black Flamingos opened up for him at the Wonder Bar in 2015. I remember watching Vincent and Declan’s faces while Dale was performing. We were all in shock. Here was this guy on stage in his late 70s, still rocking way harder that anybody we’d ever seen. Since then, we have been striving for the same ‘give-’em-hell’ live show.
How has the band grown since the self-titled EP on Little Dickman to releasing the full-length Neon Boneyard LP on May 19 as a joint venture on your own Hi-Tide Recordings?
Butkowski: I feel like the songwriting has grown more complex in some ways. Tunes like “Showdown at Lasso Canyon” and “Neon Boneyard” develop a story for the listener to follow. We have also captured more of the aggressive side of surf with tunes, like “Flamingo Twist” and “Devil’s Punchbowl.” The production side of record making has improved this time around as well. This album experiments with layering instruments, like the harpsichord and vibraslap. Elements like this fill in the sound and give it an authentic spin.
What do you like most about Neon Boneyard and why?
Butkowski: Boneyard has a natural feel that progresses from song to song. Each vibe may be a little different, but there is a taste of the past that lingers throughout the whole album. It sounds great on vinyl too. Spinning it on your turntable is a sure way to transport back in time to the beaches of California or the Las Vegas Strip.
How did you hook up with Lorenzo “Surfer Joe” Valdambri, and what are you looking forward to most about touring two continents with him and his band?
Butkowski: I met Lorenzo a few years ago when Plato Zorba was opening up for him at The Brighton Bar. He educated me on his festival, and I was instantly intrigued. I had been playing surf music for only a few years, and I had never realized that there was such a hip scene for surf music happening out in Europe! Those cats rock hard too! Since then, I have been diving into the discographies of Surfer Joe, Messer Chups, and the Bradipos IV.
A few months ago, Vincent informed me that he had been in touch with Lorenzo as well and that there was possibility that Black Flamingos would get a chance to perform in Italy at The Surfer Joe fest. The level of excitement has been increasing the closer we get to the event. Unfortunately, there were some issues with Lorenzo’s visa and his trip here in May is postponed, but there are definitely plans to get him here within the next year. He is a great guitarist and I can’t wait for the surf music community in the U.S. to finally see his killer live show!
The tour with Surfer Joe includes a headlining spot at his festival in Livorno, the largest surf-rock festival in the world. What are you looking forward to most about that?
Butkowski: I listen to a lot of the bands we are performing with, but I have never seen any of them live. I am eager to meet all of them and do my best to talk shop with them. I am also totally blown away with the fact that we get to play with The 5,6,7,8’s from the movie Kill Bill!
To what extent did opportunities develop because of Asbury Park Surf Music Festival?
Butkowski: We’ve been trying our best to get people hip to surf music in Asbury Park for a while now. Vincent and his wife, Magda, more than anyone else have been fueling this resurgence of surf by booking the genre’s very best at venues in Asbury and the Tri-State Area. They have built relationships that have allowed us the opportunities to travel to other areas of the country and world that share our enthusiasm for retro rock ‘n’ roll.
How has the festival grown and helped Black Flamingos grow?
Butkowski: Our first gig was opening up the first festival in 2014. The band had only been practicing for three months prior to the festival. Our performance was filled with an energy that seemed to last all day as each surf band entered and left the stage. It was an exciting day getting to watch and meet so many cool surf bands. As the festival’s continental reach grew, so did ours. We have had the great pleasure of supporting international acts, like Igor and the Red Elvises and Messer Chups, who headlined the fest last year.
How is Aloha Fridays building up into a scene of folks who, like us, enjoy wearing Hawaiian shirts even in the dead of winter?
Vincent Minervino: This is our second year doing Aloha Friday at The Anchor’s Bend. This is the first monthly surf/tiki night in the area, and we are seeing early interest this season as the weather gets warmer. You can’t help but be in a good mood when you’re wearing an Aloha shirt, and people seem to really connect with sharing a Friday evening among friends over tiki drinks!
Bob Makin is the reporter for www.mycentraljersey.com/entertainment, the Makin Waves columnist for NJArts.net and New Jersey Stage, and a former managing editor of The Aquarian Weekly to which he has been contributing since 1988. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catch Black Flamingos at Jack’s Music Shoppe in Red Bank, NJ on May 21 and Aloha Friday at The Anchor’s Bend in Asbury Park, NJ on June 2. The band has a slew of local summer shows as well. For additional dates and information, go to blackflamingosnj.com.