the scene since 2001, the Minneapolis, Minnesota based group known
as The Surf Dawgs have a great new CD out in 2013 entitled
Unleashed. In the spirit of the most renowned
American surf-rock band of the USA, The Ventures, guitarist Zippy
Caplan and company knows the value of a great rock and roll melody.
Some tracks here such as a Surfdawgs cover of the 1962 Bobby Vee hit,
The Night Has A Thousand Eyes really benefits as an instrumental.
Thanks to imaginative arrangements and excellent performances from
Zippy and his Surf Dawgs band mates, these instrumental covers, when
listened to as an album experience, makes for solid foot tapping fun.
Caplan is a fine instrumental guitar composer too although, aside
from a pair of originals the CD is very much tilted towards a covers-friendly
party time kind of album. Other highlights include a Surf Dawgs cover
of Look For A Star, written by Tony Hatch and a splendid
guitar instro take of the Jerry Leiber / Phil Spector classic Spanish
Harlem. With one great track after the next, Unleashed is
a worthwhile album of guitar instrumentals by The Surf Dawgs. www.facebook.com/TheSurgDogsMinneapolis
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Zippy Caplan of The Surf Dawgs
Who is in the current lineup of The Surf Dawgs? When did the band
start and how has the group sound evolved over the years?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: The core of the band is myself on lead and rhythm
guitar, in the future I will be playing some bass too, Bernie Bombers
Bomberg on rhythm guitar and keyboards, and Cadillac Sally
West on drums. Plus Steve Carlyle played bass on the Unleashed
CD along with Gregg Inhofer, keyboards on Georgia On My Mind
and Grammy nominated David Young, flutes on The Lion Sleeps
Tonight. Most important though is Bob Spalding of The Ventures,
who wrote the lead off song on the album, Bullet Wave,
and he also played lead on Lullaby Of The Leaves and Perfidia.
In addition, Bob played second lead and did some rhythm work on The
Lion Sleeps Tonight, Raindrops, and Look For
The band was formed in 2001 after Bernie and I completed my solo album,
Zip Caplan And Cast of Thousands, Monsters And Heroes, a project
I had been wanting to do for years and finally got around to in 1999.
It took two and half years to complete it and when we finished Bernie
and I decided to put together a vintage style instrumental band playing
Ventures and other classic 1960s instrumentals. We basically
did it just for the pleasure of playing that kind of music, a back
to our roots kind of thing. It just kept growing and evolving over
the years into what it is now, which is a well known act with original
material and covering classic songs, both instrumentals and instrumental
versions of vocal classics of the 1950s and 60s, with
the occasional step into more current material like Michael Jacksons
Beat It, which closes the Unleashed CD.
mwe3: Why do you call the new CD Unleashed? Is this
the definitive Surf Dawgs CD and is there a way compare Unleashed
to earlier album releases by the band?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: The name Unleashed is both a play
on words, being that the name of the group has Dawgs in
it, but mostly referring to the harder edged material on the album
which is closer to straight ahead rock than it is surf music. Our
previous albums stayed more in the vintage and surf style of music,
although we did start to break away from that a little on our 2011
album New Tricks. I think Unleashed takes that transition
another step further.
mwe3: What was it like working with Ventures guitarist Bob
Spalding on the lead off track Bullet Wave? Whats
the history of that track and did you work with Bob Spalding in other
ways as well?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Bob and I had been communicating regularly for
the last several years and when we were getting ready to record this
album I asked him if he had any original material we could listen
to and if hed also like to play on the record and he said yes.
Bullet Wave was one of five songs he sent me to check
out and I knew right away when I heard it that, not only was it a
very good song but I also saw the commercial value of it. This is
our single and I feel its a very catchy mainstream type of song.
The others I listened to were also good and we may use one or more
of them in the future but Bullet Wave was the perfect
song to kick off the record.
with Bob was fantastic. One of the nicest guys in this business youre
ever going to meet. He was not only great to work with but his playing
is superb and he knew just what to do in making the songs he played
on exceptional. In fact when we had our CD release showcase here in
Minneapolis, Bob flew in from Texas just so he could appear with us
and sat in on several songs. A great gig and a great night. Going
forward, Bob and I are working together on new originals and subject
to his availability will hopefully be playing with us periodically.
mwe3: The Ventures were the biggest American guitar instrumental
band of the past 55 years. Who else made a big impact on your guitar
playing, your sound and writing? Can you also say something about
the other bands youve worked with? For instance I know Sundazed
just reissued your album with the group The Litter? Can you tell us
about The Litter?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Actually The Ventures are the worlds No.
1 instrumental group followed only by The Shadows from England - all
others are down the ladder from these two.
My first and probably strongest influence at the time was Bob Bogle
of The Ventures, who sadly died in 2009, and a little later Nokie
Edwards who I had the pleasure of working with on my Monsters And
Heroes album. In the mid 1960s of course I liked Jimmy Page,
Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, but the one guitarist who probably had the
most influence on me in the late 1960s and even to this day
is my friend Johnny Winter. I first met him when White Lightning opened
for Johnny Winter And at a festival in Minneapolis in 1969 and we
subsequently wound up opening for them several more times and I got
to be very good friends with him, which led to a lot of jam sessions
which were not only a lot of fun but I picked up a lot of great licks
and tricks from him. I owe him a lot. Eventually I got to play bass
with him at a concert in Long Beach, California on my 25th Birthday.
Hows that for a nice birthday present! I saw him recently when
he played here in Minneapolis and we had a chance to get caught on
My writing is not really influenced by any one group in particular
as it comes from within me but if you listen closely you can hear
little bits and pieces of my influences as they always seem to have
a way of sneaking into my material. As for The Litter, yes Sundazed
has just released a real nice replica of our first album Distortions
on vinyl. Sound quality is great as I sent them the original master
tapes to work with.
What can I say about The Litter except that it never ceases to amaze
me how it just keeps going after almost 50 years. Reissues of the
albums, songs still played on the radio and more recently, thanks
to K-Tel, several songs have turned up in both movies and TV Series.
Sundazed is planning on releasing a 45 single on vinyl of Action
Woman, our signature song backed with A Legal Matter
and after the first of the year I believe they are planning on doing
the same with our second album $100 Fine. Im proud to
have been in that group and Im definitely most recognized as
being the lead guitar player with The Litter despite all the other
things Ive done and groups Ive been with. But I look at
that as a good thing. We played everywhere back in the day and opened
for just about everyone from Jethro Tull, The Who and Genesis to Cream
and I wouldnt trade it for anythingno regrets even though
we never quite made it ALL the way Im very satisfied with where
were at this far down the road.
mwe3: What parameters did you use in choosing the various tracks
for the Unleashed CD? Was there someone in charge of a&r
on the CD? For instance, track 4 The Lion Sleeps Tonight
is an unusual choice for an instrumental but the track has such exuberance
that it really works. Whats the history of that track as done
by The Surf Dawgs?
CAPLAN: Basically we have a giant list of what we consider as
great songs from the 1940s all the way up and we hand pick from
that list as to what we think we would like to do and if it will fit
into the concept of the album. Sometimes they dont always fit.
We actually recorded the Escape From New York theme music
from the movie for this record and in the end decided it wasnt
going to fit the album so it got released as a single on i-tunes instead
and its actually doing very well that way. As in the case with
most of the songs we record, Bernie and I pick them and then we work
them out just the two of us and then present them to the rest of the
group and refine them. Most of the time that works real well but sometimes
if we feel its not happening we have to drop it. In the case
of The Lion Sleeps Tonight great song, great recognition
and Ive always loved it. We werent sure at first if it
would work as an instrumental partly because its basically a
vocal song with a lot of voices and parts. We knew we would have to
do something special with it in order for it to work. Having Bob Spalding
on this track was a life saver as his backing guitar track really
helps set the mood and he simulates the Weem a Wepps
excellently. Also David Youngs flutes were just the ticket to
accentuate those high background vocal parts plus, the coloring to
the track they provided was just the extra dynamic the track needed.
This is not to say of course that we couldnt have done those
parts on the guitar or keyboard but I think they are much more effective
on those flutes and it helped to add a whole other dimension to the
mwe3: Do you prefer recording covers songs and giving them
the Surf Dawgs treatment or do you rather prefer recording your own
originals? The first original on the CD is Lightning Strikes
Twice. Great song, great beat and drive too. Whats the
history on that track and was there a specific beat and groove you
were aiming for there? Some great effects on that track! In a wordwow.
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Thank you. I appreciate hearing that. I like
recording both originals and great covers in all genres and to be
a little selfish, especially songs I grew up with and have always
loved and wondered how they would sound as instrumentals. I think
its important however to be recording your own material too
as it helps to define who you and the group are and it also helps
give you a certain identity that people can relate to when they hear
your name and your music and also what to expect. Lightning
Strikes Twice was a White Lightning song called Prelude
To Opus 4 I wrote back in the day. I did not change the feelI
always liked the drive that song had. What I did have to change was
the arrangement and then the melody as it originally was a vocal and
our singer Mick Stanhope sang it in a way I knew would not work as
an instrumental. So, I did rewrite the melody to fit the new version
although it is based to a certain degree on his original vocal track.
Speaking of effects, what guitars are you playing on the Unleashed
CD and can you tell us what guitars Bernie and Steve are playing
on Unleashed as well? How has your choice of guitars and amps
changed over the years? Are you a guitar collector?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: I mostly used my Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster
on the album. I also used my Fender Stratocaster on Georgia
On My Mind, because I wanted to get more of the B.B. King blues
type of sound and the Strat is much better for that especially with
toggle switch in the out of phase position. To add more authenticity
to the track I played the entire song with my thumb rather than the
pick. I played through a Roland Microcube, a little 5 speaker
amp for most of the tracks, as Ive been doing for the last several
albums, however, for this album I did play through a Marshall on Lightning
Strikes Twice and Beat It to get that bigger tougher
sound. Bernie also played his Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster and
Steve played a Fender Bass.
My choice of guitars is very wide depending on what era youre
talking about. I started in 1960 on a Fender Jazzmaster and then went
to a Gibson 335, then an Epiphone Riviera, a Rickenbacker George Harrison
model, a Gibson SG Standard, a Guild and ended up on a Gibson Flying
V by the early 1970s. It all depended on what group I was in
at the time, as they all had a different sound but the one guitar
I wish I had back above all the rest is the George Harrison Rickenbacker.
I loved that guitar and never should have gotten rid of it. I tried
one of the reissues in the mid-1980s and it was terrible. Oh
wellsomeday. After I sold my Flying V I got my first Stratocastera
vintage 1957 V-neck and it was fantastic. At the time they werent
worth that much but it played unbelievable once you got used to the
V-neck. Beautiful Sunburst and thats the other guitar I wish
I had back. Oh wellnot someday as theyre going for about
$80,000 these days. For amps I always used Fenders except for a couple
of years in The Litter and White Lightning when I Y-chorded 3 Marshal
stacks together. Our bass player Woody Woodrich also had the 3 Marshall
stacks Y-Chorded set-up. Thats LOUD!. In fact a review of White
Lightning in the Fargo newspaper back then called us a wall
of sound without mercy!!
mwe3: Featuring a female drummer to keep the beat is a great
idea. Can you tell us about Surf Dawgs drummer Cadillac
Sally West and what drums she uses on the CD?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Yes Sally is great on the drumslove her
playing. She really understands what this music is all about and how
to properly play it. When Bernie and I were auditioning drummers in
the beginning a lot of good drummers came ineven some that I
personally knew were good but they just didnt cut it on this
stuff. They all thought, ah instrumentalsno problem
easy stuff BUTits not. There are certain nuances
this music needs and a certain style of playing to correctly integrate
with the guitars and if you dont know it you wont sound
right on the material. Sally and I go way back but I hadnt seen
her in years. Luckily someone I knew told her about us and she came
in and nailed it. Sally cut her teeth with The Fendermen if you remember
their hit single Mule Skinner Blues and they followed
that with Dont You Just Know It, a reworked version
of an old Huey Piano Smith song. Shes also played with The Castaways
(Liar Liar) and several other 1950s and 60s
style groups but she can also play the crap out of newer material
too like Lightning Strikes Twice. I dont know what
the drum set was she used on the album as it was a studio set not
mwe3: The song Raindrops is cool. Whats the
history on that track and why did you choose it for the Surf Dawgs?
CAPLAN: I always loved that song-great everything about
it from the melody to the back ground guitar parts and I really believed
that could make a really good instrumental. That was one of those
songs that we wanted to do as it was originally done and not try and
change it all around and it worked beautifully. One of the best tracks
on the album in my opinion. Again partly thanks to the masterful work
of Bob Spalding on the back ground guitar leads and rhythms.
mwe3: Perfidia just seems to work as an instrumental
decade after decade! Whats the Surf Dawgs connection to the
song? Where did that song come from? (lol) Seems like its been
there forever! Aside from the Surf Dawgs cover, what other covers
of that track do you like
ZIPPY CAPLAN: That song is from the early 1940s I believe
and its been in movies and on the radio forever. Also done by
all the big bandsGlenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and
the rest. It has words which a lot of people dont realize. There
is a great version of it on YouTube by a group called The Cliffterstotally
different from ours but its really good. I also of course love
The Ventures version which is probably the most well known version
of that song but even with a Venture playing on the album we didnt
want to just do a copy of theirs so we decided to go back to the original
big band style and I added a harmony part to Bob Spaldings melody.
I really like that track too.
mwe3: The Night Has A Thousand Eyes is one of the
great songs from the pre-Beatles era. Bobby Vee had a big influence
on The Beatles too? What made you and the Surf Dawgs choose that track?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Once again another song we all really liked especially
Sally who knows Bobby Vee and its never really been covered
by anyone so need I say anymore?
I dont think I ever heard Georgia On My Mind played
as an instrumental. Great soulful rendition by the Surf Dawgs on the
Unleashed CD. Can you recall when you first heard that track?
Most people remember the Ray Charles version.
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Yes I heard it for the first time when I was
just a kid and loved the song---the melody, the chord changes and
ambiance that song creates just captured me. I know its been
covered by a lot of artists and at first I tried to copy Ray Charles
vocal parts but that proved a little difficult as he sings it in a
way its impossible to capture the feeling instrumentally so
thats when I came up with the idea of doing it in more of a
blues style but keeping the essence of his version. Both Bernie and
I were concerned it may not work at first but thanks to Gregg Inhofers
outstanding piano parts I think we pulled it off. It gets mentioned
in reviews quite a bit.
mwe3: How about the Lonnie Mack cover of Wham?
How would you describe Lonnies influence on the guitar world
and whats you favorite Lonnie track or album?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Actually I forgot to mention Lonnie Mack earlier
when I was answering your question about my influences. In the early
days of my playing he was definitely an influence on me but back then
all I could do was just enjoy listening to his records because I couldnt
play them to save my life. I saw him live many times, the last in
1993 and he was great every time its just too bad his health
has prevented him from doing very much in recent years. Getting back
to Wham... Id been wanting to learn that song forever.
I had Down In The Dumps and Memphis and a
whole bunch of his other songs down pretty good as I got older but
I could never get that damn song so when we began planning this album
I told Bernie Im going to learn that son of a bitch
if its the last thing I do and I worked really hard
on it and Im very proud of our version. As for my favorites
Id have to say Memphis, Wham, Down
In The Dumps, Why and Chicken Pickin.
mwe3: Night Runner is another new original track.
How did you write that and who was your song-writing partner on that
track? It has a kind of an Allman Brothers guitar sound to it! Great
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Its another White Lightning song I wrote
back in the day and all that exists of it, as it was never released,
are the instrumental tracks. The vocal track was lost so I had no
idea how it went. I took the arrangement and basically kept it the
same and wrote an entire new guitar melody to go with the progression.
I found out later that our singer Mick Stanhope remembered the lyrics
and melody and after he sang it for me. I thought my new melody was
similar enough to his original melody that I gave him a song writer
credit on it with me.
mwe3: Bali Hai. Wow thats going back
to the early 1960s? Oscar and Hammerstein? How did you approach that
track and what did you do to give it the Surf Dawgs treatment?
CAPLAN: That song had such a haunting melody and is actually kind
of a rip-off of some of the music Max Steiner wrote for the 1933 movie
Bride Of Frankenstein. When Bernie and I were recording
Monsters and Heroes we discovered that similarity and I told
him back then we should one day try and do a version of Bali
Hai. The question was how to do it. We didnt think
it would work very well for a guitar band in its original movie form
so we decided to speed up the tempo and give it more of a tropical
surfy feel and by using my vibrato arm while playing it that was just
the extra touch it needed. We also put in the tiki tiki
part and the short drum solo to fill it out, as there are a bunch
of other parts to that song that are all orchestrations making it
too long and too big of a production to copy them.
mwe3: Spanish Harlem has been a consistent favorite
among oldies and instrumental music fans. It doesnt get any
better than Jerry Leiber and Phil Spector writing together. What was
Phils greatest contribution to instrumental guitar music in
ZIPPY CAPLAN: I think the best stuff Phil did was with the
Girl Groups and the orchestration and instrumentation behind them
is nothing short of fabulous.
mwe3: How did you find the song Look For A Star?
Wasnt that written by Tony Hatch, who wrote all those great
songs by Petula Clark? Great track and I just emailed Tony and told
him! Are there other chestnuts like that the Surf Dawgs
are just waiting to unleash so to speak?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Weve got well over 200 songs on our suggestion
list for upcoming albumsI hope we get a chance to do them. Ive
liked Look For A Star ever since I saw the movie Circus
Of Horrors as a kid. They played that song all through the movie
and by the time I left the theatre I couldnt get it out of my
head. Then it hit the radio over in the U.S. by Gary Mills and Dean
Hawley both and I never forgot itlike the words, like the melody,
like the whole atmosphere of the song. I never thought wed ever
actually do it but Sally loves it too and weve been after Bernie
for years to go along with us recording ithe finally gave in
and now hes glad. I do want to mention once again Bob Spaldings
great background guitar work really helps to make that track as good
as it is.
mwe3: Where did you find The Grind and what made
you want to cover it on Unleashed? Any history on that track
you can share?
CAPLAN: The Grind was a local hit in Minneapolis in
the mid 1960s by a group called Gregory Dee and The Avantis.
He wrote the song and they were big here for many yearsthey
also had a whole bunch of other 45 releases that did well. I think
The Grind broke out regionally but never got any further.
Greg died last year and we played a benefit for his family back in
December. I was glad we resurrected the song. A very catchy and very
danceable tuneeveryone seems to like that song no matter what
kind of music theyre into.
mwe3: Beat It as an instro? (lol) Whatever, but
it sounds great! Im sure Michael Jackson would love the Surf
Dawgs version? How did that dawn on you? Is that a Surf Dawgs tribute
to the late great king of pop?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: I guess you could say that. This one was Bernies
idea and he was positive we could do it and make it work. I wasnt
so sure and at first and I tried to talk him out of it. Now Im
glad we did it but it was a total left turn for us from what we normally
do. Luckily our engineer and co-producer Brian Bart was able to help
a lot with it as he had done a string of tribute albums
for a label several years ago and this was one of the songs, so he
already knew the best way to approach it and thats when I decided
to go ahead and bring up The Litter side of me and use the Marshall
amp and just go all out on it. Not easy when you think about having
to play a solo that Eddie Van Halen did on an iconic song like this
but I gave it my all and I think based on the response from people
we pulled it off.
Everyone loves the Unleashed Cd. Pipeline just gave it a glowing
review which was great. Whats next and even though the Surf
Dawgs are revered in Minnesota, whats the plan to spread the
Surf Dawgs music far and wide in 2013 and 2014 and beyond? Whats
coming up for the Surf Dawgs in the coming months as far as new music,
new recordings, shows, movie soundtracks and more?
ZIPPY CAPLAN: Right now were just being as proactive
as we can on pushing this CD and there are some things in the works
for upcoming shows that I cant really discuss right now but
anything that breaks will be posted on our Facebook page and people
are invited to go there and like us and they can hear 8 different
tracks from the album on Reverbnation while they are on the page.
There is a great music video for Bullet Wave on YouTube
and all of our albums, singles and music are available on i-tunes
and Amazon so I invite everybody to check it all out.