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Bamboo Trading Company serves up the best of beach music

If today’s pop leaves you longing for the sweet harmonies of the sun-soaked California sound, take heart. Your wish is The Bamboo Trading Company’s command.

By David Beard

If today’s pop leaves you longing for the sweet harmonies of the sun-soaked California sound, take heart. Your wish is The Bamboo Trading Company’s command.
The group consists of musicians with plenty of surf-music cred: Gary Griffin (Beach Boys band, Brian Wilson band, Jan & Dean band, Surf City Allstars); Matt Jardine (Beach Boys band, Surf City Allstars, California Saga); Philip Bardowell (Beach Boys band, Jan & Dean band, Surf City Allstars); Randell Kirsch (Beach Boys band, Jan & Dean band, Surf City Allstars); and indie artists Chris English and Miami Dan Yoe. Dean Torrence of Jan & Dean fame also lends his vocals to the album.

The group’s 13-track, self-titled debut album offers more than 40 minutes of music of sunshine pop sound infused with hints of jazz, country and Martin Denny-flavored exotica. If you have a hard time wrapping your head around that blend, never fear. Griffin, Jardine, Kirsch, Bardowell and Torrence are here to offer insight into the album and several of its tracks.

Dean Torrence Bamboo Trading Company

Surf music legend Dean Torrence was a guest artist on The Bamboo Trading Company's debut album. Photo courtesy Bamboo Trading Company.

Goldmine: What should people know about Gary?
Dean Torrence: He’s been on my team for over 30 years. I think he’s extremely talented. A lot of that is overlooked. I don’t think he’s gotten as much credit as he should have gotten over the years, but that’s OK. He’s still working and still gets paid for doing stuff, because he is that good. Some of his stuff is subtle, to be sure, but anybody that knows music, they pick it out and marvel over it. It’s kind of like Jan & Dean records. I remember people that weren’t particularly musical thinking that our music was pretty simplistic. It’s anything but simplistic. Ask any cover band that tries to figure it out … They can’t. The music is a lot more complicated than it appears, and he does a great job doing it.

GM: Talk about the genesis of this album.
Gary Griffin: The album is the result of a series of events that began with creating a few songs for the “Return of the Killer Shrews” movie, which Steve Latshaw wrote and directed. Initially you and I thought of doing a conventional soundtrack album but decided to steer it toward a full musical project involving several other of my musical cohorts. We began assembling music for what was now to be called The Bamboo Trading Company. I love working with Randell. We don’t get the opportunity to do this near as often as in the past. He actually used to live right down the street from me back in the ’80s, so it was easy to collaborate on things. We fell right back into our musical groove on this project and came up with some very cool ideas. He and I work very well together, very quickly – which I love!

Bamboo Trading Company debut album

Randell Kirsch: Writing “Kitty Hawk” was like riding a bucking bronco in a rodeo. (There were) so many ideas and lyrics flying, all I had to do was hang on … and sing a little, “Won’t You Come With Me.” Easy as pie. You are very visual – which is a perspective we share. I like visual lyrics.

Matt Jardine: It was pretty streamlined by the time I came in to sing. Gary had the parts already picked out and we spent a few hours on the block of songs that I was to sing on. Recording at Gary’s studio is always fun; he’s very fast at the controls and he has a great ear.

Philip Bardowell:  I love the song and I have an affinity for the Kitty Hawk story, because Dean’s graphic arts company Kitty Hawk Graphics was the inspiration for this song.

GM: Talk about the anti-social media “Tweet (Don’t Talk Anymore).”
DT: I don’t appreciate social media. As a matter of fact, if I had my way, all the smartphones and stuff would be taken away from young people. From my perspective, it has hurt them in so many ways, with texting, e-mailing and all that sh*t. … Musically, I suppose that if Jan and I had been approached in the 1960s, and say tweeting was something that was popular at that time, we’re always reactionaries to cultural stuff, I suppose we would have given it a good look.

Bamboo Trading Company

Members of The Bamboo Trading Company (from left) MIami Dan Yoe, Philip Bardowell, Randell Kirsch and Gary Griffin rally 'round the microphone during work on the group's eponymous debut album.

GM: “Drinkin’ in the Sunshine” sounds like the group is channeling Harry Nilsson and Queen.
GG: I love this song. Dean has a unique tone — we were actually able to get him back up there singing in his high register, that classic falsetto sound from the old J&D days … I used “beachy” sounding accompaniment with ukulele and marimba and lots of percussion.

MJ:  I’m a fan of Phil Bardowell’s voice, and it’s a good tune.

PB: I thought that when I first heard it, and it inspired me to approach it in that style. Of course, I am a big fan of both Harry Nilsson and Queen, so it was a “no-brainer” for me to try to channel Harry and Freddie for this song.

GM: “Star of The Beach”
MJ:  I wasn’t familiar with the song, so I jumped right in and followed Gary’s direction. It was a pretty straightforward vocal session where I tried to give the best performance I could.

GM: “Shrewd Awakening.”
GG: “Shrewd Awakening” is probably my favorite song on the album. The title just came to me in a serendipitous flash of lyrical brilliance! Martin Denny’s “Quiet Village” was a major influence for the bass figure and the percussion. My lovely wife, Elizabeth, provided the seductive intro lines for each chorus, and with the release of the video, she has now become widely known as the, “‘You’re in for A’ Girl.”

GM: What was it like for you to record the song “Shrewd Awakening” with your daughters, Katie and Jillian?
DT: That was a dream come true and really, really gratifying. When a father gets to sing with his kids, there’s no better feeling. I was also happy for them to sing a song together that actually got recorded professionally, and for seeing the delight that they got out of getting a paycheck ... realizing that if you’re good enough, and proficient enough, that if you pull it off, you can actually get paid for it, even though it’s a song that you may or may not have picked out yourself, which would be the same situation if one were to be recording a Disney song. Those songs are already written by somebody else and they just need someone to perform them. So you have to be open to recording a song that you don’t know much about and didn’t create, but still enjoy the process. It’s all in the process.

Bamboo Trading Company Philip Bardowell

It's no surprise that Bamboo Trading Company's "Drinkin' In The Sunshine" draws from pop icons Queen and Harry Nilsson. Vocalist Philip Bardowell is a fan of both artists: "It was a 'no-brainer' for me to try to channel Harry and Freddie for this song," he said.

GM: ”Tonga Hut.”
GG: Another piece using Martin Denny and Esquivel as influences. The Tonga Hut is a bar on Victory Boulevard here in the North Hollywood. Dave and I wrote some lyrics that include many of the unique names of the cocktails from the Tonga Hut menu — or the “Grog Log,” as they call it. Phil’s last verse is truly inspired. I simply told him to improvise away from the melody, and one take later we had this incredible verse.

MJ: Phil is such a strong vocalist and did a great job on the lead vocal; it’s a very catchy tune.

PB: I enjoyed “letting my hair down” on this one. That island feel comes naturally to me, being born in Jamaica and all. I tried channeling Sting at that tag!

DT: Everyone had fun, except for Johnny Rivers.
[Editor’s Note: Torrence can be heard saying, “Where’s Johnny Rivers?,” at the 1:59 mark on the track.]

GM: What inspired the nod to “Surf City” on “I’ve Always Loved The Ocean?”
GG: Jan & Dean used to be introduced as “The Messiah of Malibu and the Sultan of Surf” at our shows back in the ’80s, so I stuck a little sound bite of that intro into an appropriate spot. Brings back a lot of good memories.

GM: “Don’t Say It’s Over” is full of rich, Beach Boys-style harmonies.
Randell did a marvelous vocal on this and great harmonies with Matt on the choruses
and tag (with Chris). I love the 007 reference in Verse 2 of Oddjob and Sean Connery playing Frisbee with Oddjob’s deadly hat.

MJ: For the vocal, my only question was whether Gary wanted an “oooooh” sound or a behind-the-nose Brian Wilson-esque “aaaaah” sound.

GM: How would you describe this CD to someone who hasn’t heard it yet?
A musical potpourri … A summertime-influenced album full of reckless abandon and fun.

MJ: I would describe it as a throwback kind of project. It has a lot of ’70s feel to it … A few tracks sound quasi Beach Boys. I think that fans who like that era of music will probably enjoy it.

RK: It is written in the scriptures that Rock and Roll came from the Blues, the saddest of all music (especially if it’s in D minor), but all we did was laugh our butts off making this record.

PB: It is very unique, fresh, adventurous, brave … and yet still very palatable.

DT: From an “old school” perspective, The Bamboo Trading Company CD has enough good music on it, so I’m very proud. The packaging was dead o n… Absolutely perfect! Overall, as a complete package, it’s pretty darn good. If enough people say they are good with it, then I’m good with it. GM

Beard is executive producer of The Bamboo Trading Company.