“We’ve got matching suits too,” beams guitarist and showman Jason Krekel, describing his sequined, instrumental, surf-lounge-psychobilly combo, The Krektones. The Asheville-based quartet mixes elements of The Ventures’ 1960s surf rock, Link Wray’s riff-driven garage rock, along with the cheeky-ness of the Tijuana Brass.
“Being a guitar player, it’s fun music to play,” Krekel says. “The ’50s and ’60s stuff is what I listen to and really draw inspiration from.”
The Krektones explores several branches of instrumental rock’n’roll. “We have quite an affinity towards soundtrack music from the ’60s,” Krekel admits. “John Barry, the orchestrator for a lot of the James Bond movies. Ennio Morricone, the Italian western themes like ‘Fistful Of Dollars.’ We do some tunes from the ’50s that were rocked up by the likes of Mickey Baker. And we do Herb Alpert as well.
“A lot of that stuff which could be considered cheesy on many levels, including by myself, I really appreciate. As I get older I think I appreciate the production value and musicianship even more.”
Krekel has played with a number of the area’s most popular acts, including Snake Oil Medicine Show, CX-1, Larry Keel, Sufi Brothers, AVAS, Firecracker Jazz Band, and Screaming Js, and still fronts the whimsical Mad Tea (Party) with his partner, Ami Worthen.
“You can find [Herb Alpert’s] Whipped Cream in any thrift store you pass,” Krekel says, “but there’s some great stuff on there. They were a lot like The Ventures in that way. They kept the arrangements short, and it was an homage to the elemental melodies of songs.”
The Ventures made its name with surf music, but would cover other popular genres, Krekel notes. “Every record they put out was full of the pop hits of the day, done in their own instrumental way, and that’s the approach we take too.
“It’s kind of simple,” he continues. “Melody takes precedence. We joke among ourselves when we’re working a tune out, to keep it stupid. Don’t make it too complex. I think keeping it simple is really the thing. I love melodies.
“All that music has conspired to dictate our original tunes as well. I would say that a third of our songs are original, and are inspired by that whole era of instrumental music.”
“El Burro,” written by trumpeter Henry Westmoreland, has that Alpert swagger, along with Link Wray’s power chords, and syrupy guitar reverb. “Henry is a master arranger and a great composer. He’s the real musician amongst us,” Krekel boasts. “Twisted Troll” was written by bass player Dave Gay, and sounds like Neal Hefti’s “Batman” theme, with Westmoreland barking out eighth notes on sax.
The group hijacks one of their friend Greg Cartwright’s Reigning Sound tunes [“Stop And Think It Over”], with drummer Lance Wille settling into a Mersey beat ala the British invasion. “It’s a rock and roll tune, and we turned it into kind of a Herb Alpert supermarket soundtrack. It’s fun,” Krekel smiles.
The Krektones morphed together while Wille, Gay, and Krekel were playing together in the Screaming Js. “During rehearsal breaks I would be messing around on some Link Wray tunes or surf rock tunes,” Krekel recalls. “And Dave says, ‘Hey, if you ever want to do that, give me a call.’
Wille and Gay played together in Chicago before moving to Asheville shortly before 2000. “They’ve worked as a rhythm section for years, and they have that kind of psychic connection,” says Krekel. “Plus they love that era of music, ’50s and ’60s honky tonk, country, and rock’n’ roll. They’re fun to play with.”
Krekel grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, the son of the late guitarist and songwriter, Tim Krekel. “My father was a great guitar player,” he says. “I grew up in the household of a traveling musician, and though I was not necessarily encouraged, I was given a guitar at an early age. I found my own way with it. And after he saw me come into it on my own, he did encourage me. The last few years of his life we would play together three or four times a year. That’s a special thing to share with your father, or any member of your family.”
When he was 18, Krekel discovered the mandolin and leaped into the world of acoustic music. While studying at Appalachian State University he linked up with Andy and George Pond in CX-1 Blackhole Bluegrass Boys and Snake Oil Medicine Show. He moved on to the fiddle, then banjo, and followed the music to Asheville. “I got into a swing phase, played a lot of swing banjo with the Firecracker Jazz Band, and eventually made my way back to the guitar, full circle,” he recalls.
Many guitarists have inspired Krekel. “My father was a huge influence on my playing, and he introduced me to Mickey Baker, who I studied quite a bit. He’s from Louisville, so there’s a little bit of kinship there. Of course Link Wray, and the Ventures. I also love the chicken-pickin’ kind of flashy country rock’n’roll stuff that started with the instrumentalists of the Bob Wills Band. Jerry Reed, Chet Atkins. Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry. Steve Cropper definitely creeps in there,” he laughs. “His rhythmic style and the kind of chords he played. That was a flawless rocking band, but his rhythm against Booker T’s melodic organ really made it.”
The Krektones will be performing music from its holiday repertoire this month. “We have, just like The Ventures did before us, adapted many of the holiday tunes from the Christmas time into rock and roll tunes,” Krekel reports. “We do about ten or twelve of those. All the Christmas classics, I suppose. We do some that The Ventures adapted, a couple that Booker T. & The MGs did, as well as our own arrangement of ‘We Three Kings,’ and ‘Santa Claus Is Coming To Town’ set up with the ‘Peter Gunn’ theme.”