Bob Cannistraro of The Beloved Invaders

by Heather Bowden

I had never thought too deeply about surf music. I didn't know much more than it sounded damn good and it sure spiced up Pulp Fiction. That is, until I first saw The Beloved Invaders play at a house party just outside of Boulder, CO. It wasn't the best of venues, but my curiosity was piqued by their baby blue blazers, their charming choreography, their Go-Go dancers, and of course, their tight-as-hell sound. That, and well, they all smiled a lot when they were playing. It seemed as though they truly enjoyed making this music – this surf music...

I had to find out more, so I started asking around. I was eventually directed to Bob Cannistaro, the founder and main vein of The Beloved Invaders. We set up an interview, and this is what we talked about...


Bob Cannistraro on his vintage Fender.

Heather: My first question is, why did you choose surf music to be your main...

Bob: I took a liking to a band called The Ventures at a very young age and they're kind of the reason why I wanted to play guitar. I had an older sister and she brought home lots of records and one day she came home with a Ventures record and that was something that affected me pretty good and also I had a cousin who was sort of a Ventures fan and I don't know, that's what I wanted to do, I wanted to play guitar like the Ventures. I was really enthralled with the whole sound, the whole thing. But then of course, the British invasion hit and it wasn't fashionable to play that kind of music so I had to get into the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and all that stuff and about, I guess seven years ago I decided that it would be fun to play some surf music some Ventures.. Ventures is kind of the voice of surf music. So, I decided to play some Ventures music again which has turned into a band!

You found some other afficionados to play with you?
It's not that easy to find good people who want to play surf music. Usually it's musicians that you run into and you say, "Hey would you be interested in playing this kind of music?" So that's kind of the way it usually works out; although, the drummer who was in the band prior to the current drummer was definitely a fan.

So, would you say that the guys now are in it just to be in a band, or are they as passionate about the music?
Well actually, the other guitar player that we use now, Mike Lee, he is definitely a surf music fan. In fact, we learned about Mike from a surf band that he was in. Our drummer, Clay Bielman, who I've played with in a number of bands over the years, didn't know much about it and I asked him if he was interested. We needed a sub for a good paying gig, so I called Clay and said, "Hey you want to do this gig?" and he said, "Sure." So he did the gig, and he's in the band, and he really likes it.

Yeah, he seems to enjoy it.
Oh yeah. I think that the role of a drummer in a surf band is, by far, less limiting. It's like you can't overplay when you play drums in a surf band. And like in most other bands when you play drums, it's like hey, you're in the rhythm section, just do your job. In a surf band, "just doing your job" is like playing a LOT, so it's fun for a drummer.


What makes surf music "surf" music? What separates it from other types of music?
Well, people debate this. Surf music for me is very white. Many musicians, including myself, wanted to emulate black music, music of the "people of color" if you will. I mean, if you listen to the early Beatles. Who are they playing?

Chuck Berry!
And Little Richard, Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly. But surf music is very white, and not to belabor this too much, but everybody tries to play black music..The Rolling Stones got their roots from black music, Eric Clapton got his roots from black music, so if I, in 1969 as a high school junior, was heavily influenced by the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton, what was I? I was influenced by black music.

Most times, white people don't get it (and I fall in that category); we just don't get it. It's a whole different feel. It's much more laid back...and surf music is white. It's on top of the beat and it's very white music and I think from a rhythmic point of view, surf music has very little to do with black music. So, I think one thing, for me, that really defines surf music is the rhythm. The beat, the tempos are's almost rushed but it's not ...I mean it's on tempo, but it's know what I mean? It's not like that at all. So, that's one thing for me that defines surf music. Another thing is, generally, no vocals. Now, you cannot deny that the first four or five albums of the Beach Boys are surf music. They were amongst the defining genre of surf music, but they were a vocal band. Brian Wilson happened to be very enamored with a lot of the arranged vocal harmonies and that sort of thing, so he took the Beach Boys to a whole different place, but if you listen to the rhythms, the guitar parts, the bass parts, the backing parts of the early Beach Boys stuff, that's definitely surf music. The sound of the instruments, the sound of the guitars. Most purists will consider surf guitar to be undistorted – a cleaner sound.
Bob Cannistraro on lead guitar, Clay Bielman - drums, Michael J. Lee - rhythm guitar, J. Scott Johnson (behind Michael Lee) - bass guitar.


Reaally? Huh...
It's a cleaner sound. They use a lot of an effect called reverb, which is actually just a spring that sound goes through, but it simulates the sound of playing in a large hall. But it's a certain kind of reverb – it's all about Fender. Okay, Leo Fender was a guy (he's dead now) who started a company who made guitars and amplifiers. A lot of the sound of surf music is related to the sound of Fender guitars playing through Fender amplifiers, with Fender reverb and the whole thing. So, a lot of the surf music is the sound of the instruments, a lot of surf music is the rhythm. I consider that surf music has no vocals.

I was curious about that. You said that there was a particular reason you didn't use vocals in your band at all.
Well, there are a lot reasons why I don't want to have vocals for The Beloved Invaders. First of all, we're a surf band and surf bands don't have vocals. Except for the Beach Boys.

Dick Dale?
Well, Dick Dale's vocals are Dick Dale's vocals...but I am not sure that he does much vocals on his records. I'm not sure that he does any vocals on his records. A lot of people will tell you if they go to a Dick Dale show in 2003, that's not surf music. Dick Dale will tell you that he's the only one in the world who plays surf music; that anybody else is just trying to copy him.

Well, where do you think it originated?
Oh, Dick Dale was a huge part of the origination of surf music. In fact he was probably, if not the earliest, one of the earliest. Dick Dale recorded in the '58/'59 time-frame: instrumental, guitar based rock 'n' roll. In the late fifties instrumentals were more popular up until the Beatles [in the] early sixties. And of course, you go back into the forties and all the big band jazz and all that.. Dixieland... that's all instrumental. If you look at the Billboard chart hits of the 50s and early 60s there are quite a few instrumental songs, and that sort of opened the door for this kind of music to be popular then. The first wave of surf music was pretty much the early sixties. And ninety percent of the bands were in southern California.

[At this point, Bob brought out a book called, Surfin' Guitars, Instrumental Surf Bands of the 60's, by Robert J.
Dalley, as he segues into talk of The Ventures]

The Ventures are most definitely considered to be, if there is a family tree of surf music, if they are not the trunk, they are a huge limb. But The Ventures played their music before there was a really big genre of surf music...before there was "Pipeline", before there was "Wipeout" and before that little era right before The Beatles. '63/'62..'61 even, there was definitely an opening in pop music for instrumental-based popular songs.

I heard somewhere – total hearsay – that there was a Lebanese influence on the way the guitar was played to get that fast playing sound.
The Middle Eastern influence in surf music is definitely there. You don't hear it in The Ventures unless they cover someone else's music. But you hear it a lot in Dick Dale and a lot of these garage surfy bands from the early sixties. For me it's more the scale that they use. It's not Do-Re-Mi-Fa-So-La-Ti-Do. It's a different mode, if you will, and that's part of the sound of surf music for a lot of people. As far as the Tremolo picking..I don't know if that's Middle Eastern or not. You know, mandolin players play that way, it's got nothing to do with Lebanese or Middle Eastern stuff. But Dick Dale did it and he's probably the first to do it. Well, what else makes up surf music...I don't know...we are getting more and more influenced by the Latin music and the songs and the scales. The Ventures did some Latin stuff and we cover The Ventures' covers. And we're working on some stuff now that is getting in the Latin area and I get a lot of inspiration from Latin-oriented music.

Like what, specifically? Like what groups?
Ry Cooder just put out a new album and he did all of the Buena Vista Social Club stuff from Cuba, and he just came out with an album called, Mambo Sinuendo. I am getting some great ideas off of that stuff. I listen to KUVO [FM 89.3] all of the time, too, because they've got all of the Salsa stuff.

So, are you writing original songs?
I'd like to write more tunes. We do a couple of originals. There were three original songs on our second album – three out of twelve. I've got a new one that I have just finished that we are going to be rehearsing here in the near future. I get inspirations for melodies from other places, too. I'd like to write more, but it's a question of time. I'd like to spend a lot more time with music and not do my "real" job.

What is your "real" job?
I'm a manufacturer's rep. I have my own home-based business. I'm like a contract salesperson.

You guys play out a lot...
We're definitely a niche band. We are fortunate in that there are a lot of people that like us, but then again there are people who don't even want to have us play for them because we don't even have any vocals. For me, surf music is at least a valid of genre as reggae. It's pretty specialized, but surf music is not about a message, there's no lyrics, there's no bummer, it's all about good times and listening to the fun melodies and having a good time.

Tell us the story of the name, The Beloved Invaders.
When Beatle Mania and the British invasion hit the U.S., The Ventures were pretty sure that their kind of stuff was not going to be flourishing. Although, they did continue to record albums during that whole time period, and did grow their hair out, and did wear Nehru suits and did all of that stuff. They ended up going to Japan, and the Japanese people just loved them, and do to this day. The Ventures make a very good living on their Japanese tours. You know, it's the kind of thing where they go over, and if they are there for 35 days, they will play 50 shows. So here's the thing: the Japanese dubbed The Ventures, "The Beloved Invaders," and there was a movie made called The Beloved Invaders. It is sort of like The Venture's version of the Beatles', A Hard Days Night, but it's incredibly hokey – oh it's just painful! – but they play live on it a lot.

So, tell me about your vintage Fender Jazzmaster.
A musician has to have an instrument that inspires the musician. The classic surf rig is generally a Fender Jazzmaster or a Fender Jaguar, which are very similar guitars, played through a Fender amplifier, with a Fender reverberation system of some sort. Some of the amplifiers have built-in reverberation and some don't. The purists will use the separate little box that's the separate reverberation unit. The amplifier that I use has the equivalent of the outboard box built into the same amplifier. It's a recently built amplifier built to the construction methods of the sixties. There are no transistorized elements to it. It's completely Old School – just tubes. There's no printed circuit boards, just wires.

Do you turn your nose up at the surf bands that don't use the traditional instruments?
I try not to turn my nose up at any music for any reason.

So, you've got Go-Go Dancers!?
It just happens that I fell in love with a woman who loves to dance. We're engaged to be married. Valerie [Serrano], at one point, was just like, "Maybe we could dance with the band," and so it worked out that way. The Go-Go dancing thing was part of the scene in the sixties. For me it's definitely a huge addition to the show. It makes up for the lack of vocals.

And you have a little choreography, yourself...
Yeah, if you're going to play instrumental music, you can't just stand there. But we don't really do that much.

Also, you have the Theremin.
You know, I don't know if I'd like to have a Theremin in the band, full time, every time we play, but it's really fun to have Victoria [Lundy] sit in with us.

I noticed that you had a really big array of effects pedals.
I almost use nothing compared to what 99% of the guitarists out there use. Most of the time I am plugged straight into the amp and all that stuff is bypassed. The main effect that I use is an old German tape delay called an Echocord. I use a Leslie simulator (it's a rotating speaker that organ players use). I use that once in a while, and I use a distortion pedal on one song.

Do you have particular criteria for choosing songs?
It's got to be reasonably interesting. A lot of the early stuff is real simplistic, and I prefer more melodic than simplistic. If I am going to pick or write a song, I want it to be interesting melodically and harmonically. If you can combine the edginess of rock-n-roll and still get the interesting chord change, then that's what I go for; that's what I want to do.

Do you ever think that you will move from Surf Music onto something else?
I like to play a variety of things. I would love to play more Jazz or Blues or whatever it might be, but pretty much, I am concentrating on The Beloved Invaders right now.

Where does making music for the fun of it end and entertaining drunk people begin?
[He looks at me questioningly]

You make and create music in a private area and then in performing, it's a totally different world where you're "entertaining" and you have to be on and you have to get to people.
Bands that don't play out, I am not even sure if they're bands. You gotta play out. Yes, you can have a wonderful experience with three other guys and you make music and everybody is great...but you gotta play out. When you're in a room full of people that are listening to your music and they're listening and they're liking what you are doing, you get that vibe back and it inspires you to play better. It just so happens that historically, music is made at places where people drink. There is no question that alcohol lowers the inhibitions, and if you have lowered inhibitions you're gonna maybe dance where you wouldn't dance, or dance a little crazier where you would dance a little less crazy. We see people going crazy on the dance floor and it pumps us to play more exciting and then it goes back to them and it just builds and builds and builds and builds.

How old were you when you got your first guitar?
There was a little ukulele floating around in the house and I would play air ukulele as a kid while the Ventures records were playing. I did take lessons at age ten-eleven time frame.

Did you have a lot of support from your family?
Oh yes.

Were there other musicians in your family?
Mmm-hmm. So yeah, I had a lot of support. We had a little band when I was like, eleven. We covered The Searchers' version of Love Potion #9. For some reason, that's like the one tune I can remember playing.

What is your biggest piece of advice that you would give to young people who would like to make music?
Do it when you're young. When you're eleven, twelve, thirteen. You don't have to worry about anything else then. Do it then, as hard as you can. When I was in high school we took music courses that were offered. I did every single thing that I could possibly get my hands on, musically. If you wait until you're out of high school, and you don't major in music, you don't have time. You gotta get this stuff inside you when you're a kid.


To learn more about The Beloved Invaders and this great genre of music, check out the following resources:

You can also contact the author of Surfin' Guitars, Instrumental Surf Bands of the 60's at the followig address:

Robert J. Dalley
6209 Oakbank Dr
Azusa, CA 91702

April 2003.