The Blue Hawaiians—a surf-rock band that came together in the ‘90s—will be playing at Purple Room on Tuesday, Feb. 18, as part of Modernism Week’s “Modernism After Dark.”
The surf-rock genre of the 1960s—with bands such as The Ventures, The Challengers, Link Wray and, of course, the legendary Dick Dale—was the inspiration for the Los Angeles-based band.
“It all starts with my friend Michelle, who owned the Lava Lounge in Los Angeles,” said bassist/front man Mark Fontana. “I was playing in a band in Laguna Beach at the time with the guitar-player and drummer of what would become the Blue Hawaiians. We had a band called the El Caminos, and Michelle was a huge fan of the El Caminos. She wanted us to play the Lava Lounge on New Year’s Eve. Joey—the singer we had (in the El Caminos)—would always say stuff to piss people off, and Michelle called me and asked, ‘Could you put a band together to play the club without Joey?’”
Fontana seized the opportunity and put together a surf-rock sound for the show.
“My favorite guitar-playing is a lot of the old, obscure surf tracks from the early ‘60s. It has such a great tone with that reverb and stuff, so I thought it was the perfect blend to do at the Lava Lounge,” he explained.
The Blue Hawaiians went on to make their mark and play many of the legendary venues in L.A., such as the Viper Room and the Hollywood Palladium; their music was also part of a successful ad campaign for GUESS? Jeans. Because of their affiliation with the late, lamented Lava Lounge, they made a fan out of Quentin Tarantino, who was working on From Dusk Till Dawn at the time.
“He used to hang out at the Lava Lounge,” Fontana said. “This is before Pulp Fiction. He dug what we were doing, and I think it somehow influenced the Pulp Fiction soundtrack, but I don’t know. It had the surf thing. He hired us to play for a set party on From Dusk Till Dawn with all the zombies or whatever the heck they were. Then he got so big that the last time I saw him at the Lava Lounge, I said, ‘That bastard! I’m going to get him for not putting us on the Pulp Fiction soundtrack!’
“But he left before I could beat him up.”
Being in a surf-rock band, Fontana is appropriately a surfer himself.
“The steel guitar-player and I surf on a more-regular basis than any of the other members,” he said. “I started surfing when I was 11, and I still surf today. I surf as much as I can. I love to get away from the cement, the people, the cars and technology. Sitting on the ocean and riding waves is a great form of meditation.”
As far as the dangers of surfing go, Fontana tries not to think too much about them.
“If you throw sharks or big waves into the mix, it’s dangerous,” he said. “Anytime you deal with nature, there’s going to be some element of danger involved. Certainly with surfing, your surfboard can hit you in the head and knock you out, and you can drown. So, yeah, there’s definitely an element of danger. … Occasionally, I hear the theme song to Jaws playing in my head, and I start looking around for fins in the water, but you don’t see them too often.”
The Blue Hawaiians are one of the many bands that have contributed music to SpongeBob SquarePants. Fontana said he found the experience enjoyable—and it helped him become a hit with his own children.
“I think it was back in 1999. We were brought on in the early first season of the show,” he said. “It was really cool, and the thing that was cool about it: At the time, my son was about 4 years old. They sent me a VHS copy with some episodes for inspiration, and my son was literally falling off the sofa laughing so hard—and I was doing the same. I thought, ‘Man, they’ve really got something here when you have a 4-year-old falling off the sofa and an adult doing the same thing.’ It was really cool to be a part of that in the early day, and we still make money every quarter from BMI because of SpongeBob all these years later.”
Not long ago, the Blue Hawaiians took a two-year hiatus after their drummer Maxwell (Maxwellvision) moved to Colorado. While the Blue Hawaiians used to play three times a week, they now usually play a couple of times per month, on average.
The Blue Hawaiians’ show should fit in nicely at the Purple Room, due to the throwback nature of the band’s music.
“We have this unique ability to play for an audience and have a 15-year-old kid tell us, ‘Dude, you guys rock!’ and have someone in their late 50s say, ‘Wow, that was really cool!’” Fontana said. “We have this really unique thing that we do that can satisfy all these different age groups, which is actually hard to do.”
The Blue Hawaiians will perform at the Purple Room, 1900 E. Palm Canyon Drive, on Tuesday, Feb. 18. Dinner begins at 7 p.m., with the show taking place at 8:30 p.m.; tickets for dinner and the show are $75. For tickets or more information, call 760-322-4422, or visit purpleroompalmsprings.com.