Surf salamanders

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The AmpFibians ride the wave to Blind Bob’s

By Gary Spencer

Photo: The AmpFibians’ (l-r) Ron ‘Squat’ White, Tom ‘Squid’ Coates, Eli ‘Lockjaw’ White, and Dave ‘Swag’ Davies; photo: Cathy Davies

On paper, a surf rock band with the name The AmpFibians comes off as a clever play on words, but also seems a little contrived. But if you think about it, in H20 is where frogs, toads, and other amphibious creatures feel most comfortable, so the name holds some metaphorical water.

Made up of Dave Davies aka Swag (guitar), Tom Coates aka Squid (drums), the father/son duo of Eli White aka Lockjaw (bass), and Ron White aka Squat (guitar), the band manifested its moniker by happenstance, but it stuck.

“At first I didn’t like it, but when I saw it written out on paper, it had an appealing look,” Squid says. “I added the capital ‘F’ and now I think it’s a great logo. It has the guitar-music connotation and the water and land connection. It evokes a light, non-threatening, humorous feeling, but leaves room for a serious side to the music.”

The quartet most certainly embraces the humorous side of themselves. If you were to visit the band’s Facebook page, it claims they “emerged from the primordial ooze, guided by cosmic vibes and a driving hunger for reverb… they found surf rock to be the perfect habitat.” But the band members’ real habitat is just south of Dayton in Cincinnati, where the musicians have been kicking around the Queen City for quite some time.

“Together, we have going on 175 years of music experience,” Squid says. “About eight years ago, Dave wanted to start playing surf music. He felt that it would be easier to stand out in the surf genre rather than with other types of rock.”

And just like the choice of band name, Squid admits he was skeptical about the idea of forming a surf rock band, despite his interest and experience playing in a variety of musical styles.

“When Dave first wanted to play surf music, I confess that I did not share his enthusiasm. Then, he turned me onto The Mermen. I was blown away. Their psychedelic, no-holds-barred sound showed me that there was no limit to what you could do with the genre. We all admire Los Straitjackets, another instrumental band that may never really refer to themselves as a surf band.  We love their musical talent and professionalism as well as their cartoon-like attitude and stage presence.”

The band’s first performance eight years ago sealed the deal: The AmpFibians were officially going to wave the banner of surf rock as their modus operandi.

“We got about five original songs together and managed to get put on the bill at a surf show in northern Kentucky,” Squid says. “When we went on, the place was packed. We played for all we were worth, and people loved it. Dave and I looked at each other and said, ‘Well, I guess we’re a surf band.’”

It shouldn’t necessarily be a surprise that The AmpFibians were a hit right off the bat. Despite the surf rock genre being over five decades old, it continues to hold a cult following and popularity among music fans both young and old. Squid has a firm grasp on why it has such unsuspecting appeal after all this time.

“Surf is high-energy guitar and melody based instrumental rock and roll—it has drive and intensity equal to any other rock music, and yet it can also be mellow and soothing,” he explains. “There are intense drum rhythms, driving bass, and lots of crazy guitar. The heavy reverb makes it seem like you are literally swimming in sound. What’s not to like?”

Since the band’s formation, The AmpFibians have gone on to release two full-length CDs and have gigged at festivals and clubs all over the East Coast and Midwest, leaving a wake of houses turned inside out from a good time, including their last visit to Dayton.

“We recently played with Team Void at a craft brewer beer tasting event,” Squid explains.  “We played last and when the tasting was over, people really focused on the music. We played one song that has a driving surf beat for about 20 minutes because people didn’t want to stop dancing. Beer and surf music is apparently a good combination.”

And beer and surf music will be on tap for The AmpFibians’ upcoming gig Friday at Blind Bob’s, providing another opportunity to intoxicate listeners with the ways of the surf rock sound.

“Almost always there is someone there that makes a great discovery and becomes a surf convert,” Squid says. “We go all out when we perform. We are not afraid to take chances and improvise or try new things. The band is comfortable straddling that line between cooking intensely and being totally out of control. If you like to rock out, come down and get turned on to some surf music, the best kept secret in rock and roll.”

The AmpFibians perform Friday, Jan. 6 at Blind Bob’s, 430 E. Fifth St. in downtown Dayton. Far From Eden and Rich Man’s Trick are also on the bill. Admission is $5 at the door for patrons 21 and over. Doors open at 9 p.m. For more information, please visit Reverbnation.com/TheAmpfibians or BlindBobs.com.

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Gary Spencer
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com

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