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The best kept secret in music


"A Walk on the Wild Side: The Elk-tones are carving out an enviable niche"

Instrumental rock reached its peak in the 1960s, then put in a brief cameo that coincided with the advent of punk in the late ‘70s and early ’80s. In its purest form, an electric guitar takes center stage, and, awash in reverb, twang and distortion, there’s not a clean note to be found. The music arrives in sloppy, raucous bursts lasting an average of three or four minutes per song.

While there’s always an instrumental combo or two roaming the circuit (Los Straitjackets and Man or Astro-Man? come to mind), such flashback sightings are rare. Even so, Delaware can claim one of these outfits as its own: The Elk-Tones, a four-piece possessing all the hallmarks. The Newark band is building a small but dedicated following that includes some peers.

“If you want to see a really great live band that knows that genre really well, they’re the band to check out,” says Joann Schmidt, who lives in Philadelphia and plays bass in Ike. “The guitar rhythms that they come up with are really intense. They’re playing a mile a minute; they’re really cruising through a lot of that stuff, and it’s tight.

“They’re a fun band to check out, whether or not your musical inclination is surf or rock or whatever [else]. You just get the vibe and it’s fun to hear them play it. They’re great showmen.”

The Elk-Tones, though, make it plain that they’re not completely retro. During a gig in December at Newark’s East End Café, the band pounds out the signature riff from Heart’s “Barracuda,” which leans a lot closer to Led Zeppelin than Dick Dale.

The band evolved from a trio (sans bass) in 2002 to its present lineup of guitarists Tom Daugherty and Jacque Varsalona, drummer Jeff Green, and bass player Adam Beck. The group issued the three-song The Bishop EP in November, after making its recording debut with a self-titled release in 2003.

“These guys came in with the background [in vintage rock-and-roll],” says Varsalona, the group’s youngest member by roughly 10 years. “They’re putting it together and making something new. I’m just desperately trying to keep up. I’ve learned more on my instrument in two years than I have in the whole 10, 12 years now that I’ve been playing.

“This is my first real band. For me, what’s classified as a ‘real band’ is one that can make an impact on a scene. You’re not just another band out there that’s just trying to get the gigs. You’re actually making a difference and adding something new.”

Ironically, the band is going four decades into rock’s glorious and not-so-glorious past to do so. Dick Dale, The Ventures, The Shadows and Link Wray number among the band’s spiritual godfathers. These pioneers of crashing, three-chord rave-ups didn’t bother singing a word, as if to imply that no mortal voice could compete with a guitar screaming through a Fender tube amp turned all the way up.

“It was that raw garage-band sound [from the early 1960s],” says drummer Green, 46, who hails from Saugus, Mass. “To me, it’s the most raw sound. Anything with reverb in it or digital delay, it’s like you’re walking back into another era. I hear it in my head all the time. It’s almost like a soundtrack style of music. It has balls. I can’t listen to that poppy mainstream stuff; it just doesn’t seem to have any balls or any emotion there to grab you. This kind of music does.”

By no means, though, do the Elk-Tones have their ears glued to yesteryear. The band’s influences are quite varied. “Yeah, there’s an awful lot of influences,” Green says. “In a matter of eight bars, it could be different musical genres coming through.”

The band enjoys introducing an original song by way of a more familiar riff. “We’ll give them the bait, and we’ll see if they take the rest of the hook,” he says.

-Eric Fine
- Out & About Magazine, Wilmington, DE

"Elk-Tones, Meet The Elk-Tones!"

If you think the best part of Pulp Fiction is hearing Miserlou run over the opening credits, then the Elk-Tones are for you. If you are tired of all the sucka-emcees and wish they would stop running at the mouth and play some music, then the Elk-Tones are for you. If you just want to know what a “cheesesteak soaked in alcohol, set on fire, and thrown into a chipper/shredder” sounds like, then the Elk-Tones are the band for you.

— Beth Lennon - The Bystander Magazine (11/03)

"The Elk-Tones"

“I‘ve been wanting to see these guys for a while now, since they’ve stirred up quite a buzz around town. This time you may not only believe the hype, but embrace it – you won’t be disappointed. The Elk-Tones’ skillful playing and totally unique psychedeli-surfer-billy tunes brighten up the drab onslaught of total crap churned out by today’s clueless record industry. A refreshing and fun diversion from the norm, resurrecting a forgotten style of music essential to the life of rock n’ roll. Amen. – Sarah Tweddle - The Bystander Magazine (02/04)


Debut CD (7-song) & The Bishop EP (3-song)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Hailing from Newark, Delaware, The Elk-Tones
are a four-piece surf-rock band with a sound
that defines “psychedelisurferbilly.” This band
will take you on a musical excursion both through
past psychedli-haziness and modern punk-ability…
But they do more than that.

Taking cues from classic artists such as
Dick Dale and Link Wray, while also raising a glass
to their contemporaries, Los Straitjackets and
the great Reverend Horton Heat,
The Elk-Tones move seamlessly through styles -
weaving classic surf, rockabilly, jazz, and punk rock.