Just in time for Halloween, Bakersfield Latin ska reggae group Mento Buru has released "Skalloween," a six-song EP of reimagined Halloween music classics from Bakersfield artists Buck Owens and Ronnie Cook.
Made possible through a generous grant from the Arts Council of Kern, the extended play features variations on Owens' "(It's a) Monster's Holiday" and "Goo Goo Muck" by Ronnie Cook and his band The Gaylads.
The late singer-songwriter released "Goo Goo Muck" in 1962, described as a "rockin' surf and sax homage" to spooky stories and campy horror flicks like "I Was a Teenage Werewolf."
"Muck" was reanimated in 1980 after being discovered by The Cramps' lead singer, Lux Interior, while digging through a bargain bin of old vinyls. It went on to become one of the iconic horror surfabilly punk act's signature tunes.
"For as long as I can remember, The Cramps' 'Goo Goo Muck' has been on every Halloween party playlist, and I always just assumed it was their song," Mento Buru vocalist Matt Munoz said in a news release. "One day I was having a conversation with (Bakersfield) saxophonist Richard Gonzales who told me about the origins of the song and that he had also performed as a member of Ronnie Cook's backing band — The Gaylads — during that time. That local connection blew my mind."
(Other local ties include the fact that Buckaroos keyboardist Jim Shaw has held the publishing rights to the original "Goo Goo Muck" song for years, and Ronnie Cook's sister, Renee, is an accomplished bass guitarist in her own right who still performs in the area.)
Despite being covered by several alternative and punk acts in the spirit of The Cramps, "Goo Goo Muck" gets a fresh take with Mento Buru's version injected with Jamaican/Latin ska, an all-new killer horn arrangement by saxophonist Paul Perez and a guest appearance by percussionist Marcos Reyes of legendary funk band War.
"(It's a) Monster's Holiday," Buck Owens' ode to gremlins, goblins, dragons and zombies, made the Top 10 on the Billboard country music charts in 1974. In the song, the protagonist ends up in a graveyard having a run-in with Frankenstein's monster (just called Frankenstein in the song), Dracula and other spooky figures.
For "Skalloween," Mento Buru turned the song into all-new rockin' ska burner.
"People have been breathing down our necks for years to play Buck Owens tunes as we have become as associated with Bakersfield as Buck has, but as much as we love and revere his music, we're not a country band," said Munoz, who acknowledged that the band toyed with covering "Streets of Bakersfield" but refused to do the obvious. "I had no idea Buck had written a crazy Halloween tune, and after a first listen, I knew we'd finally found our tribute to Buck and we'd find a way to make it work."
Trading the country shuffle for a rockin' ska rhythm, an all-new horn arrangement complete with raging guitar solo by Salvador Galindo, the result is a "graveyard party reggae dub end sequence" reminiscent of "Nite Klub" by British ska heroes The Specials, according to the release.
"Leave it to Buck Owens to write a song this wacky and make it a hit," said Munoz. "It's the perfect Bakersfield Halloween song."
Veteran KUZZ radio personality Sylvia Cariker contributed the original scream to the 1974 version and recalled being called into the studio by Owens.
"I was pulled from my desk to come to the studio next door, Buck pointed at me the two times he wanted me to scream, said 'Thank You' and I went back to my desk," recalled Cariker in an email. "One take."
Cariker declined recreating the iconic scream for the new recording, deferring to the vocals of Alisa Garasa, wife of the band's drummer, Cesareo Garasa.
"Honey, I did that years ago! There's no part of my vocal cords that can reach that high now. Thanks for the offer, I'm flattered, but ... umm ... no," Cariker said.
For the third track, the band turned "Goo Goo Muck" into the creepy, Spanish-language "Chu Chu Moco" as translated by Los Angeles musician/producer Moises Baqueiro, who plays with Los Abandoned and Las Cafeteras.
The latter half of the EP is reggae dub remixes of the three songs by L.A. producer Dubrobot titled "Goo Goo Dub," "(It's a) Monster's Holidub" and "Chu Chu Moco Dub."
Along with Munoz, on lead vocals and saxophone, and Garasa, Mento Buru consists of bassist Caleb Moore, guitarist Salvador Galindo, Jay Smith on keyboards, saxophonist Paul Perez and Justin Kirk on trombone. "Skalloween" also features guest musicians: Brent Williams on trumpet, percussionist Marcos Reyes, and Alisa Garasa and Robyn Dyer on background vocals.
"Skalloween" is available for download and streaming on Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Pandora and YouTube.
For the latest on the band, visit facebook.com/mentoburu or @mentoburu on Instagram and Twitter.