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“Yacht Rock” sets sail at Whistle Stop

July 24, 2010 - 11:28 am

Yacht Rock is the name of a soft rock genre that had its heyday between 1975 and 1984. With the help of well-trained studio musicians, Southern California-based artists like Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Christopher Cross and Toto penned polished, sophisticated, smooth rock songs that a yuppie yachtsman could enjoy while on a cruise.

“Yacht Rock” is also the name of an online TV series created by J. D. Ryznar and Hunter D. Stair and focused around the incestuous careers of such yacht rockers as Steely Dan, Toto, the Doobie Brothers, Kenny Loggins and Michael McDonald. An exaggerated and hilarious take on their cushy Southern California lives, the show pits them against each other in an effort to make the softest and most sophisticated Yacht Rock tunes.

Well, yacht rockers, it’s time to put on your captain’s hats. Today, “Yacht Rock” host Hollywood Steve will join DJ Claire Caraska, a local “Yacht Rock” fan and presumably a yacht rocker, in a screening of all 12 “Yacht Rock” episodes at Whistle Stop Bar, starting at 5 p.m. Nautical attire is encouraged.

The show may parody yacht rockers, but Hollywood Steve (real name: Steve Huey) has a sincere love for Yacht Rock. In an e-mail interview, he discusses how yacht rock inspires him, whether San Diego’s a good place for yacht rock, and if there’s any chance of a yacht rock revival.

How old are you? Were you old enough to live through the Yacht Rock era?

I was born in 1975, at the dawn of the Yacht Rock era, but I didn’t really pay attention to popular music until after that wave had crested.

How did you get into Yacht Rock?

I turned 30 and decided I no longer had to bother trying to impress anyone with how cutting-edge my tastes were.

What about Yacht Rock do you enjoy? How does it inspire you?

The songcraft, the professionalism, the musical sophistication.  All those things are pretty much disappearing from the pop mainstream.  You can certainly find musical sophistication in the indie scene, but a lot of those guys are concerned with making art first, often at the expense of real, classic-style songcraft.  Sometimes I just want to hear something catchy and direct and immediate, but isn’t aimed at 12-year-olds.  The precarious state of the music business doesn’t allow for much of that these days.

What are some of your favorite Yacht Rock bands/songs? Why?

Hall & Oates are just amazing.  They’ve tried virtually every pop style they can think of over their career, and they’ve done something good in all of them.  I’m still taking in all of Steely Dan’s stuff, how complex and layered it is.  Rupert Holmes is a really underrated storytelling songwriter.  Bertie Higgins is just crazy – when he’s not singing about Humphrey Bogart movies, he’s turning Jimmy Buffett’s fantasy world into a dark, drug-laced nightmare.  Also, when Air Supply is on, they are brilliant.

What are some of your least favorite Yacht Rock bands/songs?

I’ve always found the Eagles bland and soulless.  The best songs are great, but the performances almost uniformly need a huge kick in the ass.  Also, I don’t care how often Jimmy Buffett sings about boats, the dude is not smooth.

There’s a lot of yachts in San Diego. Do you think this city might be a good incubator for Yacht Rock?

It takes two things to incubate Yacht Rock:  yachts, and a strong studio musician community.  I don’t think an assload of cocaine would hurt either.
Can you ever imagine there being a Yacht Rock revival? Or is Yacht Rock firmly planted in the mid-70s through mid-80s? The thing about Yacht Rock is, you actually have to be able to play your instruments.  The studio guys who provided the musical foundation had solid chops, usually some jazz training, and could play virtually any style they wanted.  Since America has practically killed funding for music education in public schools, I don’t see it happening.  Maybe in Canada, where people give a crap.

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