The much-beloved, long-serving Grand Rapids band continues to grace area stages with their tone-driven surf-rock. Read about the band and view their upcoming schedule.
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Veteran Grand Rapids guitarist Fitz Green has sustained The Moonrays’ long tenure as surf rock heroes through sheer tenacity and plenty of old-school tonality.
“Chasing tone is everything to us,” conceded bassist Jim Braun, in describing The Moonrays’ signature instrumental style.
Green produces his analog-grounded tone with his reliable 1961 Fender Jazzmaster that he’s been playing since the early 1960s.
On the flip side, guitarist Mark Huizenga hones his sonic approach with a modified Fender amplifier with JBL speakers, enhanced by an array of pedalboards, often creating a David Gilmour-esque sound. His contemporary guitar effects alongside Green’s worn-out fretboard are surprisingly complementary.
On top of all that, Jim Braun’s bluesy bass lines behind DJ McCoy’s rhythmic drumming induce listeners to nod their heads.
When it all gets pulled together, West Michigan’s The Moonrays create their signature surf-rock attack.
Their continued role as regional surf-rock mainstays comes as a new wave of surf music surges to the mainstream forefront with popular surf punk bands such as The Frights, Surf Curse and Wavves.
Surf punk is a clear descendant of surf-rock.
In the late 1950s, surf-rock gained traction with acclaimed artists such as Dick Dale and The Ventures. And by the early 1960s, Green already was making his mark in Grand Rapids by playing surf-rock with that same 1961 Fender Jazzmaster.
“Back in the early to mid-’60s, people would drive to Grand Rapids from Detroit or even Chicago just to see Fitz play,” Braun said.
“There are videos of Fitz as a teenager when he would perform at sock hops with a band called The Renegades and you can hear him speed picking. It would get people really excited.”
DEALING WITH THE LOSS OF MICHAEL HALL II
It wasn’t until 1989 that Green officially started the band with the talented Michael Hall. A dedicated and experienced guitarist himself, Hall performed with The Moonrays into the late 2010’s. He passed away in 2020 after a year-long battle with leukemia.
Huizenga, who had often played with Fitz, filled in for Hall at numerous gigs. After Hall’s untimely death, he became a more permanent member of the band.
“It’s a different sound. Mark’s got his style and Mike had his style, but they’re both phenomenal,” said Braun.
“We’ve had several other past members in The Moonrays. Bud Chrysler was a big part of the band as our drummer for a long time, but he’s slowed down and DJ is very active now. It’s nice: We have a huge network of amazing musicians that we work with.”
Despite all the obstacles – including the pandemic – over the past few years, The Moonrays live on as a cohesive group.
Some listeners revel in their “surf, rock and blues” renditions of older songs, such as “Lower Rider.” Other celebrate the band’s handful of originals that they often perform during gigs with plans for recording ore of those tunes later this year.
“Between the pandemic and all the transitions within the band, we just haven’t found a lot of time to get together and write or record anything But that’s kind of the goal for this year,” Huizenga said.
Through it all, The Moonrays have adopted a pretty unorthodox and laid-back disposition during their performances.
“We just follow Fitz,” Huizenga said matter-of-factly.
Added Braun: “There haven’t been any formal rehearsals and we don’t even use a set list during performances. We just figure out what we’re playing once Fitz hits that first note.”
Fans can catch that first note and much more at a host of upcoming performances by The Moonrays: 9 p.m. May 7 at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids, opening for McKinley James; July 7 at Tip Top Deluxe, opening for the Surfajettes; July 9 at the Third Coast Surf Festival in Waukegan, Ill.; July 15 on the Grand Lady Riverboat in Jenison; Aug. 27 at The Local in Grand Rapids; Sept. 2 on the Grand Lady Riverboat in Jenison; Sept. 10 at Trail Point Brewing in Allendale.
And attention surf-rock fans: Another legendary Grand Rapids surf-rock band will perform as part of Local Spins’ 10th anniversary celebration in mid-May. The Concussions will play at SpeakEZ Lounge at 7:30 p.m. May 18, followed by neosoul’s Earth Radio. More details about this free show here.
LISTEN: The Moonrays, “Albatross”
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