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The father and son team of Tom and Ian Spanic, of Milwaukee, WI, became the darling of the critics in the late '80s and early '90s, when they released three albums for Rounder Records. Known for their loud, intense, fiery guitar playing, their music could best be described as roots rock, complete with lots of references to blues and rockabilly thrown into their heavily guitar-laden mix. The father and son duo, whose harmonies are reminiscent of the Everly Brothers, got their first big break when they performed on Saturday Night Live in 1990, thanks to SNL bandmember and fellow guitarist G.E. Smith.
Both father and son, despite their 22-year age difference, share a passion for and count among their influences the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Lonnie Mack, Merle Travis, Buck Owens, Ricky Nelson, and Chet Atkins. Although their influences may be some of the pioneers of rock & roll, they have the benefit of a range of effects and amplifiers with their guitar playing that late-20th century sound technology provides. Ian, an avid record collector and student of the sound of Buddy Holly, grew up a fish out of water of sorts in the 1980s, preferring roots rockers like Holly and Presley to more popular bands like Van Halen or Bon Jovi. On the other hand, Tom began playing guitar in 1956, when it all started. His playing speaks for itself, and coupled with his son's playing, the pair take the two-guitar rock & roll subgenre a step further, trading off on leads and delivering exquisite harmonies that you just don't hear a lot anymore. Their sound at times is country-rock, at other times rockabilly, and at other times blues-rock.
Before the pair began playing out together in local Milwaukee clubs in the mid-'80s, Tom's career had included a stint teaching classical guitar at the Wisconsin Conservatory. He found he had more fun playing out with his son. He bought his son his first electric guitar, a reissued 1957 Buddy Holly Stratocaster, when Ian was 12. (The elder Spanic insisted that Ian just play an acoustic classical guitar until then.) The Spanic Boys cut their debut on a small Milwaukee label in 1988. After being invited to perform at the 1989 South by Southwest Music Festival by critic/NPR commentator Ed Ward, the pair secured their deal with Rounder Records, and the Saturday Night Live performance helped to establish their place on the musical map.
The Spanic Boys' self-titled debut was released in 1990 on Rounder and was followed by Strange World in 1991 and Dream Your Life Away in 1993, both also for Rounder. On their Rounder albums and at their South by Southwest performances, the pair were accompanied by Curt Lefevre, drums, Paul Schroeder, bass, or Mike Frederickson, bass. The Spanic Boys continue to perform around Wisconsin and the Northeast, but as of 1996, they weren't recording for Rounder anymore. However, given the ongoing renaissance of blues and roots rock music, that may change. A deal with Orchard surfaced during the new millennium, issuing The Spanic Family Album and Walk Through Fire in 2000. Torture followed a year later.