Unkle Monkey is not the name of a children's television show.
Not yet, anyway.
For now, it's the name of a rock band that plays its special brew of calypso, reggae, Hawaiian and classic rock - with a little dash of
Cajun and zydeco thrown in for good measure.
It's called "Tropical Rock."
"This is not really the mellow 'Day-O,' 'Tiny Bubbles' types of songs," says Steve(n) Stafford, founder, rhythm guitarist and lead singer
of Unkle Monkey, which will close out the free Summer Concert Series at University Center across from UC Irvine Friday.
"This is heavy Islands music. One fan called it 'yacht rock,' as a lot of our gigs have been on yachts."
Which is not surprising, considering that most of the songs in the group's repertoire have an island theme.
"They're songs about travelling, drinking - rum, that is - and sunsets," explained Stafford, who writes songs from
experience. He's been to Hawaii numerous times, as well as Bali, Tahiti, Australia, the Carribean, Mexico, Europe
and the French quarter of New Orleans.
"I've adapted the style of where I've been to into the song," he said, pointing out that it's the group's repertoire that is
eclectic, not any one song.
"Some songs are straight-ahead reggae. Some are calypso. Some are Hawaiian, even sung in Hawaiian and using Hawaiian
But, to some extent, all of Unkle Monkey's 60-plus songs "have an island beat and theme, with congas and island instruments," Stafford
The group - four strong for Irvine but as many as seven for bigger venues, such as festivals and fairs - will perform
selections from its CD, "Dancin To The Rhythm of The World," for which Stafford said he wrote "sort of autobiographical" songs
about his travels.
"They're Jimmy Buffet stuff," said Stafford, who, like Buffet, had been a sailor. "He plays some with an island beat, other
songs of his rock, but all have to do with the life of a beachcomber. It's escapism."
Unlike the other groups that have preceeded them in Universty Center's Summer Concert Series, Stafford, guitarist and singer
Dave Winston, bassist Rick Moors and drummer Casey Jones will be making their Irvine debut. The group's usual stomping
grounds lie along the Southern California coast, "from Santa Barbara to San Diego," according to Stafford.
"That includes the Strawberry Festival, where we've been their band for five years running," he said. "Over there
we do a reggae version of, naturally, 'Stawberry Fields Forever.'"
Stafford has had the "on-the-road" bug since he was 3 and travelling across the country in the back of his parent's
station wagon. His father was in the Air Force and the family moved frequently.
"I just remembered seeing neon signs" at that age, he recalled.
The music bug bit him later in life - about mid-teens - although that, too, was not the dramatic moment for Stafford,
but evolved over time.
"But once I became serious about (music), about 17, 18, it just kind of snowballed from there," he said.
Influenced by such seminal groups as the Beatles musically and Bob Dylan poetically, and spending his 20s travelling
all over the world, Stafford brought a wealth of musical and cultural influences to Unkle Monkey, which he formed
five years ago, hand-picking every musician.
Among the projects looming ahead for the group is a video, possibly another CD - and a children's television show.
"It's to be an animated children's program," he explained, "where Unkle Monkey travels around the world and learns to
do traditional songs of the places he visits and makes up a song about that country so that the children watching the
program can learn about it, too.
"It's things I would do - only an animated monkey is doing it instead," he said.
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