As a kid, John Lefler remembers the sounds of Chuck Mangione and Little River Band. These days, the singer and guitar player is giving new life to those artists through Captain and Camille, a yacht rock tribute band focused on the smooth sounds of the 1970s and '80s.
Captain and Camille's genesis was a product of coincidence. Lefler and and longtime friend Camille Cortinas teamed up with several local musicians for what they thought would be a one-time smooth '70s night at Opening Bell Coffee shop in Dallas. Crowds packed the little venue and sang along to every song; that's when Lefler and company knew they had tapped into something special.
"I think what people respond to is, not only these are the songs that people in their 50s and 60s listened to when they were in their formative years, but a lot of the yacht rock stuff is kind of making fun of it," Lefler says. Not Captain and Camille, though, even with their Tommy Bahama-inspired shirts and captain's hats.
"We all care about this music," says Cortinas. "All of this was founded on something we had affection for."
Yacht rock has seen a resurgence in recent years, thanks to bands and fans with equal appreciation for the genre. On any given weekend in Dallas-Fort Worth, you're likely to stumble by a bar where tunes from Kenny Loggins or Hall and Oates waft out the door.
What is yacht rock?
The term yacht rock, which generally refers to soft rock of the late 1970s and early 1980s, was coined in 2005 by a group of guys who produced a satirical television series chronicling the "incestuous recording careers" of artists like the Doobie Brothers (specifically, Michael McDonald), Kenny Loggins and Steely Dan, according to its creators. Consider yacht rock the antithesis of disco or hard rock of the era.
"You know how, in the '70s, these big bands started playing arena rock? We liked the idea of these smooth bands playing 'marina rock,'" said David Lyons, who played band manager Koko in the series, in Rolling Stone in 2015.
The 12-part Yacht Rock series, with its endearingly idiosyncratic host Hollywood Steve, later became a YouTube sensation for its hilarious sketches about the genesis of hits like the Doobie Brothers' "What a Fool Believes," Kenny Loggins' "This Is It," Christopher Cross' "Sailing," and Michael Jackson's "Human Nature." It even featured cameos from actors Jason Lee and Drew Carey.
Yacht rock essentials
When it comes to bands, the aforementioned artists are staples. Captain and Camille also covers Gerry Rafferty, Ambrosia, England Dan & John Ford Coley, and a mix of one-hit wonders. There's King Harvest, which penned "Dancing in the Moonlight," for example.
And keyboard player Mike Finkel never forgets to wear his mandatory captain's hat.
"Basically what happened is we found the hat and we were like, 'We have to have a band that wears the hat,'" jokes Lefler. "It was like Cinderella."
Dallas-based band the Rich Girls cover one yacht rock group exclusively: Hall and Oates. Catch them in concert and you'll be rewarded with live versions of "Sara Smile," "You Make My Dreams Come True," and "Out of Touch," among others.
According to Justin Young, bass player for the Rich Girls, the band was born out of a dare. Seven years after its first performance, the band is still yacht rocking regularly.
"I didn't know what I was getting into," Young says with a laugh. "My love for [the music] comes through the complexity of it, which kind of took me aback because I always thought of them of as a fun, '80s sort of band."
Lefler agrees yacht rock music requires a proficiency it doesn't always get credit for.
The music is "not easy," he says. "We're not playing the Ramones."
Where to find yacht rock in D-FW
Looking for a fix of smooth, seaside tunes? Here are three local acts and one nationally known group.
- Sept. 8: Yacht Rock Revue, which has played with members of Billy Joel and Weezer, brings its acclaimed performance to Lava Cantina in The Colony.
- Sept. 15: North Texas' own the Rich Girls channel the best of Hall and Oates at the Aardvark in Fort Worth.
- Sept. 23: Dallas-based Captain and Camille bust out the smooth sounds of the '70s at Tolbert's Restaurant in Grapevine.
- Nov. 18: The Windbreakers from Dallas set sail to the tune of yacht rock classics at the Brixton in Plano.