I don’t know when I first heard of Donavon Frankenreiter, but I remember the context. I was told a commonly held belief that Frankenreiter taught Jack Johnson everything he knows. The reality, however, is more like the opposite.
At the time I didn’t care much for surfer-campfire rock, but that would change – either because of a song called “Good People” (which showed me these surfers could be negative) or the fact that multiple girlfriends of my past would have never dated me had I spoken negatively about any Jack Johnson songs.
It was, most likely, both reasons that finally made me appreciate the very similar-sounding Johnson and Frankenreiter. The two met while their surfing careers were taking off. Johnson was 14 and Frankenreiter was 16, probably the reason for the supposed mentor relationship. But a lot happened in the time between their introduction and Frankenreiter’s first inkling of releasing some original material in 2004.
“(Johnson) became such a huge musical star and started his own label,” Frankenreiter told me. “I was lucky enough to be signed to that label for my first record; it was an incredible opportunity.”
Frankenreiter was over 30 when Johnson took him under his wing, taking him into the studio and showing him how to make a record before taking him out on tour as his opening act.
“When you’re around somebody like that who has done a lot of great things, you can just absorb it,” said Frankenreiter. “It was a real great and positive experience, learning the ins and outs of the music world.”
Fifteen years later, Frankenreiter has developed quite a name for himself. In that time, the surfer turned rocker has played in Aspen almost every year and will once again be playing the Belly Up on Saturday, March 2.
“I feel like surfing was the thing that introduced me to music,” said Frankenreiter. “I was on a surf trip when I picked up my first guitar at the age of 16, and I got addicted to playing and just tried as hard as I could to learn as many different things as I could.”
Frankenreiter owes his love of music to the surf culture he has been a part of all his life. His inspiration came from touring as a surfer, and with that inspiration he is able to tour as a musician.
“Surfing took me to so many different places around the world,” said Frankenreiter. “Living in different countries, different cultures, the guitar was one thing that I could bring everywhere. You travel so much in surfing to try and find that perfect unridden wave. I brought my guitar everywhere; it was my companion for 20 years. I loved that music and surfing went so good together.”
Doing what he loves to do, Frankenreiter will probably be on tour for a long time to come – either surfing, playing music or both. He’s proven himself in both arenas, able to convey the notion of a crackling campfire on a tropical island with his acoustic surf rock.
“There is nothing else in the world like playing live, and I love it,” said Frankenreiter. “Touring around the world is incredible. Playing music everyday, I feel like it’s a gift. It’s a great life.”
John Zelazny is still undecided on 1A. Help him make up his mind. He appreciates your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.