Monday, March 14, 2011

Surf Rock

This post is dedicated to my favorite surfer, my dad, who introduced all this music to me as a kid.

Surf Music: Part 1

Associated with the surf culture of Southern California and particularly Orange County (my stomping grounds), surf music was another wonderful genre of the 1960's, most popular from 1961 to 1965. It has two major forms: one is instrumental surf rock with an electric guitar or saxophone playing the melody, and the other is vocal surf pop with strong vocal harmonies, including ballads and dance music. For now, we'll take a closer look at instrumental surf rock and will save the vocal tunes for the next post.
So a characteristic of the electric guitar surf rock sound was the extensive use of the "wet" spring reverb of Fender amplifiers, as it seemed to reproduce the sound of waves. Guitarists also used the whammy bar to bend the notes downward, as well as rapid tremolo picking. By the late 1950's, instrumental rock 'n' roll had been pioneered by successful groups like Duane Eddy with "Rebel Rouser" and Link Wray with "The Rumble", the first song to use distortion guitar, not to mention it was banned by the government in 1958 (click on the links to hear these great tunes)!

Continuing the trend of this instrumental rock 'n' roll in the early 1960's was American guitarist Dick Dale, 'The King of Surf Guitar" (in this Fender poster, and yes, he is wearing shorts!) and his group The Del-Tones. It was Dale who added the distinctive reverb and the rapid picking style to this genre, as well as incorporating Middle Eastern and Mexican influences. Dale was a left-handed guitarist who initially learned to play a right-handed model, and his outrageous styling on stage was an influence as another young, left-handed guitarist, Jimi Hendrix. From 1961, "Let's Go Trippin'" is often considered the first surf rock song, but it was "Misirlou" that became his signature song in 1962, originally a Greek folk song (a fact I learned from my Greek husband) that he learned from his Lebanese-American uncle. I actually had the opportunity to see Dick Dale perform live in 1997 (though I've lost his autograph!), and boy, he still has it, playing with so much energy! This clip was taken from a 1963 film called "A Swinging Affair," and the swaying Del-Tones crack me up.


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A group that actually predates surf rock, yet was a major building block of surf music, was the Seattle-based instrumental rock group, The Ventures. They served as the proto-type for all guitar-based groups to follow, and are known as "The Band that Launched a Thousand Bands," as many famous guitarists of the 1960's and 70's were heavily influenced by their style and technique. From 1960, The Ventures' version of the instrumental song "Walk, Don't Run" is considered one of the first surfing songs to make the Billboard Chart, peaking at #2.

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In 1961, a group of high school friends from Santa Ana, California, formed the band, The Chantays, and by late 1962, they had a huge hit with "Pipeline." Originally called "Liberty's Whip," the band renamed the surf rock tune to "Pipeline" after hearing the term from Bruce Brown's groundbreaking, surfing documentary called "The Endless Summer." Considered a landmark of the surf genre, The Chantays are seen here performing this song on The Lawrence Welk Show, and were the only rock 'n' roll band to ever perform on this show.


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Speaking of Bruce Brown's "The Endless Summer," next up is the music from this classic documentary film about two surfers traveling the world in search of the perfect wave. Based out of San Clemente, California (my hometown!), The Sandals (pronounced Sandells) were an influential surf rock band that scored the music for this film, and their opening theme has become the best known theme in the surf movie genre. Although many Southern California surfers and non-surfers were inspired after seeing the film in the early 1960's, it wasn't until 1966 that the film received its nationwide theatrical release and grossed over $20 million. Even if you have no interest in the sport of surfing, this movie is a must-see: the footage is impressive, the narration is so entertaining and fun, and the music by The Sandals is perfect! This clip is a trailer for the digitally re-mastered re-release that includes the wonderful, mellow "Theme to the Endless Summer."


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And finally, I'll finish off with one of the premier, land-locked Midwestern surf rock group of the 1960's, The Astronauts from Boulder, Colorado. Released in early 1963, the group had a minor hit with "Baja," a typical, instrumental surf rock song reverberation-heavy twangy guitar and driving drumbeat. The Astronauts appeared in several episodes of the Hullabaloo TV show, as well as number of teen movies (see a clip from "Surf Party" here), and toured Japan where they outsold The Beach Boys. This tune, "Baja," is definitely one of my favorites and I still have my dad's vinyl LP!


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Alright, so I know I didn't even talk about The Surfaris' "Wipe Out" and other groups like The Challengers and The Bel-Airs, but you get the idea. Later this week, check out my post about vocal surf pop of the 1960's!

11 comments:

  1. Hearing the Endless Summer music brought me to tears with a flood of memories of camping in Mexico or being at the beach watching my little girls playing in the waves. What beautiful memories of a time long gone but still sweet and dear to my heart. Thanks for posting these and for the trip down memory lane.

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  2. I can't hear the Endless Summer Theme without thinking of tooling down roads in Baja in search of waves. He always made it the best time and had no peers when it came to cooking. I also just love what you are doing. You are gathering such a great collection it's unbelievable. My favorite is the surf tunes but hearing "For What's It's Worth" by Buffalo Springfield shows that grreat music is timeless and has no boundries.

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  3. Thanks for the fun write up. Love reading your little blog here! :-)

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  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    1. Hey, cool blog! So this blogging service that I use is called Blogger and it's owned by Google. I really enjoy it and I haven't had any trouble with hackers (so far). Check out blogger.com.
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  5. this is so ratchet

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  6. I was fortunate to grow up near Boulder and heard The Astronauts many times including at Tulagi's where they were the house band. In Colorado if you wanted to surf, you had to surf the sidewalks on a handmade board with wheels pulled off an old pair of skates. I've been a fan of the genre for years and no Surf band I ever heard had a bigger sound than The Astronauts. This was a great post. Memories came flooding back.

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    1. Wow, love stories like this! What an incredible time to grow up. I appreciate the comments. Thanks for reading my humble blog!

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  7. Mark Kuhn of Voodoo Court has formed a new surf band called the Compadres. They have a strong Spanish feel.

    The Compadres are the next big thing in modern surf music

    Help promote these modern retro guys.

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  8. This band puts the dick in Dick Dale...

    http://thecompadres.bandcamp.com/album/surf-desde-latitud-cero This is the best modern retro surf on the planet.

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  9. My brother worked for Fender and built the necks and the fret boards about 1960.

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