Take Some Guitar, Add A Little Bass, & Some WILD Tom-Toms…
Well, here I go again!
“Surf music” is something that you may miss entirely if you blink your eyes at the wrong time.
Now, most folks will knowingly nod their heads when you mention Surf music because to them, it instantly conjures up images of fun, sunshine, surf and sand; of tan young men and women without a care in the world somehow stuck in a snow-globed ’60s time warp that they can glance at very occasionally as if it were stuck away on some far up shelf in their mental bookcase. They see Jan & Dean, The Beach Boys, The Ventures and The Surfaris… they hear “Surfin’ USA”, “Little Old Lady From Pasadena”, “Wipeout” and “Walk, Don’t Run”… they think of “Gidget”, Frankie and Annette, or The Endless Summer.
Since most of the groups were from Southern California, Surf music and surf culture were immediately identified with our great Golden State, but, ironically, the 1964 hit “California Sun” by The Rivieras was penned in that group’s home town of… get this… South Bend, Indiana!
From its birth in 1959 all the way into the mid ’60s, Surf music had a great run, but by the time of the birth of psychedelia and the Hippie movement, the carefree good-time vibe of Surf was passe, and the socially-conscious, introspective themes of those newer movements ushered away the innocence of Surf seemingly overnight. But, like any good music that has a relatively brief heyday, it never dies or goes away, it just goes underground. And the man who took it there for safe keeping was Mr. Dick Dale, one of the pioneers and true originals of the genre.
Dick Dale - Surf Music Pioneer
(Note: If you are curious, there is a decent article at Wikipedia on the history of the genre)
Now, Add Reverb…
Reverb is the phenomenon of reverberation: a prolonged resounding succession of echoes. In the case of Surf, what could possibly be a more fitting signature for both the sound of the music and its enduring cultural relevance? In the early 1980’s, long-time Surf Music aficionado Phil Dirt re-emerged as a DJ on the influential Northern California college radio station KFJC 89.7 fm. Phil had a stint there in the early 1960’s but left due to “irreconcilable differences”. Upon his return, however, Phil began a journey into the deepest recesses of the genre that turned him into the world’s undisputed #1 Surf Music fan and keeper of all things Surf. You want to really check him and this Surf stuff out? Simple: go to Phil’s website at http://www.reverbcentral.com/ and live a little!
In 1985, under the influence of Dirt, the Bay Area’s Shockwaves were born from that very same scene at KFJC. On-air personality Jeff “Stretch” Reidle joined Randy “Rude Rudy” Hyden and Frank Novicki to form a formidable and authentic Surf band who scored a minor radio hit with their Surf reinterpretation of the Batman theme crossed with the Surf hit “Wipeout”, creating the infectious and fun “Batwipe” – a mash-up decades ahead of its time! The Shockwaves eventually put out a vinyl EP called “Primal Twang” which preserved their sound and influence on the local scene for posterity. Yes, I have one : )
Fast forward now to 1994 and influential filmmaker Quentin Tarantino’s landmark film “Pulp Fiction”. Thanks to this man and his film, Dick Dale’s career catches fire again and Surf music is formally introduced to the 20-something “quasi-hipster crowd” (i.e. hip enough to see the movie, not hip enough to know much about Surf music) who immediately embrace its wild, unbridled sound. Dale’s signature version of “Miserlou”, a traditional Greek song that is also popular throughout the Middle East, became the movie’s signature track, and other Surf songs from bands like The Tornadoes, The Revels and The Lively Ones added to the soundtrack’s Surf leanings that Tarantino described as “Rock ‘n Roll Ennio Morricone music, Rock ‘n Roll Spaghetti-Western music”.
And Dale’s “Miserlou” wasn’t done yet, because in 2005, the Black Eyed Peas took the song and transformed it into their multi-platinum hit “Pump It”, which begs the question: what exactly IS the shelf life of a Greek traditional song made into a Surf music classic back in the late 1950’s?!
What Now? Is That It?
One song, a cover song at that, being re-made and re-synchronized over and over again?
FAR FROM IT.
Which is why I bothered to sit down and type up this mess.
When Dick Dale took this thing underground, he planted seeds in all the subsequent generations of musicians and corners of pop music. So many bands of all styles have traceable Surf music influences, it’s amazing if you really look and listen.
But even more interesting are the keepers of the flame for this past couple of decades… the instrumental-peddlers and reverb-mongers who tirelessly tour the small clubs and occasional festivals. The bands who have not just been inspired by their forebearers, but have committed themselves to elevating and expanding the art form, sometimes even pushing it beyond its reasonable boundaries just to see what’s possible. These are the bands that have me curious and inspired.
So, with that, here is some more suggested listening for you!
Slacktone - Holy CRIPES, these guys can play!
Suggested Tracks: Rell Sunn Aloha, Mysterioso, Reflection: Life Or Lemming, Rosarito 3 Day, Nocturne, The Bells Of St. Kahuna
Artist: Laika & The Cosmonauts
Suggested Tracks: Crosstown Canyon, Fadeaway, NY 79
Artist: The Mermen
Suggested Tracks: With No Definite Future and No Purpose Other Than To Prevail Somehow, Quiet Surf, Ocean Beach
Artist: The Penetrators
Suggested Tracks: Deception Bay, Checkpoint Echo
Artist: The Vanduras
Suggested Tracks: In The Dark, Dinner With Robert
Artist: Los Straitjackets
Suggested Tracks: Pacifica, Dreamland, Challenger 64
And – be sure to keep your eyes & ears open because Fascinating Creatures Of The Deep are coming soon!
Enjoy : )