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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Music General Discussion »

Permalink Surf Music... why change what ain't broke?

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Good stuff all. Here's my two cents worth. BTW - I'm not even going to attempt to keep this at Synchro's or rfcii's high level of penmanship! Big Grin

As a life long East Coaster, born in the 60s, I'll give you my impressions. On the east coast the Beach Boys, Frankie & Annette, Pipeline, Wipeout and Miserlou made up most of my surf influences. Guitar/reverb/ta-ta - boom tap drums and the allure of the ocean caught me. I never really related to the West Coast beach scene except as it was presented on tv and movies. Instead got most of my true feelings of surf, its music and my love of the ocean from the Carolina beaches - Kitty Hawk, Hatteras, Rodanthe, Myrtle, etc... Except for Myrtle, much more subdued, unspoiled and family oriented, so Gidget played into me.

So over time I have always used some element of surf in my guitar playing and a lot of my songwriting. Whether it is the beautiful guitar with mellow reverb, heavy reverb or delay, or the pounding drum beats; it's always in me.

So where are we today? Since I have joined many moons ago, there have been a lot of new bands, especially international ones, who have expanded the song structure and melodic composition of surf significantly. I find them very influential in my writing. There is also a heavy appreciation for surf guitar with the East Coast post punk scene. So much so that Dick Dale and others are added to their practice lists. Unfortunately we are still lacking a mainstream audience, or even a cult audience other than mostly other musicians and surf bands. Like many other genres we've been watered down over time. (Do you think true traditional jazz players, play "smooth jazz"??? maybe).

So, where do we go? I think it would be great if we could get the actual surfers/today's young surfers stoked about modern surf music. Find a way to get on their playlists, even if it involves updating our sound a bit. Traditional for the younger crowd is the 2nd wave and after. The 60s stuff to them is their grandparents music.

It would also help if we stopped marketing our cds/downloads based on our current target audience (other surf bands and musicians) and found a way to attract a wider audience that would include women and tourists. Maybe more romantic sounding cds, more vacation related stuff or videos that could tie into new summer movies. I don't know; I'm just throwing ideas out. Most of my gigs involve 90% guys and musicians/significant others except when at beach or on vacation. (We fight a constant uphill battle here on the East Coast as Surf never really became a thing here) So we find a way to get into the vacation/summer crowd again. Pull in the Buffet crowd, without going Buffet. Again, I'm throwing out ideas.

One final thought, like others, I'm going to continue writing, playing and putting out surf music because it's just so friggin' awesome!!! I just hope we can keep it alive for another 20 years.. then I'll probably be give up the ghost... (and finally surf the Pipe)

Surfcat
AKA - Agent Trey "Shadowhawk" Montgomery - MI6 Cool
AGENT OCTOPUS - - Surfcat Logo by Shawn Dickinson

Agent Octopus on the Web!!!
Blue-Eyed Surf CD - BANDCAMP

Reverb Galaxy Website
Angle of Attack CD - BANDCAMP

Peace be with you...

Essentially, all music either morphs, or becomes obsolete. We don’t listen to Charleston bands, but there are influences which persist. I hear a lot of clean guitars with reverb in non Surf music. It may not be Surf, but such music is Surf influenced. Eventually, all music genres will fade from prominence, but will persist as a niche, and last even longer as an influence.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

ArtS wrote:

It would also help if we stopped marketing our cds/downloads based on our current target audience (other surf bands and musicians) and found a way to attract a wider audience that would include women and tourists.

Damn straight, especially the women part. It's long past time to stop objectifying women, in all aspects of modern life including "throwback" surf music.

The only way I can think of to really throw young life back into surf, would be through music licensed for tv or movies. Just like in the 90s, that BLEW up surf. I must say I was a little sad that Quentin didn't include a single modern surf track. A smaller scale way would be to play all ages shows, just expose the kids and see what sticks. I hate that I live in a town with no all ages shows. Do those even exist?!

In summary: we all need to befriend music supervisors, and give them our music for cheap. Those are the people that choose the music, based on the director's wishes. So if a movie about rap comes in, no music supe is gonna put surf in it. I have one pal who is a music supe but all he does is New Orleans shows about New Orleans music, which precludes surf. So we just have to make friends with them, and when the right job comes up, give them our music for cheap. Having a low rate for licensing is a grand form of taking one for the team! So how about someone get a union list of all the music supes in the LA area, and cold call em all!? I wonder if I could get that list, I do know some people. I worked with the music supe of my favorite movie of all time, The Return Of The Living Dead, maybe I should reach out to him. Bud Carr, very nice fellow. We got along great too! Great thinking out loud with you folks heh.

Dan Izen

Daniel Deathtide

DeathTide wrote:

ArtS wrote:

It would also help if we stopped marketing our cds/downloads based on our current target audience (other surf bands and musicians) and found a way to attract a wider audience that would include women and tourists.

Damn straight, especially the women part. It's long past time to stop objectifying women, in all aspects of modern life including "throwback" surf music.

The only way I can think of to really throw young life back into surf, would be through music licensed for tv or movies. Just like in the 90s, that BLEW up surf. I must say I was a little sad that Quentin didn't include a single modern surf track. A smaller scale way would be to play all ages shows, just expose the kids and see what sticks. I hate that I live in a town with no all ages shows. Do those even exist?!

In summary: we all need to befriend music supervisors, and give them our music for cheap. Those are the people that choose the music, based on the director's wishes. So if a movie about rap comes in, no music supe is gonna put surf in it. I have one pal who is a music supe but all he does is New Orleans shows about New Orleans music, which precludes surf. So we just have to make friends with them, and when the right job comes up, give them our music for cheap. Having a low rate for licensing is a grand form of taking one for the team! So how about someone get a union list of all the music supes in the LA area, and cold call em all!? I wonder if I could get that list, I do know some people. I worked with the music supe of my favorite movie of all time, The Return Of The Living Dead, maybe I should reach out to him. Bud Carr, very nice fellow. We got along great too! Great thinking out loud with you folks heh.

Dan Izen

Or just be thankful we found surf music.

I really do not care if surf music is known, cared about or listen to by others (I do not mean you guys. I mean a new audience). In fact, I think if it did get more popular that would hurt it in the long run. It would lead to something like say, The Beach Boys. A completely commodified product. No soul.

Right now (or ever aside from that short time 60 years ago) there is no money in it. ALL of the people involved in the surf music scene are there because they love it, period. That is why surf music is a small but very, very rich genre. The moment it becomes wildly profitable that magic goes away. The few of us that do care about it seem to be doing just fine.

Makai

Last edited: Jul 20, 2021 14:52:29

DrakeSequation wrote:

I really do not care if surf music is known, cared about or listen to by others (I do not mean you guys. I mean a new audience). In fact, I think if it did get more popular that would hurt it in the long run. It would lead to something like say, The Beach Boys. A completely commodified product. No soul.

Right now (or ever aside from that short time 60 years ago) there is no money in it. ALL of the people involved in the surf music scene are there because they love it, period. That is why surf music is a small but very, very rich genre. The moment it becomes wildly profitable that magic goes away. The few of us that do care about it seem to be doing just fine.

So... best to let it die? You make a good point, but I think you misunderstand me. I’m talking about how Pulp Fiction, 30+ years after it was on the radio, exposed surf to a super wide audience. Did that make the magic go away? What I’m talking about is a way to make sure it doesn’t die, not how to make a million playing surf. Obviously no one will ever make money playing surf, and I agree with keeping it that way. What I’d like to see are a new wave of kids playing surf in their garages. You know, making new magic.

Daniel Deathtide

DeathTide wrote:

DrakeSequation wrote:

I really do not care if surf music is known, cared about or listen to by others (I do not mean you guys. I mean a new audience). In fact, I think if it did get more popular that would hurt it in the long run. It would lead to something like say, The Beach Boys. A completely commodified product. No soul.

Right now (or ever aside from that short time 60 years ago) there is no money in it. ALL of the people involved in the surf music scene are there because they love it, period. That is why surf music is a small but very, very rich genre. The moment it becomes wildly profitable that magic goes away. The few of us that do care about it seem to be doing just fine.

So... best to let it die? You make a good point, but I think you misunderstand me. I’m talking about how Pulp Fiction, 30+ years after it was on the radio, exposed surf to a super wide audience. Did that make the magic go away? What I’m talking about is a way to make sure it doesn’t die, not how to make a million playing surf. Obviously no one will ever make money playing surf, and I agree with keeping it that way. What I’d like to see are a new wave of kids playing surf in their garages. You know, making new magic.

All we can do is to offer it. The rest is up to the audience. In my locale, we do not have a lot of surf-themed events. The nearest surfing is 500 miles away. It depends upon the audience; we may hit the Surf pretty hard at a car show, or just do a few Surf tunes at another type of event. We usually get a great response to Surf tunes, and I’d like to think that we are introducing the younger members of the audience to a genre that they may find interesting.

Music changes with the passing of time. 100 years ago, tenor banjo was fairly common and the electric guitar had yet to be invented. 80 years ago, a guitarist probably meant someone playing rhythm in a big band. 60 years ago, would have been the earliest days of Surf, but 40 years ago Surf guitar was rarely heard. 32 years ago, when James Calvin Wiley played a reverb laden, twangy, lead line in Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game, that was unusual to hear on the Pop charts. A few years later, Pulp Fiction brought Surf back to the attention of the masses.

One other factor in all of this, is the context of where music is heading, in general. I don’t listen to contemporary music unless I happen to be exposed to it while shopping, etc. The newer music I have heard in recent years seems to be very much rhythm with only a small amount of melody tying it together. Where would Surf fit in that context? The pendulum swings in one direction, and then it swings back the other way.

Without lyrics to bind it together, Surf is more towards the melodic end of the scale, albeit with a strong Rock n’ Roll rhythm. I would also say that it’s high on ambiance, with the depth of string reverb. I would venture that Surf currently resonates with people that want more melody and ambience than the mainstream of contemporary music offers. When the pendulum swings back towards a more melodic approach to music, Surf may have another wave of popularity which drives sales of recordings and live performance opportunities.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

What Pulp Fiction did, rather than re-popularise the genre, was spawn a whole generation of new surf bands, which in turn spawned a whole new generation of new surf tunes.

Other times it only takes one band, or even just one song to inspire new songs, bands, and scenes.

Locally, we're generally well regarded. I don't think a lot of people even know it's called surf music. We're the band that doesn't sing. But people like it and if it's a gateway to finding other bands then that seems good to me.

http://thewaterboarders.bandcamp.com/

da-ron wrote:

What Pulp Fiction did, rather than re-popularise the genre, was spawn a whole generation of new surf bands, which in turn spawned a whole new generation of new surf tunes.

Other times it only takes one band, or even just one song to inspire new songs, bands, and scenes.

Locally, we're generally well regarded. I don't think a lot of people even know it's called surf music. We're the band that doesn't sing. But people like it and if it's a gateway to finding other bands then that seems good to me.

You bring up a good point. In many places, the Surf aspect of Surf Music doesn’t mean much, if anything, to listeners. When I was a kid, and grooving to the Surf instrumentals I heard in the radio, I loved the sound. If it had been called “Sheep Herding” music, I still would have dug it, for the sound.

Maybe there’s a lesson here. At the root of it, is the music. I’ve always disdained going into a restaurant where the ambiance is amazing, but the food isn’t up to snuff. Musicians could make the same mistake by having a band which has all the accoutrements of Surf, but not keep the music as the central attraction.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

Surf Music... why change what ain't broke?

I agree that it ain't broken. But life is change and anything alive must be allowed to evolve or it will cease to be living and breathing. The questions, to me, are 'What kind of change and how much before it becomes something completely different?'

I don't see a lot of truly 'totally-traditional surf bands' out there. But there are lots of variously-intensively surf-influenced bands. That's my ticket into this parade. I was around for the first wave as a total East-Coaster, but surf guitar and other related approaches (Ventures, Shadows, etc.) influenced my guitar playing from the very beginning (1960s) and continues to, regardless of style. It's one of the things that has separated me from many, if not most, of the other players I've known over the years. When I play blues, you will know I play surf, and vice-versa. Some surf tags are persistent lyrical melodicism, ambience, some European/Middle-Eastern influences, strong energy and pulse, double-picking or sustain/reverb, lots of dynamics and space in the music, and so on.

But I think there needs to be quite a lot of latitude in interpreting all this. I think it would be a real mistake to try to strangle the format with rigid stylistic constraints.

The other piece of this is that labels like this are really just marketing tools. There is no truly 'pure' music - everything influences everything.

As a steel guitar player that also plays actual country music and rockabilly, I would really hate to see what has happened to so-called 'country music', which in its current modern mainstream commercial form is virtually unrecognizable from any type of actual country music. That's what I mean by "so much change that it becomes something completely different."

The Delverados
Kristi Jean and the Ne'er Do Wells and Facebook
Chicken Tractor Deluxe and Facebook

DaveMudgett wrote:

Surf Music... why change what ain't broke?

I agree that it ain't broken. But life is change and anything alive must be allowed to evolve or it will cease to be living and breathing. The questions, to me, are 'What kind of change and how much before it becomes something completely different?'

I don't see a lot of truly 'totally-traditional surf bands' out there. But there are lots of variously-intensively surf-influenced bands. That's my ticket into this parade. I was around for the first wave as a total East-Coaster, but surf guitar and other related approaches (Ventures, Shadows, etc.) influenced my guitar playing from the very beginning (1960s) and continues to, regardless of style. It's one of the things that has separated me from many, if not most, of the other players I've known over the years. When I play blues, you will know I play surf, and vice-versa. Some surf tags are persistent lyrical melodicism, ambience, some European/Middle-Eastern influences, strong energy and pulse, double-picking or sustain/reverb, lots of dynamics and space in the music, and so on.

But I think there needs to be quite a lot of latitude in interpreting all this. I think it would be a real mistake to try to strangle the format with rigid stylistic constraints.

The other piece of this is that labels like this are really just marketing tools. There is no truly 'pure' music - everything influences everything.

As a steel guitar player that also plays actual country music and rockabilly, I would really hate to see what has happened to so-called 'country music', which in its current modern mainstream commercial form is virtually unrecognizable from any type of actual country music. That's what I mean by "so much change that it becomes something completely different."

Good points, all.

One aspect is that genres are sometimes applied as styles. In the early days of Rock n’ Roll, Blue Moon was done as sort of a do-wop song. In the mid ‘70s, Ray Stevens did Misty as a Country song. Meshugga Beach Party did traditional Jewish music as Surf and I could easily imagine any number of Classical pieces getting a Surf treatment. Bridging between two-beat Country and four-beat Surf might be tricky, but I’m sure that it could work for some tunes. Just now, mentally, I was able to imagine Good Hearted Woman with a Surf beat.

The problem with modern Country, from my point of view, is that a lot of it has turned into Rock played by guys in Cowboy Hats. In the late sixties, and into the ‘70s, Country Rock came along, and IMO, much of it was pretty laid back. I look back on it as Country played lovingly, by a Rock band. What I see in our day strikes me as the reverse, this is Rock, as played by a Country band. The Country element is proportionately fairly low, and IMO, much of it sounds like not-so-good Rock.

The other thing I will note about Country is that it has fallen victim to the market-driven approach which has given us Pop, which I find unlistenable. There will be three measures of declarative lyrics which end on a high note, followed by a fourth measure which resolves the statements, and ends on a lower note. On more than one occasion, I was able to predict the melody for the four bars, by simply hearing the first bar. Then this same, predictable, four bar phrase will be repeated, but the last bar will end on a high note.

Pop and Country composing, in many cases, is done by using ideas which are known to get a good reaction from focus groups. Then they stitch together a bunch of musical gimmicks into something that could pass for a song, but IMHO, there is no soul, no central idea. It’s ear candy, devoid of any honest emotion or inspiration, but full of the “empty calories” of cheap emotional hooks, strung together.

Which leads to the what constitutes “so much change that it becomes something completely different”? That’s a helluva question. I guess it comes down to a question that will never be answered to the mutual agreement of everyone; where do we draw the lines between musical genres? My definition of Surf is probably different from the definition that many of the other forum members would have. I see Surf as a subset of Instrumental Rock, and I like a wide variety of Instrumental Rock. So as far as my interests are concerned, I’m fine with a Surf band playing Shadows or Ventures tunes, even though by strict definition, this isn’t Surf.

The fact that Surf is a small niche may actually contribute to its survival. Imagine the pressures imposed on a signed Country artist. These guys can’t wear a new hat without the approval of their handlers. Smile if you are signed to a multi-million dollar contract and your record company says “jump!”, you will jump up in the air and ask permission before coming back down to the ground. No one is going to get rich from Surf music, these days, so the pressures to corrupt it are far less.

Maybe Surf is just a conspiracy by the cartel of reverb device makers. Smile

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

...even though by strict definition, this isn’t Surf.

As far as making any type of definition for anything like this, I think Justice Potter Stewart said it best in his Supreme Court case concurrence in 378 U.S. 184 (1964):

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." - https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/378/184

The fact that Surf is a small niche may actually contribute to its survival.

I think I agree. I also think bluegrass is another good example of this, perhaps rockabilly, and to a lesser extent, blues, which I think has a bit bigger presence in the mainstream owing the the large number of seminal rockers who came through this tube. But the pressures facing musicians trying to hit the big time are pretty ridiculous. You want the big money? Do what we tell you to do!

The Delverados
Kristi Jean and the Ne'er Do Wells and Facebook
Chicken Tractor Deluxe and Facebook

DaveMudgett wrote:

...even though by strict definition, this isn’t Surf.

As far as making any type of definition for anything like this, I think Justice Potter Stewart said it best in his Supreme Court case concurrence in 378 U.S. 184 (1964):

"I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that." - https://www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/378/184

The fact that Surf is a small niche may actually contribute to its survival.

I think I agree. I also think bluegrass is another good example of this, perhaps rockabilly, and to a lesser extent, blues, which I think has a bit bigger presence in the mainstream owing the the large number of seminal rockers who came through this tube. But the pressures facing musicians trying to hit the big time are pretty ridiculous. You want the big money? Do what we tell you to do!

That’s a good example, the case where they were trying to define pornography, and this justice put it so eloquently. So, deferring to that standard, yes, I know Surf when I hear it, but my definition might still be different from yours.

If you think about it, most of the original Surf bands had one or two songs that received airplay; what would they have played if they were still together in the latter half of the ‘60s? I don’t claim to know, but my point is that their probably wasn’t a lot of demand for Surf bands by 1967, so if they wanted to keep playing music, I would imagine that a lot of these players went into other genres. There were probably some players that stayed devoted to Surf, but stayed employed by working the studios, or producing other acts. Larry Carlton was a perfect example, going from playing Surf to a career as a session man in LA, and later Nashville.

Bluegrass might be a perfect model of where Surf will end up. There are fervent adherents to authentic Bluegrass and there are also artists that have created new music which is Bluegrass influenced, but not authentic to the entire Bluegrass tradition. There are Bluegrass festivals and people playing it at a local level and probably will be for years to come. I’m not familiar with that world, but I’d wager that there are some spirited discussions regarding what is, and what is not legitimately part of that genre.

So maybe there’s a reason for optimism. In my case, Surf is part of what we play, but a great deal of our material is early ‘60s, so it fits well and usually gets a very good reception. I also do Apache, Honky Tonk, Secret Agent Man (stretched to accommodate both vocals and an instrumental trio through the tune) and one of these days I intend to add Hideaway to the set, which is a period R&B instrumental.

If we are asked to do a Surf only gig, I’ll be glad to comply, but mostly, but at all of our gigs I try to introduce, or reintroduce, the audience to Surf. Hopefully this will help to keep it alive in at least the hearts of my limited audience.

The artist formerly known as: Synchro

When Surf Guitar is outlawed only outlaws will play Surf Guitar.

"I know Surf when I hear it"

well played

OaklandA wrote:

"I know Surf when I hear it"

well played

It's like pornography - you know it when you see it. Specifying the ingredients doesn't make the cake.

http://thewaterboarders.bandcamp.com/

OaklandA wrote:

"I know Surf when I hear it"

well played

It's like pornography - you know it when you see it. Specifying the ingredients doesn't make the cake.

http://thewaterboarders.bandcamp.com/

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