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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Best-Of SG101 »


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I wasn't on last night, but I can honestly say that reading that post and the linked essay by Paul Johnson made my day, big time. Awesome!

I'm waiting for someone to ask where the Like Button is.


This is one of the many, many reasons that SG101 is so profoundly fantastic--contributions by literal living legends that provide first-hand insight into not only what it was like in the very beginning, but how they view the history and its relevance now. We are all truly fortunate to have PJ with us and are way better off because of the existence of SG101!

Now, where's that "like" button? Wink

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by far the best and most important comment ever on surfguitar101 thanks P.J. you're one of the reasons why I play the guitar.........

Facebook pages theSupertones
or @ Timothy C Sullivan

Honored to have you here, PJ. Thanks for taking the time to put together such a thoughtfully written and well considered post! While the definition of "surf music" evolves through the generations based on new perceptions, it's invaluable to have such a clear, definitive description of what it originally WAS--from one of its founders, no less, who was there when it was being created.

We are lucky on this many others get the luxury of having a true authority among them?

Very cool to see PJ here! An honor to say the least! PJ, allow me to play devil’s advocate for a moment.

I guess I’ll never totally understand why Let’s Go Trippin’ and Mr. Moto are surf songs and Moon Dawg isn’t to be honest. The story that Dick Dale invented Surf Music and Let’s go Trippin’ is the first surf song has been repeated for years, but why? Because surfer’s started calling it such? I’ve always thought that there’s way more to it than that. Dick Dale says he was trying to mimic the power of riding a wave with the sound of his guitar. Who can argue with that, really? Not me.

Because of CD liner notes, books, the internet, and occasional one-to-one talks with guys who were there those of us who didn’t grow up in So Cal in the early 60’s now know about giants like PJ and The Belairs and how important they were to the development of the sound. I think the surf music phenomenon has many unsung heroes that contributed to the movement. It’s a lot like the argument over who invented Rock & Roll. I doubt there will ever be a definitive answer.

Allow me to add more to the conversation: Surfer’s from the 50’s and early 60’s say that the film Gidget released in 1959 is what set the surf craze in motion, but nothing like surf music is found in the film. In 1960 Dick Dale released Jessie Pearl the third of his three early Rockabilly tunes when Moon Dawg, Bulldog, Walk Don’t Run, Church Key and other proto-surf tunes were hitting the airwaves. Around the same time surf filmmakers started using Duane Eddie, The Fireballs and the Ventures for their surf movies before the term surf music was coined. Another noteworthy thing is half of songs on the Beach Boys’ highly successful first LP Surfin’ Safari (1962) were surf instros including Moondawg and Let’s Go Trippin’. The biggest selling surf instros are WipeOut (1963) by The Surfaris (who also sang Beach Boys’ style vocals and Gary Usher tunes), Pipeline (1962/63) by The Chantays, and Penetration (1964) by The Pyramids (who also sang vocals and performed Gary Usher tunes). In addition, the surf/hot rod albums by The Astronauts also contained vocals and so did ALL of Dick Dale’s albums. Dick Dale also used studio guys on his Capitol recordings, performed Gary Usher songs, and appeared in (oh no) Beach Party movies.

I think all of these things played a part in the phenomenon called surf music and helped spread the musical style to the rest of the country and the world for that matter. Otherwise it may have stayed a local trend especially if only surfers where listening to and buying the music. Ultimately, music is supposed to be popular and enjoyed by everyone, right? Thank god those finicky surfers let the rest of us enjoy and play the music! Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. I have the highest respect for living legends like PJ and his take on how it went down. All hail, PJ! Thanks for joining the forum!! Your knowledge and authority will undeniably enrich all of us.

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Well, I'm just an old guy, my initial exposure to surf music was in '63 when I started playing. I was raised in the South Bay area and surf music was already established. My small circle of player/friends didn't really consider The Beach Boys to be surf music by definition. Vocals you know... Anyway, Paul was considered a major hero as was (is) Eddie Bertrand and Dick Dale of course, but I list folks like Jorgen Ingmann, Duane Eddy, Eddy Cochran, Chet Atkins and early pre-verbed Ventures as influences. We seriously considered almost any instro guitar tunes to be surf music by definition. Heck, I stole most of my licks from an LP entitled Freddie King Goes Surfin', which was a re-release of Freddie's early blues instros. Anyway, Paul's commentary is great info and greatly appreciated. In no other genre will you find artists of this caliber willing to share these kinds of personal insights so directly. Thank you, Paul.

I'd like to tip a cold one for PJ and the Galaxies, the Belairs, Eddie and the Showmen, The Tornadoes, the Fireballs, The Rockin' Rebels, the Sentinals, the Lively Ones, the Surf Men, Santo and Johnny, the Chantays, the Pyramids, the Crossfires, the Viscounts, the Astronauts, the Revelaires, the Trashmen, Johnny Fortune, and many more bands whose names currently escape me. Most of these acts never got out of SoCal. It's awesome to see the continuing resurgence of this genre of music.

those of us who were into those old surf films from the 50's and early 60's know that bud shank a jazz cat from the south bay who played at the lighthouse a Jazz Club on the pier in Hermosa beach really had the 1th really surf album "slippery when wet" a jazz record but very much a surf record up tempo cool Guitars, Sax and Drums stuff from the late 50's then around 1960 Surf movie guys started to use more r&r guitar music like the Venture Duane Eddy and Fireballs in those early surf movie sound tracks way before 1961 I think that why Surfs Kids called the Belaires and DD surf music because that.s what they heard in those early surf movies then they became whats known as a Surfband or some one who play surfmusic...

Facebook pages theSupertones
or @ Timothy C Sullivan

Thanks Paul!
Great read from the best rhythm player in the genre. So glad I finally got to see you play at SG101. Love the parts about your vision of the Belairs being an ensemble instead of the lead player dominating. Guitar interplay in one of my favorite parts of playing surf music.

I just want to say thanks to Ivan, for starting a great thread, and PJ, for the great post here!

Haven't visited the forum in some time. Coming back to read this thread is just amazing.

PJ's post on the subject ought to be directly added to Wikipedia, IMO Yes
The clarity here is simply perfect. A pure and direct approach, with just the right touch of personality. A summary unlike ANY I've read on the subject of "surf" music, which I consider to be a greatly valuable perspective.

Whether or not PJ's thoughts make it anywhere else, I'm glad they made it onto my screen, and into my eyeballs. Most appreciated.

On a side note - Ivan - I can't wait to hear new Madeira when it comes out!!!

So, there have been no updates to this thread in four months. I thought we could maybe try to keep up a bit with how surf music developed 50 years ago.

After a few pioneering surf tracks being released in '61, things took a while afterwards to build up. Early '62 gave us the following important releases:

The Surfmen - Paradise Cove/The Ghost Hop - January '62 (the Surfmen turn into the Lively Ones in late '62)
The Marketts - Surfer's Stomp/Start - January '62
Dick Dale - Shake'n'Stomp/Jungle Fever - March '62
The Marketts - Balboa Blue/Stompede - March '62
The Belairs - Volcanic Action/Runaway - April '62
The Beachcombers - Samoa/Lone Survivor - April '62 (lead guitar by Richie Podolor)

The summer of '62 shows the surf music scene starting to get more important and bigger - check out all the legendary releases that came out at that time:

The Beach Boys - Surfin' Safari/409 - June '62
The Sentinals - Latin'ia/TorChula - June '62
the Tornadoes - Bustin' Surfboards/Beyond the Surf - June '62
The Vibrants - The Breeze and I/Fuel Injection - June '62
The Fabulous Playboys: Cheater Stomp/Shortnin' Bread - July '62 (with Randy Nauert on bass, produced by Richard Delvy)
The Challengers - Torquay/Bulldog - August '62
Dick Dale - Miserlou/Eight till Midnight - September '62
The Surfmen - El Toro/Malibu Run - September '62

Surf music continues to grow in the fall of '62, with several major releases coming out:

The Rumblers - Boss/I Don't Need You No More - October '62
The Lively Ones - Guitarget/Crying Guitar - October '62
Dick Dale - Surf Beat/Peppermint Man - November '62
The Lively Ones - Miserlou/Livin' - November '62
The Chantays - Pipeline/Move It - December '62

Of course, surf music turns into a true phenomenon in '63, and the number of releases explodes. We also start seeing surf LPs in '63 - but we can list those next year. Smile

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Bitchin' timeline--Thanks, Ivan! Thumbs Up

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Seconded. Rock

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Thanks, Ivan. That puts order to the seemingly random selections from all the period comps I've been accumulating. And, go ahead and go through all your records and do 1963 and '64 too.

This is Noel. Reverb's at maximum an' I'm givin' 'er all she's got.


Posts like that add so much to SG101

Awesome post Ivan, thanks for that killer history lesson!


I salute PJ and enjoyed his post. Still, surf guitar music is not just for people who go surfing. PJ wrote, "new young surfers... embraced it as “their own” and began calling it “surf music” in the summer of ’61. This marks the point where this California variation of the style took on its own identity."

Well, that's history, and history is only part of the whole picture. Surf guitar music is for everyone who appreciates surf guitar music. The people who define what surf guitar music is are the surf guitar music fans, and they vote with their wallets and their advocacy. Surfers don't get to decide more than other interested people. Surfers who don't like surf guitar music don't get to decide at all. The definition is a practical one, it is what paying customers call it.

As surf guitarists we claim expertise and authority. No problem, go ahead and claim it, as long as you spread enthusiasm for it you are entitled. When people who are not surf guitar music fans ask what kind of music I play, I say (brace yourself) "I play surf guitar, like The Ventures."

I don't say instrumental rock-n-roll guitar. This because these days this means Vinnie Moore, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, and Yngwie. There's some great stuff in what they play but it is not surf. Compared to them, the Ventures are a surf guitar band.

What, after all, is classical music? Does it include Leonard Bernstein or Schoenberg? Does it include Gregorian chants? There is only a loose definition. It is what you say it is if you are a fan and an advocate.

I admit that when I buy surf guitar music recordings I expect certain aspects of musical structure. However, this is no guarantee of quality. But if I enjoy it and it doesn't sound like surf guitar music, it doesn't bother me. If it sounds like surf guitar music but is just annoying, what good is that? Same as with classical music.

A couple of weeks ago I read in the newspaper (probably Wall St Journal) that Dick Dale's "Let's Go Trippin'" had the reverb was put on in the studio, after he recorded it. Just like the Fireball's "Bulldog." History aside, by the similarity of their sounds they are in the same genre. To me, Gary Hoey's music is simply not surf music. However, if Hoey's fans advocate for other surf guitar music, they have credibility in calling Hoey's recordings surf guitar.

If no one cares about surf guitar music, a precise definition doesn't matter. In sum, the definition of surf guitar music is made by acclamation.


Last edited: Oct 15, 2012 18:20:03

But but but,......
The Ventures say that they are NOT a surf band.



But (etc)...

  • Virtually everyone here at SG101 is familiar with the Ventures' music. So it matches surf music.
  • The Ventures want to be thought of as bigger than surf music. That's the music biz.
  • The Ventures do not identify a genre for the kind of music they play. So which genre do they best fit? How guitar.
  • Are the Ventures just saying that they don't surf and hang around the beach? Could be...

When surf music was popular across the USA, before the Beatles, what percentage of people who bought it were actual surfers? Probably 3% or so.


Last edited: Oct 17, 2012 21:44:40

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