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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Music General Discussion »

Permalink A Look at 'Surf Rock' in the Wall Street Journal

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What do make of this article in the WSJ? Is surf rock experiencing another resurgence ("...surf rock lives on globally in the hands of modern surf bands..."), or is this guy just an instro-nut-ball like the rest of us?

I didn't know Nokie Edwards started out on bass for the Ventures.

Jason
the Turbosonics
"Playin' Surf at Maximum Impact"
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He didn't really make a case for how it's felt in modern music...

Storm Surge of Reverb: Surf & Instro Radio

Wow, cool!! I was gone all day so I just saw this. Pretty unbelievable!

I believe you need to have the subscription to read this article, so here you go:

Opinion Commentary Cultural Commentary

How Musicians Rode the Surf Rock Wave
Despite a brief period of popularity, surf rock deeply influenced generations of rock guitarists and can still be felt in some of today’s most popular genres

By Marc Myers
Sept. 21, 2015 6:06 p.m. ET
23 COMMENTS

Surf rock, a euphoric, early-’60s instrumental genre that favored twangy electric guitars and galloping beats instead of vocals and romantic themes, turned 55 this month. The first major surf-rock hit—the Ventures’ “Walk—Don’t Run”—peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s pop chart in September 1960, launching a genre that popularized surfing and beach culture while grooming teenage ears for the guitar-heavy British Invasion that followed.

While surf rock lives on globally in the hands of modern surf bands, the genre’s initial surge weakened in 1966, a victim of shifting times and tastes. Upbeat instrumentals no longer seemed meaningful in an age of mounting social friction, antiwar sentiment and increased drug use.

But during its six-year run, surf rock would deeply influence generations of rock guitarists while its drive could be heard in heavy metal, punk and even today’s electronic dance music. For non-musicians, surf rock still stirs up images of the beach, fast cars and eternal summers.

Born in a used-car lot in Seattle, about three hours from the nearest wave, surf rock had an accidental start. In 1958, Bob Bogle was buying a ’55 Hudson from Don Wilson when he joked that Wilson seemed too honest to be a salesman. The two amateur guitarists, both in their early 20s, laughed and became fast friends.

The following year, Bogle and Mr. Wilson formed the Versatones and then the Ventures, a group that would become one of rock’s most successful instrumental quartets, racking up 14 hit singles and 38 hit albums. The band’s rise began in March 1960, when Bogle, Mr. Wilson, bass guitarist Nole “Nokie” Edwards and drummer Skip Moore recorded a vamped version of “Walk—Don’t Run,” a 1954 jazz instrumental by Johnny Smith.

Released in late May 1960, the Ventures’ single was a hit by the summer, particularly with California surfers. The result was a flurry of guitar-led instrumental surf-rock bands in 1961 that included the Bel-Airs, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, the Carnations and Steve Rowe and the Furys. All set out to capture the thrill of curling waves and the imaginations of surfers trying to catch one. These surf-rock hits inspired the Beach Boys and other surf-pop bands in 1962 to add vocal harmony.

From the start, surf rock expressed daring and cool, becoming a wailing counterweight to recordings by the era’s girl groups and teen idols who sang mostly about dating and seduction. Though there were a few female surf-rock guitarists—including Kathy Marshall and Chiyo Ishi, and bands such as the Surf Bunnies and the Honeys—much of the music was made by and for restless males.

Unlike R&B and rock ’n’ roll of the 1950s, surf rock didn’t express the joy and angst of relationships. At its core, surf rock was the blues of privilege—the yearning sound of Southern California’s suburban youth who already fit in, enjoyed perfect year-round weather and had access to cars, dates and the beach. To many of the country’s teens, California’s Orange County was imagined as an outdoor nirvana.

Though the pure surf-rock sound was launched with “Walk—Don’t Run,” the form’s influences can be heard earlier in the mid-’50s recordings of electric-guitar virtuosos Les Paul, Johnny Smith and Chet Atkins. In the late ’50s, other guitarists experimented with bending notes, reverb and distortion. Hits included Duane Eddy’s “Rebel-’Rouser,” Link Wray’s “Rumble” and the Champs’ “Tequila.”

As the Ventures continued to attract fans, other instrumental surf-rock bands formed and had hits, including Dick Dale and the Del-Tones’ “Let’s Go Trippin’,” the Chantays’ “Pipeline,” the Surfaris’ “Wipe Out” and the Astronauts’ “Baja.” Swelling record sales lifted surfing’s profile, which, in turn, fed surf rock and surf pop’s mystique.

As surf rock caught on in ’62 thanks largely to the Beach Boys, Hollywood launched a series of beach movies, including “Beach Party” (1963), “Muscle Beach Party” (1964) and “Beach Blanket Bingo” (1965). Surf-rock guitars even seeped into the theme songs of popular TV shows, such as “The Munsters,” “Batman,” “Secret Agent” and “Hawaii 5-0.”

But by mid-decade, the muscular instrumental genre had peaked, marked, perhaps, by the release of “The Endless Summer” in June 1966. The popular feature-length surfing documentary didn’t showcase teens horsing around in the sand. Instead, director Bruce Brown focused on two male surfers in their early 20s traveling the world on a Zen-like search for the perfect wave.

In keeping with the film’s more mature tone, its theme song by the Sandals ditched the machine-gun guitars and pounding drums for a mellow surf-folk guitar ballad. There were even vocals.

Mr. Myers, a frequent contributor to the Journal, writes daily about music and the arts at JazzWax.com

There are 23 comments.
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Linda Holmes-Rubin
Linda Holmes-Rubin
4 hours ago

Great article. I still love all the old surf tunes and still listen to them today. You mention Link Wray as surf music. When I was in high school (class of 1968) the two social groups were the greasers and the surfers and Link Wray was definitely part of the greasers tune list. That nasty guitar sound went well with muscle cars and motor cycles; it didn't have the same sun and surf vibe, at least to me.
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Leslie Porter
Leslie Porter
4 hours ago

Surfing and guitars, does it get any better?
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STACY P. THOMAS
STACY P. THOMAS
6 hours ago

If this is your kind of stuff, you owe it to yourself to hear Junior Brown's "Surf Medley," which is really a six-minute trip through early Sixties guitar-driven rock from the Ventures through Johnny Rivers. He plays it on his guitar / steel combo, though on this song he's using only the guitar. Here's a guy from Oklahoma who absolutely assimilated this style.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bHWhbu_mbk

Junior Brown - "Surf Medley"Junior Brown - "Surf Medley"
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Martin Kurlich
Martin Kurlich
5 hours ago

@STACY P. THOMAS Holy mackerel! That is one wild double guitar Junior has.
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Linda Holmes-Rubin
Linda Holmes-Rubin
4 hours ago

@STACY P. THOMAS Amazing! So sad his audience is sitting there like a lump.
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PAUL NOLAN
PAUL NOLAN
7 hours ago

This music is what started me surfing...in York Beach, Maine.
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GARY FIELD
GARY FIELD
7 hours ago

The other hot spot of surf instrumentals was Australia. Here, from 1963, is Bombora by The Atlantics:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g5D-G0IW08U
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Tom Frieling
Tom Frieling
8 hours ago

Hmm, I wonder what was the last instrumental to hit the Billboard Top 40 charts?
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Rob Whitacre
Rob Whitacre
8 hours ago

Ride the Wild Surf - Jan and Dean

The Lonely Surfer - Jack Nitzsche

Surfers Stomp - The Marketts

California Sun - The Rivieras

Mr. Moto - The Bel Airs

who can neglect Surfin Bird - Trashmen?

...and on and on.....there's a pretty lively surf-music (surf-guitar) scene going today.
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Tom Frieling
Tom Frieling
8 hours ago

@Rob Whitacre

And don't forget the great British Surf Rock band, The Tornadoes with their Number 1 hit Telstar in the fall of '62.
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michael berl
michael berl
9 hours ago

Early in my retail salesman career I sold home audio and car audio. I carried a small portable zippered case of cds that had to have a good variety that i could demo within a few seconds without having to leave my customers. In about 1988 I got a copy of The Ventures Greatest Hits....

This music was just plain fun for almost everyone. Clear, familiar....toe tappers. What did the author call it.....twangy guitars, and galloping rhythms. After Pee Wee did Tequila in his movie that was often played, and clumsily danced to. But the disc had many other hidden jewels. Telestar immediately takes us back to an era when the first satellite was launched...the most modern machine in space, no less.

Another favorite was Ghost Riders in the Sky. The Ventures even had a faithful version of House of the Rising Sun, with a searing guitar solo and the only time I ever heard them add another instrument, the organ.

I still play the disc occasionally, particularly when driving.
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Bruce Peterson
Bruce Peterson
10 hours ago

Just one more music genre launched out of Seattle. Yet surfing did not come to the Northwest until the perfection of the wet suit. Seeing a surfboard on the roof of '87 Dodge Caravan heading to La Push can almost make a minivan seem...hip.
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Tomas Pajaros
Tomas Pajaros
11 hours ago

The perfect wave is the one you're on Smile
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LAWRENCE MACINTYRE
LAWRENCE MACINTYRE
11 hours ago

In 1962, just about every teenaged male in the USA, including this one, wanted to live in Orange County, drive fast cars, go to the beach and chase California girls, who the Beach Boys told us were the best of all. I still have Walk Don't Run on my ipod and hear it often. Those were great times.
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Shawn MONAGHAN
Shawn MONAGHAN
13 hours ago

An early picture -- they're holding Fenders, and were playing Mosrites by the mid-1960s. I had an album and book 'Play Guitar Like The Ventures' in the mid-1960s that had all the parts recorded separately and a 'play along' guide. Lusted (in my heart) after Mosrites for many years.
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Thomas Stein
Thomas Stein
18 hours ago

I do remember this incredible music. Reflecting as a doctor finds this music, another search for truth.
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Paul Watson
Paul Watson
20 hours ago

I got to see Dick Dale in Las Vegas a few years back and he was great. He even signed my teal sparkled Stratocaster. He still does that signature neck run. His music was influenced by middle eastern music, as his parents were of Lebanese ancestry. You can hear the influence in his song "Miserlou". He flipped his right handed Strat over like Hendrix, but he didn't change the strings; he just played the cords upside down.
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CARL SCHMITT
CARL SCHMITT
22 hours ago

"Surf Rock", really? Instrumental surf or just surf music. More due diligence,

sir. You cover it just about halfway. Perhaps another 1000 words or so of exploration. The tradition does continue up and down the West Coast. And

quite inland.
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KEITH RASMUSSEN
KEITH RASMUSSEN
23 hours ago

Three years before his death at age 27, Jimi Hendrix cast his vote for King of the Surf Guitar: Dick Dale.

"...a young Jimi Hendrix - like Dick Dale, a left-hander forced to restring right-handed guitars - became a fixture at Dale's shows, and befriended him. Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun" (the only instrumental on his 1967 debut album, Are You Experienced?) was dedicated to Dale, then suffering - and thought to be dying - from rectal cancer. Hendrix's whispered line, "You'll never hear surf music again," widely interpreted as a shot at the Beach Boys, was actually meant as an homage to Dale." ~ Gilbert Garcia
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JOHN RAWL
JOHN RAWL
10 hours ago

@KEITH RASMUSSEN Good post, Mr. R--thanks for the information!
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JOHN RAWL
JOHN RAWL
10 hours ago

@KEITH RASMUSSEN Good post--thanks for the info!
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Kevin Dean
Kevin Dean
23 hours ago

...great article. Tomorrow I will dig out my two Ventures albums and see if I can get the old record player to spin through the tunes. "Walk, Don't Run" what a classic!!
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Margot Plummer
Margot Plummer
1 day ago

Those bands sure looked snazzy in those days. —

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
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The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

Thanks, Ivan.

Here's the scan of the article, it might be a bit easier to read.

image

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Blair-Pongracic Band on Facebook
The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

Last edited: Sep 24, 2015 22:14:32

Thanks for posting guys!

Peace to you, not on you

Great article...enjoyed it! Thanks for sharing

I think it kind of missed the mark on a few things, notably the Ventures starting surf music, but pretty good for a mainstream article.

Site dude - S3 Agent #202
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Brian wrote:

I think it kind of missed the mark on a few things, notably the Ventures starting surf music, but pretty good for a mainstream article.

Yes, that's exactly how I feel, too. The Ventures were not a surf band, and they did not start surf music. But if you can kinda roll along with that, the rest is actually quite good, he gets a lot of stuff right. There's one other puzzler, though: "The result was a flurry of guitar-led instrumental surf-rock bands in 1961 that included the Bel-Airs, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones, the Carnations and Steve Rowe and the Furys." Who the hell were the Carnations??? And Steve Rowe and the Furys? Really? That's who he brings up after the Belairs and DD? Weird!

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Blair-Pongracic Band on Facebook
The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

Last edited: Sep 26, 2015 22:29:26

IvanP wrote:

Who the hell were the Carnations???

My guess is that they're talking about The Carnations who -at least to me- are best known for their 1961 release "Scorpion". Not quite surf, but rockabilly DJ's play this one all the time.
Can't post the link here from my phone, but look it up on youtube, I'm pretty sure you know this song.

"Duck Tape is like The Force: it has a light side and a dark side and it holds the universe together"

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Speedball-JR/151771678181829?fref=ts
https://twitter.com/SPEEDBALLJR
https://itunes.apple.com/be/artist/speedball-jr/id389972205

No such thing as bad publicity. Yeah, even me a new guy saw this bit of scribble was lacking in detail (treble picking Dick Dale births metal shredding) but hey, whatcha gonna do? I don't see this as starting a big wave, more of a minor swell. It's coming.

Da Vinci Flinglestein,
The quest for the Tone, the tone of the Quest

The Syndicate of Surf on YouTube

http://www.syndicateofsurf.com/

http://sharawaji.com/

http://surfrockradio.com/

GuitarMuk wrote:

The Carnations:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jtd_qEmE1Uk

Hey, it's not surf, but it's all good publicity!!

Last edited: Sep 28, 2015 12:17:29

GuitarMuk wrote:

GuitarMuk wrote:

The Carnations:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jtd_qEmE1Uk

Hey, it's not surf, but it's all good publicity!!

The article did mention Pee Wee's big shoe dancing which this tune sounds like a 1st cousin to. The song, not Pee Wee. Gosh that would be weird.

Da Vinci Flinglestein,
The quest for the Tone, the tone of the Quest

The Syndicate of Surf on YouTube

http://www.syndicateofsurf.com/

http://sharawaji.com/

http://surfrockradio.com/

I must admit that I wasn't familiar with this song before. It has some similarity to Tequila to my ears... Thanks for sharing!

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Blair-Pongracic Band on Facebook
The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

IvanP wrote:

I must admit that I wasn't familiar with this song before. It has some similarity to Tequila to my ears... Thanks for sharing!

But you are!! It's on SURF-AGE NUGGETS!! Disc 2. I believe it was comped before that as well. Probably on Strummin' Mental. Definitely inspired by Tequila!

image

BOSS FINK "R.P.M." available now from DOUBLE CROWN RECORDS!
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Last edited: Sep 28, 2015 20:25:32

Interesting article. I like that its a bit more down-to-earth than the usual Dick Dale invented this, that and the other thing. Although DD did sound like no one else and many playing surf music were more-or-less copying him the sound that was later labeled surf was there before he came along. It raises the old debate. "which come first, the chicken or the egg?"! Smile

The Ventures hit is crucial. But because it came before the label surf doesn't discount it as a surf song. The same issue lies with Black Sabbath, The Sex Pistols, and Bauhaus. All three existed before the labels Heavy Metal, Punk and Gothic were placed on them. The music comes first then the label.

BOSS FINK "R.P.M." available now from DOUBLE CROWN RECORDS!
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www.doublecrownrecords.com

Ah! I guess it never left that much of an impression - sorry! But I'll certainly know it NOW! Smile

I still think it's a weird band to bring up along with the Belairs and DD.

Finally, I appreciate this particular video of it a bit more... Twisted Evil

Ivan
The Madeira Official Website
The Madeira on Facebook
The Blair-Pongracic Band on Facebook
The Space Cossacks on Facebook
The Madeira Channel on YouTube

My guess is it's an attempt to mention some lesser known groups. But they are rather unknown groups to put next to the likes of DD and The Belairs. Hell, they should have but The Fireballs or even The Fendermen, two well known bands who used tick tack rhythm and Glissandos prior to the label surf.

BOSS FINK "R.P.M." available now from DOUBLE CROWN RECORDS!
www.facebook.com/BossFink
www.doublecrownrecords.com

Last edited: Sep 28, 2015 20:43:11

Okay who was Steve Rowe and the Furys? Looks like the author has the Surf Age Nuggets set as it is on there as well. But yes, 2 odd choices to put next to DD and the Belairs.

Site dude - S3 Agent #202
Need help with the site? SG101 FAQ - Send me a private message - Email me

"It starts... when it begins" -- Ralf Kilauea

Last edited: Sep 28, 2015 20:58:11

The intro sounds like it's going to go into LITTLE GTO by Ronny and the Daytonas!! Maybe the author gave Surf Age Nuggets a spin before writing. If that's true, I'm impressed!

BOSS FINK "R.P.M." available now from DOUBLE CROWN RECORDS!
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