Today, I had the time and the inclination to sort through the sacred-old-milk-crate-full-of-surf-LPs and the Converse shoeboxes full of old cassettes. As I started spinning some of the contents on the record and cassette players, I thought to myself: "Man, there were quite a few surf bands back in the 1980s, maybe I should share this info with my pals up on SG101." So here I am at the keyboard, attempting a brief essay on 1980s surf rock in hopes of offering something of value to those who might not otherwise have heard about this often-overlooked decade in the development of surf music.
First of all, I think I should remind you all that the 1980s were dark days for all kinds of music in general, and especially dark for surf music in particular. Synthesized-digitized-sequenced-formulaic music began ruling the popular airwaves. Video music and videotapes were just being introduced to the mass culture. Additionally, digitized CD formatted music began to appear as a viable alternative to the vinyl LP disc. Long playing vinyl and the audiocassette were both still in wide circulation, but it was obvious that these two forms of media were becoming archaic and soon to become extinct.
During the early 1980s, the music business became multinational, in other words, the music industry became larger and in many ways more impenetrable to "new" or "unique" recording acts. With increased control over airplay and distribution networks, "big music" offered an increasingly homogenous selection of musical entertainment.
As a reaction to the almost absolute monopolistic control exerted by multinational music corporations, many "independent" labels began appearing. Often these labels offered a hodge-podge collection of assorted artists: punk, ska, reggae, art music, oldies collections and re-issues and yes, even our beloved surf music. Often, you would find these small-time releases in small-time specialty stores that catered to the punk or new wave clientele. Many of these small-time labels offered their wares via mail order catalogues. Many artists themselves began producing and distributing their own albums through a network of independent distributors. The punk attitude of "do it yourself" infiltrated the surf realm.
One of the earliest self-produced and distributed LPs was Dick Dale's "The Tigers Loose" (Balboa Records BR-001, 1983). During the early 1980s, Dick was making a comeback of sorts; he was playing regularly and influencing many in the punk scene with his dynamic style. "The Tigers Loose" captured one of these dynamic performances at the Golden Bear in Huntington Beach CA. Dale's band at the time featured a full horn section, a collection of female vocalists and an organ player; nonetheless, the live versions of "The Wedge", "Miserlou" and "Peter Gunn" featured on this LP are breathtakingly powerful surf instrumentals.
Agent Orange from Fullerton CA released their "Bitchin' Summer" EP on the Hollywood based label Poshboy Records and Tapes in 1982. The EP featured an extended version of the Chantay's classic "Pipeline" as well as punked-up versions of Dick Dale's "Miserlou", and the Belair's "Mr. Moto". Guitarist Mike Palm's penchant for quirky vintage gear (Vox guitars and HIWATT amplifiers) as well as a healthy dose of screaming distortion typified Agent Orange's 1980s surf style. Agent Orange releases can be found on the multitude of Poshboy compilations that appeared during the 1980s.
Jon & the Nightriders released several albums and singles during the early 1980s: "Surf Beat '80" (1980), "Live at the Whiskey A-Go-Go" (1981), "Charge of the Nightriders" (1984), "Splashback" EP (1982), and "Stampede" (1986). The high-energy reverberated sounds of Jon & the Nightriders featured traditional surf arrangements and instrumentation. The band featured future Slacktone members Dusty Watson on drums, Dave Wronski on guitar. Surf historian John Blair composed many tracks and was featured on reverberated lead guitar. Ultimately, John Blair would write the authoritative Illustrated Discography of Surf Music.
Rhino Records of Los Angeles CA released several surf LPs during the 1980s. Rhino's History of Surf Music series (1982) featured three surf themed LPs: Volume One - Original Instrumental Hits (1961-1963); Volume Two-The Vocals; and Volume Three- The Revival (1980-1982). Volume One offered a collection of then-hard-to-find instrumentals from such acts as The Belairs, The Chantays, The Pyramids, The Lively Ones, The Original Surfaris, The Crossfires, The Sentinals, The Challengers, The Surfaris, Tom Starr and the Galaxies, and of course, Dick Dale. Volume Three offered 1980s surf revival bands such as The Malibooz, Jon & the Nightriders, The Surf Raiders, The Wedge, The Evasions and The Surf Punks.
The Wedge released Surf Party '83 on the Rhino label. It features several vocal numbers about getting drunk and partying at the seaside, as well an assortment of 1980s-styled surf instrumentals. The Wedge's guitar tones range from 1980s style disco-style chorus & delay pedals to 1980s synth guitar to metal-esque 1980s style compressed distortion pedals. Classic surf tunes such as "Pipeline" and "Balboa Blue" take on a new life in the hands of The Wedge. Additionally, the Wedge offer an instrumental version of Olivia Newton-John's 1980s disco hit "Let's Get Physical".
What Records? of Los Angeles CA released the "What Surf" compilation in 1983. "What Surf" features cuts by Agent Orange, The Halibuts, Davie Allen and the Arrows, The Pyramids and The Surf Raiders. Also released on What Records? was Davie Allan and the Arrows' "Stoked on Surf" EP (1982)This 12" features Allan's opus surf medley, "Stoked on Surf": fifteen surf classics all combined into one 5:30 cut! The Ventures released the cassette-only album "Radical Guitars" (1987) on What Records? subsidiary label, Iloki ( www.ilokirecords.com ). "Radical Guitars" featured several Japanese produced Ventures tracks, one was the theme for a Japanese car commercial in the 1980s. Additionally, "Radical Guitars" offers the Ventures' version of the Wizard of Oz classic "Somewhere Over the Rainbow".
During the 1980s, bands that played strictly instrumental music were a rare breed. One such band was The Raybeats from New Jersey. Although not strictly surf, they were strictly instrumental music that was heavily "surf-influenced". Tunes such as "Calhoun Surf" appeared on the Raybeats' classic 1980s album "Guitar Beat" (bar/none records www.bar-none.com). Guitarist and bassist Danny Amis would later join Los Straightjackets. The Raybeats 1983 release "It's Only a Movie" (Shanachie 82003) featured a superb rendition of Link Wray's "Jack the Ripper" as well as Mancini's "Banzai Pipeline" and Jim Waller and the Deltas' "Soul Beat/ Intoxica". The Raybeats' organist and guitarist Pat Irwin eventually ended up as guitarist with the B-52s, playing alongside ex-Gang of Four bassist Sarah Lee.
Lawndale was an all-instrumental surf influenced act that hailed from, yes, the beautiful town of Lawndale CA. Lawndale released two albums on SST Records: "Beyond Barbecue" (1986) and "Sasquatch Rock" (1987). Guitarist Rick Lawndale's reverberated Fender appears on many cuts, most notably on a remake of Dave Brubek's "Take Five" as well as on a version of a Pink Floyd/Duke Ellington medley "Interstellar Caravan". Lawndale's motto: "Because Some Things Just Can't Be Put Into Words".
Atlanta, Georgia produced the instrumental wonder of Love Tractor. The band released their self-titled album "Love Tractor" on DB RECS (DB60, 1982), followed up with the album "Around the Bend" in 1983 (DB67). In 1986, the band released "This Ain't No Outerspace Ship" on Big Time Records. Like other instrumental bands in the 1980s, Love Tractor was not strictly surf, but the surf aesthetic is present in their flowing melodies and driving rhythms,
Last on my review is Robert and Linda Dalley's surf outfit: The Surf Raiders. During the 1980s, the Surf Raiders were practically a Southern Californian institution among surf aficionados. The Surf Raiders released singles and albums on many labels: Surf Wax, Rhino, GNP/Crescendo, Iloki and Bobette. They played many shows, most notably at Knott's Berry Farm in Buena Park CA; sections of which were released as a live EP. The Surf Raiders played traditional style surf instrumentals exclusively. Robert Dalley wrote Surfin' Guitars: Instrumental Surf Bands of the Sixties, an expansive text full of interviews and updates of those who participated in surf music's First Wave during the early 1960s.
So ends our trip back in time. I am sure there were other surf bands around in the 1980s; these are just the ones that I am familiar with. I hope that you might have the opportunity check out some of these bands and their music, they kept the spirit of instrumental surf alive during its darkest days, and for that, they should be commended and remembered.