The Lost Legends Of Surf Guitar, Vol. 1-3 (Sundazed, 2003)
(Originally posted on Surf Guitar 101, Sep 13, 2003)
I got these three CDs about 3-4 weeks ago, and have been slowly digesting them. There are almost 60 tracks by something like 30 bands on here, so there's a lot to get a handle on. However, the more I listen to these three CDs, the more I like them. It's quite amazing that Sundazed was able to dig out this many songs, many if not most of which are very rare and have not been available on CD, and some which see the light of day for the first time.
The first thing you'll notice about these CDs is the absolutely SUPERB packaging! It's quite stunning, in fact. Each CD comes with its own fold-out booklet, with gorgeous original color photos of the bands and Fender's promo material; and on the face of each CD is one of Fender's Holy Surf Guitar Trinity: Strat, Jag and Jazzmaster. Each CD also comes with copious and excellent liner notes: vol. 1 by Dominic Priore, Vol. 3 by John Blair (can't remember who did Vol. 2 right now, and I don't have the CDs here). Also included are all sorts of interesting quotes and recollections by the original musicians themselves – for example, the lead guitarist of the New Dimensions says that the Jag with flatwound strings is really `thee' surf guitar, and that a Strat really WASN'T a surf guitar – something that Dick Dale, Paul Johnson, Eddie Bertrand, Jim Messina, Jim Fuller, Art Fisher and many others may disagree with! Anyway, great kudos to Sundazed for such a wonderful job with the packaging. WAY above the call of duty, and surpassing ever their own high standard of excellence.
As far as the music, I would say that only a fraction of this is in the must-have category. The best of the sixties surf music has been released and re-released many times already, and if you wanted to play some choice tracks to a friend unaware of surf music, I doubt you would pick any of these songs. Having said that, there are plenty of us around that are slightly sick and must have it all!! For those like me, there is plenty to make us happy. Here are some highlights of each CD.
The first CD is chock-full of great stuff, mostly focusing on bands consisting of teens exploding with energy – and, in some cases, derivativeness. It opens with a brilliant "El Gato" by the ultra-obscure the Chandelles (actually I have this on some other compilation CD, but can't remember which one), followed by a "Latinia"-inspired "Loophole" by the Royal Coachmen – both great tracks, and the latter only available on Sundazed's mostly-vocal "Surf And Drag, Vol. 1". The fireworks continue with one of the most perfect examples of the properly reverbed surf guitar, the rare "Gear" by Dave Myers and the Surftones, and three previously unissued tracks by Original Surfaris, including their fantastic version of "Exotic". I'm not sure what the point was of including two easily available tracks by the Pyramids (classic "Contact" and "Penetration"-derived "Pressure"), but it's nice to hear them anyway. And one previously unreleased track "The Rising Surf" by the Tandems is credited to Richie Podolor AKA Richie Allen, which is an obvious mistake, since it sounds nothing like Allen's track of the same name – however, it sounds a LOT like DD's "The Wedge" – a bit of theft going on for sure. Anyway, this is all nitpicking. This is a great CD, and a welcome addition to any extensive surf CD library.
The second CD besides including another batch of teen-fronted bands also takes a look at the "old-fogeys" (you know, like THIRTY-year olds!) trying to cash-in on the new trend and sound, and features some extremely rare diamonds! It starts off with a previously-unreleased track by "must-be-kicking-himself-every-night-for-quitting-the-Beach-Boys-and-thinking-he-could-have-a-real-music-career" Dave Marks and the Marksmen, "Sheriff of Noddingham" – even with a major lead-guitar clam in the middle, it's a double-picking tour de force, and quite a great track. Off to a good start! Then, a true treasure for the Ventures fans: the original version of "The Fugitive", recorded by the man that wrote the song, Jan Davis. It sounds great, though a bit sloppy compared to Nokie's amazing guitar work on it. I've never heard this track, wasn't even aware it existed, so that was very cool. The next truly impressive moment came courtesy of the studio-surf-guitar-stalwart, Jerry Cole – his version of the Surfaris' "Point Panic" just blows the original to bits!! Cole sounds like he's on major caffeine (or something else?) high, and can't seem to hold back when he starts double-picking the second verse, and then finally breaks out into a solo that would make even Nokie raise an eyebrow – as everyone knows, for Nokie a wildly emotional gesture (tip of the hat to Rip!). I was really blown away by the guitar work on this track, it's fantastic. (Mental note: time to give a listen to Jerry Cole's CD again...) The final diamond of the collection is the original version of "The Banzai Washout"! Yes, boys and girls, DD's version was a cover, and I didn't even realize how close of a cover until I heard this original by the Catalinas, featuring I think the LA studio A-team of Hal Blaine on drums, Carol Kaye on bass, sax man Steve Douglas (who wrote the track), and guitarists Jerry Cole, Tommy Tedesco and Glenn Campbell. It's burning hot! I wonder if they recorded anything else... Oh, and an honorable mention goes to Gene Moles whose "Burning Rubber" is chock-full of drag-race noises which almost bury the very impressive guitar work, exhibiting quite a few Nokie-isms, no doubt aided by Moles' use of a Mosrite guitar – in the liner notes Nokie is complimenting Moles, so who knows which way the influence goes? Moles was another guy in his thirties trying to sound like a teen, BTW, and this and another track by him are only available on the previously mentioned "Surf And Drag, Vol. 1". The rest of the album is decent, but there are several tracks commonly available, notably by the Tornadoes (though again, it's always good to hear "Gremmie, Pt. 1" and "Shooting Beavers"!) and the at-best-mediocre Rhythm Rockers and Jim Waller and the Deltas (though their cover of "Latinia" is at least different and interesting). The two previously unreleased tracks by the Surfaris are less than impressive (I think that band was greatly overrated, anyway), and there are a few other tracks that didn't leave much of an impression. Still, another fun CD.
Finally, CD 3 consists of tracks from the vaults of Richard Delvy, originally the drummer of the Belairs, then the leader of the Challengers, and eventually a successful music producer and impresario. This CD features Paul Johnson (or Paul Johnson-related projects) quite heavily, but is in my opinion the weakest and least-noteworthy CD in the collection. There are some again commonly available tracks by the Challengers (though Satan's Pilgrims fans will love the inclusion of "Satan's Theme", the cover of which opens the SP's debut CD). There are three great tracks by PJ and Artie, the collaboration of Paul Johnson and Art Fisher with some fine studio musicians, but they were issued first on AVI's "Rare Surf" comps and later on Johnson's own label's ""South Bay Surf" comps, as were the tracks by again quite-mediocre Vibrants. There are some really bad songs (IMHO) by the Fabulous Playboys and Thom Starr and the Galaxies – in the former case, very clichéd R&B-based surf music with a bad sax, and in the latter case, a band that was obviously still learning to play – the Galaxies did some great work with Paul Johnson later, but judging from these recordings, you would never guess it! The Progressives sound very amateurish, especially while absolutely ruining one of the all-time great instros, the Shadows' "Man Of Mystery". There ARE a few highlights of the CD, among them the two rare tracks by Delvy's studio surf project featuring Paul Johnson, the Surfriders (one of them being a successful cover of DD's "Surf Beat" – why doesn't somebody release this entire CD?), a cracking version of "Istanbul" by the Gladiators (never heard of `em), and a previously available but still good "Moon Shot" by Kenny & the Fiends.
There you go. A mixed bag, but I would say that the good far outweighs the bad, and I am glad I got these CDs. I hope this review will get some of you to get them for yourselves. Praise Sundazed for bestowing this minor treasure upon us!