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Fifty Years of Surf Music

Fifty years ago, the earliest forms of surf music were being defined and cultured in the beach communities of Southern California. It was, in great part, focused on the high school social scene; music created by and for teenagers (not by and for surfers). The emergent (and most frequent) form was the reverbed guitar instrumental (Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, The Challengers, The Surfaris, The Chantays, etc.), but the popular form of surf music was vocal (Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Bruce & Terry, etc.). Celebrating the 50th anniversary of surf music in 2011 is actually a celebration of the first four important recordings of this genre, released during the last half of 1961 (the “golden years” of the music were 1962 and 1963, so the celebration might continue for awhile!):

Let’s Go Trippin’” by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones. Widely considered to be the first surf instrumental recording, it was released on Dale’s own record label (Deltone) in September, 1961. Dale and his band were packing them in every weekend at the huge Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa.

Mr. Moto” by The Belairs. It’s not exactly clear when The Belairs’ first recording was available in local record shops, but it would have been very close to the release of Dale’s single. The band was from the South Bay area of Southern California, a group of small beach communities just north of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Both Dick Dale & The Del-Tones and The Belairs played equally important roles in the emerging surf music style in 1961. A large percentage of the kids who came to see both bands were avid surfers. It was the audience, not the performers, that ultimately coined the term “surf music.” The sound and energy of the style came from Dick Dale; the style and form came from The Belairs.

“Surfin’” by The Beach Boys. Part of the South Bay enclave was the city of Hawthorne, forever known as the “birthplace” of The Beach Boys. In the fall of 1961, the bouncy and danceable “Surfin’” – a vocal – quickly became a local radio hit. When the band signed with Capitol Records in the summer of 1962, the music suddenly went nationwide.

“Surfer’s Stomp” by The Marketts. They were a studio group produced by Joe Saraceno who saw their recording climb into the Top 40 and remain on the national charts for over two months in the waning days of 1961 and early 1962. It was, arguably, the first rock instrumental recording to incorporate the word “surf” in the title; certainly the first such recording to be nationally distributed (“Surfer’s Stomp” went from the indy label, Union, to the major label, Liberty in early 1962). Despite all the trappings of the winter season, “Surfer’s Stomp” made the rest of the country’s teenagers aware that something cool was starting to happen on the West Coast.

By the early spring of 1962, there was no mistaking the new genre of pop music. It was all over the radio, it had a name, and it had a certain sound and form. Happy 50th Anniversary to surf music, and a toast of gratitude to Dick Dale & The Del-Tones, The Belairs, The Beach Boys, and The Marketts.

-- John Blair

This story has 11 comments.


Thanks John, we're so lucky to have you as part of this community! Cheers

DannySnyder | 08-Sep-2011 22:39:48 | Flag

Brilliant. Thank you John.

PolloGuitar | 08-Sep-2011 22:48:33 | Flag

Big thumbs up to John Blair for his excellent overview of the birth of Surf Music! I applaud him for accurately sharing the credit for the popularity of the music. I know there’s a schism between surf music fans that dig the Beach Boys vocal stuff and the purely instrumental stuff. Personally I dig both! But as he states, the BB played a big part in spreading the trend, especially outside California. Nearly half of the BB first album was instrumentals with two of the tunes being Dick Dale covers. Also, he mentions the importance of The Marketts, a studio group made up of “Wrecking Crew” members helmed by Joe Saraceno who would later work with the Ventures. These studio groups, like one of my personal favorites The Superstocks, played their part as well. He also states something I’ve been saying for years, the music was created by and for teenagers (not by and for surfers). I mention this only because for me it’s important to keep that teenage spirit alive in the music. John B knows his stuff. Congrats.

shivers13 | 08-Sep-2011 23:20:49 | Flag

shivers13 - The Beach Boys and Jan & Dean also used the Wrecking Crew in the studio. Brian Wilson was the only Beach Boy musician who played an instrument on their records.

Props to John Blair for acknowledging the Beach Boys as part of Surf music history. I know it's not hip to mention them is a trad-Surf context because they attempted to "cop the feel" and make it mainstream (not that I would ever want to cover a Beach Boy tune for a trad-Surf band).

peter256 | 09-Sep-2011 08:46:46 | Flag

That is incorrect. The Beach Boys didn't use wrecking crew guys on all of their sessions. They were used to a heavier extent around Pet Sounds. On their early recordings with some exceptions Carl, Dennis and David Marks played themselves. For one, you can tell which stuff has the session guys and which has the boys playing. And two, there are union session cue sheets that show who played on what.

shivers13 | 09-Sep-2011 08:54:36 | Flag

Thank You John for this Great Post !! (A quick Beach Boys comment): Carl, Dennis & David Marks do most of their own playing (on the 1st two LP's especially)...but Glen Campbell was around "occasionally" to add an extra guitar on their instrumentals. (Just IMO, but "Stoked" has one of the best "tones" I've EVER heard on an electric guitar....Surf or Otherwise) !! WOW !

jonfender | 09-Sep-2011 10:11:42 | Flag

Hal Blaine on The Beach Boys
The Wrecking Crew contracts

There was also a lot of funny business back then with giving credit to the band "stars" even if they didn't actually play anything.

peter256 | 09-Sep-2011 20:30:27 | Flag

For the record, the union cue sheets for Beach Boys instros from their first album, i.e. Miselou, Honky Tonk, Let's go Trippin' list Carl Wilson and David Marks as the guitar players and Dennis as the drummer. This has nothing to do with "funny Businines" giving credits. This union paperwork was used to distribute royalties to the players. Dick Dale used session guys on his Capitol stuff. That wasn't unusual. But the cats that played on the stuff had to sign this paperwork to get paid by the union and Carl, David, Dennis aand Brian played on this stuffbased on this info.

shivers13 | 09-Sep-2011 21:23:49 | Flag

How about that cue sheet for Hawaii 5-0? Shock Big Razz

spskins | 12-Sep-2011 00:14:43 | Flag

Very cool. Thanks for taking the time to post John. Happy birthday to surf music indeed!

chugwater | 13-Sep-2011 09:09:41 | Flag

Thanks for helping us relive history John. I love reading about things like this. I feel a bit closer to surf music being raised in Downey, CA... about a mile or so from Downey Records.

The comments regarding the Wrecking Crew gives me the chance to inform everyone of The Wrecking Crew movie. Produced by Tommy Tedesco's son.. he's taking the film on the film festival circuit trying to get it distributed. So far no buyers. If you get a chance to see it, don't miss the opportunity. If you like to know who played the music on hundreds of hits in the 60s and 70s, you've got to see this film. I just loved it! Be sure to check out the "Out Take Theather" on the website.

Clint | 24-Sep-2011 22:36:00 | Flag

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