Saturday, May 24, 2008

1960's Surf Music

A prized possession of mine, when I was all of 5 or so, was a portable record player. At first, I played my collection of nursery rhymes and childrens music. I then discovered the box of 45’s that my sisters had. My uncle was a disc jockey in about 1963, first in the Air Force,and later, at a radio station in Worthington, Minnesota. Surf music was all the rage, and was being played by many a band all over America. I found this music and dived into it. A few of the bands I enjoyed were the Beach Boys, The Astronauts, The Trashmen (Surfin’ Bird was their hit and were Minnesota's most famous surf band), The Hondells and Dick Dale, with his "Watusi Jo." I also had a number of records by The Ventures and though they were really not surf music, I still enjoyed them, along with Duane Eddy and his many instrumentals.

I listened to this music quite a bit, until I found the Beatles and for a short time, played an album with the music from my favorite TV show, Batman, with "Robin the Boy Wonder" being my favorite, played often to annoy my older brother.

The Shadows (with Hank Marvin on guitar) and their great song "FBI" was another huge favorite, and who, by the way, are still around playing. Look up the Shadows on YouTube to view them playing FBI. Apache and others. Hank Marvin was the first person to use a Fender Stratocaster in England, and along with an echo machine and Vox amps, paved the way for guitar instrumentals.

Most surf music, guitar-wise, was played on Fender Stratocasters and Jazzmasters. Look at any old film or video that is around and you will see brand new Fender guitars and amps being used. Lots of reverb was required, too. Just listen to any Dick Dale song. He was the king of
surf guitar, and still tours and records today. He gained popularity when his music was used on the film "Pulp Fiction." Could it be that that movie brought back this music, or has it always been around and just not being heard? It is infectiously fun music to hear, and brings back a time when the Beatles were waiting in the wings to change the face of rock and roll. It was short-lived, and spawned lots of music and cheaply made films.

I still own many of these 45's and after finding the little adapter to allow me to play them on my vintage 1985 turntable, I found that I still liked some of this music. After exploring the internet, I found that surf music is still alive and well, with a few really good bands based here in Minneapolis. MySpace turned out to be a great resource for finding these bands.

I had read about Ronnie Lake in a local paper here in Minneapolis. She is an excellent purveyor of surf music and is a veteran of the music business, with years of experience to back it up. Her guitar tone and style really exemplifies the surf music spirit. I have to catch one of her shows someday. She is excellent. I like her song "Adventures in Paradox".

The Verb Tones from Portland, Oregon really get the vintage surf sound here. Check out their website to hear a few songs. I love their name, too. They look like a really fun band to see.

The Windows, from Nagoya City,Japan, have it going on, too. The heavy reverbs sound is here in abundance. I have read that surf music is very popular in Japan. Fender
guitars are well represented in this band.

Laika & The Cosmonauts, from Finland, show how universal this music is. Great use of the
vibrato arm happening here, too. The organ is featured here, too. "Melodic instrumental rockular music with furious and atmospheric visual vibes." says their website. Fun stuff

The WetTones, from Italy. They add a trumpet to the mix. All Fender gear, as well.

Surf music bands have the most creative names -- The Tremolos, The Aquasonics, The Surf Coasters,The Volcanics -- I am getting all these from MySpace. There is a huge amount of bands to explore here. I could spend hours here, but time to move on. Take a look for yourself. It is all there just waiting to be heard.

I will close by saying that today's surf music is being played in the same spirit that the original bands did, back in the time when it was new. The music seems to be universal, even if the people playing it have never been on a surf board or live anywhere near the ocean.


Barbara(aka Layla) said...

I can picture one of those portable record players, I had one too - great childhood memories.

I shouldn't admit this since I'm a native CA who used to surf often...but...I don't like much surf music! I do like the Beach Boys...but that's a given, who doesn't ;)

Ronnie Lake said...

A friend just emailed me your blog.
Thank you for the kudos! The song "Adventures In Paradox" was originally done by "The Surf Coasters" out of Japan. Shigeo Naka is the guitarist for the band. Dick Dale the king of Surf Guitar labeled Shigeo as the Prince of Surf Guitar. Again, thank you for the kind words and come check out my show sometime and come up and introduce yourself!
Ronnie Lake

kh said...

You may also want to check out The Tiki Tones from Southern California. Much of their material is available on mp3 via They are the epitome of classic 60's surf!