surfing guitars and instrumental surf bands of the early ’60s

Estimated reading time is 11 minutes.

ARGUING THE ‘BEST’ ROCK GUITAR PLAYERS of the ’60 is probably a pretty dumb way to waste time—and “Surfing Guitars” will not be doing that! Considerably more constructive and interesting would be an argument as to who were—and that’s intentionally plural—the most ‘creative’ players. Of course, to reach any kind of consensus there would require that we first agree on a definition of ‘creative’ in that context!

For instance, Jimi Hendrix is often cited as rock’s most creative player, period. But was Jimi’s inventiveness in 1966-1967 (which includes both the ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? and AXIS: BOLD AS LOVE albums and several singles) more ‘creative’ than Jeff Beck was during 1965–1966?

 

Dick Dale had one of the most unique and influential guitar styles in rock & roll!

 

He led the Yardbirds through some of the most mind-bending singles of the decade: Heart Full Of Soul and Shapes Of Things (1965) and Over Under Sideways Down and Happenings Ten Years Time Ago (1966). These records are often cited as harbingers of both raga-rock and psychedelic-rock.

Almost any conversation of creativity with a guitar in rock & roll leads to the psychedelic era, and the experimentation of virtually everybody. Many of the records now considered “psych” feature guitar laying that is essentially blues-based. The influence of B.B. King, Albert King, and Freddy King on rock guitarists has been acknowledged for fifty years.

 

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There are critics who credit Shapes Of Things as the first psychedelic record. I assume that they are people who have never done psychedelics: the lyrics are philosophical (they question Mankind’s future) and the music straight rock. The only thing ‘out there’ is Beck’s solo, which is more a progenitor of raga-rock than of psychedelia. The sleeve above is an original from CBS’s Epic imprint in West Germany—Beck is second from the right.

Surfing guitars and the sixties

Instrumental surf music is a sub-genre of rock & roll associated with having fun fun fun in the warm California sun and its attendant surf culture. The music is primarily guitar-based awash in reverb and vibrato as the musicians try to evoke the sound and feel of crashing waves. Despite the familiarity of a few big hits, the music was only popular on a mass scale for a few years in the early ’60s. 

Instrumental surf music was pioneered by Dick Dale & His Del-Tones, who had thousands of imitators then. Despite Dale’s huge—and enduring—stature in the field and the culture, he never received the kind of national exposure that some of his emulators found. There was no string of Top 40 singles on Billboard or Cash Box; there were no Gold Records from the RIAA for his albums.

Dale’s use of Fender guitars and amps made that company’s gear requisite for most up-and-coming bands, although Mosrite, Teisco, and Danelectro guitars had their adherents. Surf music also gave prominence to the Fender electric bass, a previously under-utilized instrument. 1

Many surf guitar players were years beyond what anyone else in rock was doing in terms of experimentation. The sounds and effects that these musicians produced in their attempts to make the listener feel the waves building soaring crashing was so ‘far-out’ compared to ‘normal’ rock guitar players that they sounded like they were from another planet!

 

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For my taste, Roger (then Jim) McGuinn would rank at the top of any list of creative rock guitarists of the ’60s for creating the ‘jingle-jangle sound’ of folk-rock in 1965, and then effectively inventing fusing (then) modern jazz with (then) modern rock in 1966! The sleeve above for Eight Miles High is an original from CBS in West Germany—McGuinn is second from the left. Hmmm, notice any similarities in the two sleeves?

You’ll never hear surfing guitars again

But when the psychedelic era moved in, most guitar players—both American and British—based their stylings in some black urban blues musician, especially the three Kings (B.B., Albert, and Freddie). The notable exception at the time were the San Francisco Bay Area bands, many of whom had a folkie background.

 

“Although your world wonders me, with your majestic and superior cackling hen, your people I do not understand.” — Jimi Hendrix

 

But an obvious place to have picked up inspiration for sound experimentation—especially the effects that the surf bands achieved with relatively little and relatively inexpensive gear—were from the countless used surf singles that could be had for pennies apiece in the mid ’60s.

One would think that there would have been a nod or ten in that direction by the new musicians, but such was not the case. After its fifteen minutes of fame, instrumental surf music was considered passé if not actually silly.

Jimi Hendrix’s 1967 lyric “You’ll never hear surf music again,” while taken completely out of context and therefore completely misunderstood—by just about everybody, from local DJs to me and my friends to Jon & The Nightriders—didn’t help the issue. 2

 

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Dick Dale & His Del-Tones’ first album was SURFER’S CHOICE, and was originally issued in November 1962 on Dale’s own Deltone Records. It was issued in mono only as LPM-1001 (although the record’s labels read JM-1001). Dale then signed with Capitol, who reissued the album in March ’63 as Deltone T-1886 and in ghastly Duophonic stereo as DT-1886.

I remember a certain snobbishness

By the end of the ’60s, surf music and the bands that made it was almost forgotten, and actually held in contempt by many hipper-than-thou rockwriters and aficionados. While the writers and critics in the early years of Rolling Stone magazine were often inspired and a joy to read, I remember a certain snobbishness about certain music.

This was very clear in the early editions of the Rolling Stone Album Guide, where certain prejudices made the book a bit of joke as it took dismissive attitudes to the work of artists such as the Beach Boys, Neil Diamond, Donovan, the Moody Blues, and the Grateful Dead.

But while that silliness went on for years, attitudes about surf music had changed radically: the listing for Dick Dale in the 1992 edition credits him as having created “one of the most unique and influential guitar styles in the history of rock & roll.”

Amen!

Just as the first paragraphs above were not intended to be anything but titillating, this article is meant as a very brief introduction to surf music. Now, since I have broached the subject of writers and books, here’s that book review(s) that I mentioned . . .

 

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First edition of Surfin’ Guitars

In 1979, Robert J. Dalley was a guitar player, a record collector, and a surf nut. By 1981, he was the leader of the Surf Raiders and had his first record out! During the next few years, the Raiders would issue six more singles, three EPs, and three LPs. They played local shows throughout that time and were one of the main exponents of the Surf Revival inaugurated by Jon & The Nightriders in 1979.

During the time that the Raiders were playing, Bob was also researching, locating, and interviewing former members of various original surf bands. The result was several published articles and a regular column for Goldmine magazine. 

 

Surfin’ Guitars depicts a musical period that had the qualities of innocence and a naïve creativity—qualities all but snuffed out in today’s music industry.

 

In 1988, this all culminated in Surfin’ Guitars – Instrumental Surf Bands Of The Sixties, a book devoted to the original surf bands of the early ’60s. The book told the stories of forty such groups and included reproductions of photos, original posters, and even press clippings that members had saved.

It was a labor of love.

The first edition was issued as a paperback with a minuscule printing of 2,600 copies. The cover price was $25, pricey for the time. The book is 8½ x 11 inches and 421 (sic) pages. The cost for producing this was $13,000, and Bob had to sell his guitar (!) and his collection of surf records (!!) to pay the printer.

I asked Bob how he ended up with an odd number of pages for this edition: “I guess when you spend almost ten years typing in the early morning hours before going to work, and when you self-publish a book anything, is possible.”

Most of the information in the book was correct, although the relating of this info came with the usual typos and errors associated with self-published books. Nonetheless, Surfin’ Guitars was an immediate hit with fans and collectors alike.

 

Surprise hits were the norm

This first edition garnered lots of reviews, including one from Rolling Stone. It was even discussed by Kurt Loder on MTV! In a review for The Los Angeles Time titled “Surf Rock’s History Wrapped Up By A Longtime Devotee” (May 4, 1989), Mike Boehm praised the book:

Surfin’ Guitars is a specialty project that will be of value and interest mainly to committed surf rock fans and early ’60s pop history buffs: of the 41 groups chronicled, only five ever placed a song in the Billboard Top 100. Dalley’s plain but usually serviceable prose won’t rescue any of the lesser lights from obscurity.

While Dalley rarely strays from his straight biographical narratives into analysis or social commentary, Surfin’ Guitars depicts a musical period that had the qualities of innocence and a naïve creativity—qualities all but snuffed out in today’s bureaucratized, conglomerated music industry.

In 1963, surprise hits like Pipeline and Wipe Out were the norm. What the music business gives us today is a world in which surprise is barely possible. There is no place in the pop mainstream today for the kinds of musically unschooled, naïve enthusiasts who gave us surf music and its direct heirs, mid ’60s garage and psychedelic rock.”

Apparently, the exposure helped: the 2,600 books quickly sold out! There was no second printing. 

Even with its amateurish first edition, Surfin’ Guitars was the go-to book if you dig the ‘surf sound’ of vibratoed reverbed guitars emulating the crashing of waves against the shore!!!

I am the author of the original line of Goldmine record collectors price guides (look it up!). I used Bob’s book when I was compiling discographies for surf bands for the first edition of Goldmine’s Rock’n Roll 45RPM Record Price Guide (1991).

Finally, this edition remains a sought-after book among collectors: used copies of this first edition sell for $75-150 on the Internet!

 

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Second edition of Surfin’ Guitars

In 1995, the second edition of Surfin Guitars was published, this time by Popular Culture Ink. It included updates on many of the bands in the first edition while adding nine new groups for a total of forty-nine instrumental surf bands covered by Dalley.

So I asked Bob how he got nine more groups into the second edition with sixty fewer pages: “The guy at Popular Culture Ink did some heavy editing with the full-page photos and posters, and changing the layout from a single column in the first edition to two columns for the second.”

There were only 1,000 hardcover copies of this edition and it carried a cover price of $50. The book is 8½ x 11 inches with 364 pages. Like the first edition, it sold out.

Even with its amateurish first edition, Surfin’ Guitars was the go-to book if you dig the ‘surf sound’ of vibratoed reverbed guitars emulating the crashing of waves against the shore! Popular Culture Ink’s books were noted for their high quality; this book is no exception and is a better book than the first edition—as a physical product and as a source of readable information.

I am the author of the original line of Goldmine record collectors price guides (look it up!). I used Bob’s book when I was compiling discographies for surf bands for the first edition of Goldmine’s Rock’n Roll 45RPM Record Price Guide (1991).

Like the first edition, this second edition remains sought-after among collectors, although this edition is much more desirable because of the smaller printing and the higher quality. Used copies of this second edition sell for $150-250 on the Internet!

 

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Third edition of Surfin’ Guitars

It’s 2016, and the long-awaited third edition of Surfin’ Guitars is finally here! It is the culmination of ten more years of research beyond that of the earlier editions! The book is 8½ x 11 inches with 420 pages and has been fully revised and expanded.

Since the previous edition, Bob contacted the groups again and uncovered many previously unpublished color photos. Via the Internet, Dalley connected with record collectors from around the world and obtained color scans of truly obscure 45s and LPs. 

So, for the first time, most of the photos in Surfin’ Guitars are in color! This includes photos of the bands along with reproductions of 45 labels and LP covers, along with some original concert posters from the day. 

Ten new groups were added to the original cast, bringing the number of groups covered in the book to fifty-nine! Typos were corrected and so the book is a better read!

I am the author of the original line of Goldmine record collectors price guides (look it up!). I used Bob’s book when I was compiling discographies for surf bands for the first edition of Goldmine’s Rock’n Roll 45RPM Record Price Guide (1991).

I will repeat what I said in my review of the first edition of this book: Surfin’ Guitars is the go-to book if you dig the ‘surf sound’ of vibratoed reverbed guitars emulating the crashing of waves against the shore!!! I used Bob’s books when I was compiling discographies for my Goldmine 45 rpm price guides waaaaay back in the times when telephone booths still roamed freely about the country.”

Surfin’ Guitars – Instrumental Surf Bands Of The Sixties is a product of Robert J. Dalley Publications. Bob has a Facebook page for Surfin’ Guitars where you can read more and, if you’re a customer with a copy of his, book, you can leave comments.

 

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FEATURED IMAGE: Andrew Davis rides a big wave at Mavericks in northern California, one of the world’s premier big wave surfing locations. The third part of this Surfing Guitars series (“Surf Raider’s Discography & Price Guide”) will include more info on this album. Be the first on your block to read the complete “Lord of the Surf” trilogy here on Rather Rare Records!

1. Surfing Guitars And Instrumental Surf Bands Of The Early ‘60s
2. Surf Raiders Discography & Price Guide
3. A Complementary If Brief Surf Raiders Bio/Overview

 


FOOTNOTES:

1   The text on surf music was lifted from the Wikipedia entry on surf music and rather heavily rewritten by me for this article.

2   The line is from Third Stone From The Sun from the ARE YOU EXPERIENCED? album (1967). The song concerns aliens visiting Earth and deciding what to do with its occupants:

“Although your world wonders me,
with your majestic and superior cackling hen,
your people I do not understand.
So, to you I shall put an end—
and you’ll never hear surf music again.”

That is, it was not Hendrix being critical of surf music, but rather it was a threat by the fictional alien invaders to forever deprive humans of the joy of hearing surf music again.

3   I wrote that as a blurb for Bob’s book because it’s true! 

 

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