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.



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!



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



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.”


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 . . .



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!



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!



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.


Dalley BigWaveSurfer 1000

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



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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