My Musical Journey - the Surf Music Craze Hits the World
1960s Surf Craze
Music was always a presence in our house. My mom and both sisters played piano and organ, one sister and my uncle played guitar, and just about everyone sang. In the mid to late 60s, my family had lots of records around the house. My uncle, who was a DJ in the early 60s, gave us a box of records to explore. In that box were quite a few records from the surf era of popular music, 1962-1965.
I discovered this box, and as a young 1st grader in 1968, I took to the surf records instantly. Surf music was guitar-driven, mostly instrumental and heavy on the reverb. This music is probably what set off my interest in guitar, but it would be years before I actually started to learn how to play.
I would spend hours with my small portable, vacuum-tube driven record player, taking in the sounds of California. Records by The Hondells, The Astronauts, The Ventures, Dick Dale – the king of surf music, Beach Boys, and others, were listened to frequently. Hot Wheels were played with, Bonanza, Petticoat Junction and Green Acres were watched, and we were on the way to the moon. Those are my early memories. Surf was a part of it.
Across land-locked America, the surf craze took hold. Colorado had one of my favorites, The Astronauts. The Trashmen, from Minneapolis, Minnesota, made the charts with the classic Surfin Bird, which hit #4 on the charts. I owned an original DJ copy of this, and remember playing it, thinking it was a strange song! Yet that song endures. The Rivieras from South Bend, Indiana reached # 5 in 1964 with California Sun, which was covered by the Ramones and many others.
I probably watched all the Elvis movies and the beach-themed movies with Frankie and Annette, as well. The intense drum-driven, reverb soaked surf music got into my young musical mind, and even in Minnesota, far from the beach, I wanted to be a part of this! Of course, the surf era was long over by then, and generally despised in the music world. As Jimi Hendrix sang in Third Stone from the Sun – "and you’ll never hear surf music again" – acid rock and hard rock took over during the summer of love in 1967, with more sophisticated music by artists such as The Band, became popular alongside it. The success of the Beatles was another factor in taking surf music out of the public mind, as well the ever changing music tastes of America's youth. The Beach Boys evolved into a rock band, but kept some of the elements of their surf sound.
Even I left it behind as I discovered original 45’s of The Beatles buried in that box of records. By my second grade year, I was a diehard Beatles fanatic. Surf music became a memory.
Today, there are thousands of surf bands around the world. The use of surf music in the film Pulp Fiction helped bring back this music. Dick Dale, until a recent illness took him off the stage, was still performing. Modern surf bands such as Man or Astro-man?, The Mermen and Los Straitjackets were formed, bringing the music into a new decade
I still have all of those 45s, except for the original Beatles discs. Occasionally, I bring out that box and play those 45s, just to remember that time in my life when I discovered new music in all its tonal glory. I have the surf bands to thank for that.