Friday, July 3, 2009

TVD's Parting Shots

We're closing up shop a little early this week in advance of the long weekend—but not without first turning the 'Parting Shots' over to our friend Virginia who's conjured up quite the appropriate theme for the Fourth of July holiday and the summer season:

"June 20 was International Surfing Day, if you didn’t know, and in honor of that fine holiday and of course the 4th of July, we are going to listen to some Surf music, the soundtrack for summer at the beach. So, grab your board, let’s catch some tasty tunes.

The original Surf music was from Southern California -- Orange County before it was The OC, in fact -- in the late 50s and early 60s. The undisputed King of Surf Music is Dick Dale, a surfer and musician who started playing in the late 50s at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, where he defined the Surf sound: straight up 4/4, instrumental rock & roll, with the melody, usually in a minor key, flat-picked on lead guitar with generous doses of pitch bending and reverb, courtesy of the Fender Stratocaster, which had been in production only a few years then, a little sliding up and down the neck, mimicking popular steel-guitar Hawaiian music, on top of a Fender Precision bass, another radical new instrument at the time, rhythm guitar, and lots of back beat. With trumpet, sax or keyboards occasionally thrown in for sonic color, Surf music was an attempt to push the new electronic instrumentation to evoke crashing waves, the adrenalin of surfing, and the totally bitchen surfing life.

Dick's first single, with his back-up band the Del-tones, was Let's Go Trippin' in 1961, but probably his best known recording these days is Miserlou, a Greek folk tune that Dick recast as a Surf anthem in 1962 and that Quentin Tarantino featured in 1994's Pulp Fiction.. Let's Go Trippin' spotlights a nice slide and lots of reverb and is generally considered the first recorded Surf tune, but Miserlou shows off Dick's manic staccato picking and the wild energy of Surf at its best.

The Chantays were also from Orange County, California. Formed in 1962 by five high-school friends, guitarists Brian Carman and Bob Spickard wrote and the band recorded Pipeline, another Surf great that became a number one single. Pipeline is a surf reef break located on O'ahu's North Shore; Pipeline evokes waves breaking over a nice driving bass line and is a classic of Surf sound.

Further North in LA, the Surfaris, formed in 1962, recorded Wipe Out in 1963, which ran up to number two in the charts. Opening with the sound of a surf board breaking followed by maniacal laughter and continuing with some pretty high energy drumming and a straightforward lead, Wipe Out is one of the best of the genre.

And no discussion of Surf music would be complete without the Ventures. From way up the west coast in Tacoma, Washington, the group was formed in 1958 by two construction workers who found common interest in playing guitar. Don Wilson and Bob Bogle starting playing local clubs, eventually adding Nokie Edwards as lead guitarist, and Skip Moore on drums. Their first record, Walk Don't Run, had a tough start but eventually climbed to number 2 on the charts, becoming a national hit in 1960. While The Ventures did not consider themselves strictly a Surf band and Walk Don't Run predates Let's Go Trippin', the melodic electric guitar leads, classic rock formation and high energy epitomize the Surf sound.

While Surf music was pretty much eclipsed by the British Invasion in 1964, it's impossible to overestimate the influence it had on rock & roll worldwide, particularly the musicianship of Dick Dale and Nokie Edwards. An unknowable number of young people learned to play guitar copying them or playing along with "Play Guitar with the Ventures", a series of instructional albums so popular they showed up on the Billboard top 100. Dick Dale additionally worked with Leo Fender from the late 50s through the 60s to push Fender guitar and amplifier technology into greater volume and distortion ranges, which had a tremendous impact on later heavy metal music.

Some of the original Surf musicians still perform. The Ventures, in fact, have never really stopped performing or making records -- they have been extremely popular in Japan since the 70s. Sadly, Bob Bogle passed away June 14 this year. Dick Dale still plays, as do The Chantays, and The Surfaris.

Lots has been left out here: the many other bands who contributed to the instrumental style and added more great tunes of their own -- the Bel-Airs and the Lively Ones, for example, the great Surf pop vocal music of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean, and the funny Surfin' Bird by the Trashmen and Papa-oom-mow-mow by the Rivingtons. I hope this small introduction of the style, though, is encouragement enough to follow the links here and discover the great canon of Surf music."

Dick Dale and the Del-tones - Let's Go Trippin (Mp3)
Dick Dale and the Del-tones - Miserlou (Mp3)
The Chantays - Pipeline (Mp3)
The Surfaris - Wipeout (Mp3)
The Ventures - Walk Don't Run (Mp3)
The Ventures - Perfidia (Mp3)
The Lively Ones - Surf Rider (Mp3)