rising surf
Rising Surf
pulp fiction "There's a new wave of instrumental music out there. The bands performing it are the Lord's of the New Surf!"...Phil Dirt
So you've noticed that killer music in "Pulp Fiction". How could you not. The film opens with a sleazy scene in a coffee shop & some raunchy dialog, then WHAM! Dick Dale & The Del-Tones' "Miserlou" slams into your consciousness like a nuclear assault.

You rushed out & bought the soundtrack, drooled over the beauty of the Lively Ones' "Surf Rider" and partied to the Revels' "Comanche". Worn out, you sat down to watch the "X-Files", and there it is again, in the Bud Light commercials, the MinuteMaid spots, and the Taco Bell ads...suddenly you realize it's been everywhere around you and you hadn't quite noticed. Now you want some, but when you ask the clerk at the record store, he says "Huh?".
Who you gonna turn to? Surf Buster, that's who, (Phil Dirt - that's me).
pulp fiction

It's Not About Gidget & Moondoggie anymore

lively ones It may well be that you've discovered surf music via the classic tracks in "Pulp Fiction", but surf music is not the innocent adolescent pass time it was 30 years ago, if you even old enough to remember that. It's not about Gidget & Moondoggie, or lame beach movies like "Beach Blanket Bingo", or modern dark exploitation flicks like "Surf Nazis Must Die". It's not even much about the surf revival that had so many false starts in the eighties, and it's even less about surfing. It's vital, infectious, and it's mostly new.

There are surely some bands out there doing the nostalgia or revival thing, bands like the Surfaris or the Impacts. There are many hundreds of surf bands playing in nearly every city the world over. Many of the bands that perform surf now are pushing the envelope of what surf music is. To borrow a band name from Teisco Del Rey, they are the "Lords Of The New Surf".

These new bands have stayed with the original instrumental genre as a foundation, shunning the vocal pop that diluted and polluted it over 30 years ago. They have infused new life via the combination of their healthy respect and love for the pure instrumental form, and varied approach incorporating many influences.

"What Time Does This Leo Guy Show Up To Play?"

eliminators This has not been without it's struggles. Even if you discount the 15 years that surf music has been trying to come back, there are the greater public perception problems to overcome. The first is the automatic association with Frankie & Annette, and the second is the misconception that the Beach Boys or Jan & Dean did surf music. The depth of the problem is exemplified in an incident I witnessed at an outdoor event called "Woodies on the Wharf" this past summer in Santa Cruz, California, at town called "Surf City" with an appalling lack of surf music. Tri-Surf recording artists the Eliminators where about to begin their second set.

Eliminators' Rhythm guitarist Preston Wilson related this priceless tale really clarifies the depth of the discrepancy between reality and perception. "...we had this guy here earlier, ...uh...he's sitting over here (pointed) in the front saying...uh...'you guys gonna sing a song today?'. I kept saying 'we're an instrumental surf band.' He says '...well, who's your lead singer?' so I held up my guitar and told him 'Leo Fender was (made) the lead singer.' ...& I was over here (points to their Merchandise table) standing and he says 'um...what time does this Leo guy show up to play?'"

What is Surf Music?

what is surf The question of what is surf music is a one of considerable debate among collectors, musicians, surfers, critics, musicologists, paleomuses, the general public, wayfaring urchins, and Cowabunga web surfers. Opinions range from the definitive purist to the ignorant absurd. Expecting agreement on the definition, or better yet, that Joe and Jane Average would have a clue about this, is like not realizing that the trouble with democracy is that the people ahead of you in line at McDonalds vote! There's a wehole series dedicated to this question called What Is Surf.
Traditional Surf Music is an instrumental rock idiom utilizing a two guitars, bass & drums line up, sometimes augmented by an electric piano, a horn (usually a saxophone or trumpet), or a third guitar. The guitar sound is heavily reverb laden, one guitar more than the other. Reverb is that spring effect that makes the guitar sound big and wet.

Outboard Reverb Tank

fender reverb Fender The surf sound is characterized by a rhythm section comprised of the bass & drums and rhythm guitar. When the rhythm guitar is reverbed heavily, few chords are used. The archetypal surf instrumental with piano is the Chantays' "Pipeline", with horn it would be Dick Dale's "Miserlou", and with the third guitar, the Astronauts "Baja".

Arrested Development

chantays Instrumental Surf suffered arrested development in '64 inflicted by the British Invasion. The Lords of the New Surf picked it up from there, and then proceeded to re-ignite the evolution that had only just begun 3 decades ago.

mermen In the sixties, LA was the world center for surf. In the nineties, the center seems to be the San Francisco Bay Area, at least for bands who are pushing the envelope.

The Mermen have been creating an ever increasingly psychedelic vision from their trad surf foundation under the pen of lead guitarist and effects master Jim Thomas. He's more than fortunate to be supported by the incredibly tight and creative rhythm section of Allen Whitman on bass and Martyn Jones on drums. They are signed to Mesa / Bluemoon / Atlantic Records.

That's not to say that envelope pushing is not happening elsewhere. Quite the contrary. Austin's Death Valley and Squid Vicious, LA's Reventlos, SurfKings, and Insect Surfers, Seattle's Living Water and London's Vibrasonic vibrasonic are all stretching the definition. It's just concentrated here in the San Francisco Bay Area with bands like the Berzerkers, Buzzy Frets & his Surfabilly Orchestra, the Ultras, the Torpedoes, and Pollo Del Mar.

The traditional surf scene is also vital and original in the Bay Area. The main difference is that the bands producing really strong originals that you'd swear were written in the summer of '62. The prime example of this is found in the incredibly infectious and happy writing of Rick Escobar, lead guitarist with Burlingame's surf purists the Woodies.

They use a pure traditional line up to sport Rick's totally new and wonderful tunes, with titles like "Fajita Sunrise", "Agent Woodrow", "If It Swells (Ride It)", and "Surfin' With Bernie", named for fan Bernie Beckwith. The rhythm guitar locks in with that single note staccato rhythm synced with bass and drummers, providing a very solid bed for fiery lead lines full of energy and joy.

Off shore, one of the the radical leading edge is harder to come by, with the development lagging by a few years. The best component of the new direction is G. T. Stringer, whose "Walk The Plank" is one monster tune. They are that rarity among surf bands, a bunch of surfers that also play. Their roots are jazz, and they use a lead guitar, a sax, plus bass & drums.

GT Stringer blend a funky rhythm section, a honky squirty cool sax, and a slightly reverby feedback howling guitar to conjure previously uncharted soundscapes. It doesn't sound like surf, and it immediately screams SURF when you hear it.

Last year in Henley Beach, South Australia, ex-Luau & Buddy Lonesome band mates Jimmy Redgate & Trevor Ramsay founded a new breed of surf band they dubbed GT Stringer. Trevor's sax & Jimmy's guitar ride over the funky foundation of Dennis Kipridis' bass, and Steve Hearne's drums.