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).
It's Not About Gidget & Moondoggie anymore
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
", 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
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
"What Time Does This Leo Guy Show Up To Play?"
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
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?
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
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 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"
Instrumental Surf suffered arrested development in '64 inflicted by the British Invasion
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.
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.
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
and Squid Vicious
, LA's Reventlos
, and Insect Surfers
Seattle's Living Water
and London's Vibrasonic
are all stretching the definition. It's just concentrated here in the San Francisco Bay Area
bands like the Berzerkers
, Buzzy Frets & his Surfabilly Orchestra
, the Ultras
, 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
", and "Surfin' With Bernie
", named for fan Bernie Beckwith
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
" 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
& Buddy Lonesome
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