Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
Collection: Rare Surf Volume 1: The South Bay Bandsdotdotdotdotdot
artworkIt doesn't get much more historic than this. Surf progenitor Paul Johnson, surf fan and general scene dweller Domenic Priori, and Rob Santos have conspired with AVI Entertainment to compile tons tracks from the seminal South Bay Surf scene. The surf sound is usually defined by the Orange County Sound of Dick Dale & his Del-tones and Eddie & The Showmen. The earlier scene in the South Bay area (South end of Santa Monica Bay) was dominated by Paul Johnson's Belairs, and his influence was everywhere. Paul wrote "Mr. Moto", "Squad Car", and dozens of other equally infectious tracks. Only a few of these tracks have ever seen the light of day before. It's amazing to me that some of the unreleased stuff found in vaults a mere 30 years after being recorded is so much more vibrant and powerful than that which reached the public.

The liner notes are extensive and based on interviews with the principal players. This is more like a history of a forgotten chapter of surf than a mere compilation. Good reading, and great music!

Volume 1 contains 25 tracks, 18 previously unreleased. The featured bands are PJ & The Galaxies , PJ & Artie, and The Journeymen.

PJ & The Galaxies were a legendary whisper of the Southbay Surf Scene, until this CD. PJ is Paul Johnson, and the Galaxies are the band Paul took over from the Tom (Thom) Starr. They were ready made for him, since Thom had studied Paul's style to the n'th degree. Paul once remarked how spooky it was the first time he rehearsed with them... it was like playing with himself. They were modeled after the Belairs, and were a natural fit for Paul. Thom still plays, and released his own CD of reformed Thom Starr & The Galaxies material.

PJ & Artie were Paul Johnson (PJ) & Art Fisher (Artie) (ex Journeymen, Belairs, Challengers). They were mostly a jammin' good time after hours act for fun between Paul & Art as a duo, but they also played with back-up, as these tracks display. This is the period Art credits as most helpful to his development as a lead player. His usual role was rhythm, but that was Paul's favorite spot as well, so he and Art shared the duties.

The Journeymen were the very first South Bay band playing instros, as early as 1959. Art Fisher & Lonnie Fredericks were the main guys. Their vocal outing in the mid sixties as the Coachmen with Rick Mancuso signing is a hauntingly dirge-like garage anthem called "Mr. Moon." This is one of those way-cool post surf obscuros that brings a lump to the throat. They never quite got a real surf sound or image, but they were great! The whole CD is in slightly expanded (stereo reverb treatment) from Paul's original mono tapes.
Picks: Tally Ho, Andelé, The Rise and Fall Of Flingel Bunt, The Shimmy, Wild Goose, The Moldau, One Mint Julep, Rockin' Pneumonia and The Boogie Woogie Flu, Big Shot, Scouse, Lanky Bones, Comin' Home Baby, Belly Button, Ramrod, Vamanos, (It's Gonna) Work Out Fine, Squad Car, Mariah, Fink, Work Out, Bag's Groove, Surfer's Blues, Surfer's Rule, Artie's Blues, Rum Runner

Track by Track Review

Tally Ho dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This classic rhythm dominated Paul Johnson tune is played with ringing tone and a sense of timing that only Paul had, a magical connection between the lead and rhythm guitars that created a synergy, and placed their importance on par with each other, each diminishing the power of the other in their absence. Excellent playing, and infectious butt-moving rhythms. This take is equally interesting than Paul's 1980 session with his band the Packards.

Andelé dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

"Andelé" is a very playful Spanish tinged tune that Paul has been playing for ever. It's very fun and infectious. It shows the power of Paul's writing with respect to how he launches the lead off of the rhythm. Many writers begin with the melody, and back fill with the rhythm role. It seems like Paul, a rhythm player by choice, starts with the rhythm, and drives the melody from there. A fine track.

The Rise and Fall Of Flingel Bunt dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This cover of the Shadows lone attempt at surf music stands stark here as an interesting session with the drums more important than the song, which is more jazzy or bluesy anyway. This is pretty cool stuff.

The Shimmy dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Also known as "Side Two," this is a quirky rhythmic and percussive track. It only works with the cowbell, which provides an exotic Latin rhythm pattern while the guitars play joyfully in a Spanish theme.

Wild Goose dotdotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a very fast cover of the Frankie Lane hit from the fifties. It is not as tom-tom driven as the still unreleased Packards version, but it flies high and races to the twin lead break that is simply brilliant. Highly rhythmic and totally infectious. The rodeo whoops and hollers give this a perfect cowboy edge.

The Moldau dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This traditional sing is gently played out by Paul while Art Fisher plays a vibrato second guitar line behind him. It's very pretty, but not particularly remarkable.

One Mint Julep dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This R&B/jazz standard is punched up, but the guitars are way too low in the mix, almost subliminal in places, and thin sounding.

Rockin' Pneumonia and The Boogie Woogie Flu dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Huey Smith's New Orleans rock and roll classic, while it is rhythmic and very fun, does not lend itself to instrumental treatment very well, because it is not melodic.

Big Shot dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This tune appeared on Challengers "Go Sidewalk Surfing" album, where is is much more interesting. Paul's treatment here is thin and not very infectious.

Scouse dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

"Scouse" is slang for lobscouse, an English fisherman's stew made of random aquatic creatures. Paul wrote this as the British Invasion dawned on America, about to lay waste to the surf scene. This was his attempt to address/acknowledge the foreigners. It's not very British sounding. It is very infectious and quite fun. As with "Side Two," this requires the cowbell.

Lanky Bones dotdotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

One of Paul's more intense rhythm numbers, this relies heavily in strong rolling drums and a spaced dry chop rhythm guitar. The lead is played fast and well, with a twin lead break. A true classic piece of writing. It was also covered (with Paul on guitar) on Challengers and Good Guys albums.

Comin' Home Baby dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is entirely different treatment of this tune, so often done by jazz artists, and so well surfed up by the Surfaris. It is infectious and rhythmic, uses the drums well, as well as a fine spaced dry chop second guitar.

Belly Button dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Paul tended to name his tunes with the same grin he wrote them with. This is a very nice track, with a chunkier and much more surf reverb tone than Paul usually employs. It is quite well arranged, with the second guitar reminding me a bit of Ike & Tina Turner's "It's Gonna Work Out Fine."

Ramrod dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Al Casey wrote this for Duane Eddy. It fades in, but comes to a real end. It is mostly a rhythm exercise. It's fun, but not very strong due to the low level of the lead guitar.

Vamanos dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Move along now... as the title implies, the song moves with vigor and Spanish flair. It has a lot of playful ness, and subdued sax work. Bouncy and infectious.

(It's Gonna) Work Out Fine dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Ike & Tina Turner's classic, worked up instrumentally. The backtrack is infectious, and the lead is quite adequate. What it lacks in soul, it picks up in rhythmic chop.

Squad Car dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Paul Johnson wrote this classic surf monster with the Belairs' in '62. Ex-Belair Eddie Bertrand had a hit with it with his band Eddie & the Showmen. This is much more rhythm dependent than the Orange County power drive of Eddie's version. The siren is created with a sax mouth piece. Excellent.

Mariah dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This Lerner-Loewe classic show tune from Oklahoma lends itself to this near surf treatment because it is so melodic. Paul retained the moderate pace and sad feel for the first half, but mid-track, they double the speed and rage through a double picked arrangement, which descends to a snail's pace as it ends. "Mariah" lacks only reverb to be a surf killer! Fine infectious track.

Fink dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This Art Fisher tune is much more a progression than a melody. It's very fun, but not terribly interesting.

Work Out dotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This is a fast R&B based workout on guitar, with lots of noodling picking, showing off, and drum solo activity. Mostly a jam.

Bag's Groove dotdotdotdot
Rock (Instrumental)

Reverbed handclaps backup this sax number with a mean detective theme. The twin horn leads are very cool, sort mariachi.

Surfer's Blues dotdotdotdot
Surf Blues (Instrumental)

This is credited to Lonnie Fredericks and Jeff Luengen, but it is essentially Freddie King's "San-Ho-Zay." The use of a surf second guitar keeps it in the genre. Quite cool.

Surfer's Rule dotdotdotdot
R&B (Instrumental)

This just barely qualifies as an instrumental. It features black affectation spoken lines between two nimrods questioning their "surf credentials" and a girl chorus. It's blues based, and quite landlocked. The drum cadence is like that in "Surfers Stomp" and "Balboa Blue" from the Mar-Ketts. It also tips a nod to the Hollywood Arguiles.

Artie's Blues dotdotdot
Blues (Instrumental)

Sax honks in the back, blues guitar leads, and a slow pace. Nice, but not very interesting.

Rum Runner dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This was also done by Paul and Art on the Surf Riders album. It's an Art Fisher tune, based mostly on a riff, and some nice damped picking. The horns growl in the back. The use of flute in the break is interesting, further illustrating the influence of west coast jazz on the surf bands.