Phil Dirt - Reverb Central - PO Box 1609, Felton, CA 95018-1609 USA
Johnny Fortune - Soul Surferdotdotdotdotdot
artworkThis is essential listening! Johnny Fortune was already a successful session musician before the surf sound hit. He'd play guitar on Sam Cook's "Chain Gang" and Barbara George's "I Know." In '63, at the age of 16, he recorded the Soul Surfer sessions at Bob Summers' Sound House studio in El Monte, where the Lively Ones also recorded much of their output. The session musicians were Johnny Fortune (Sudetta - guitar, bass), Jim O'Keith - sax, and Joey Sudetta, a mere 10 years old at the time, on drums. Johnny's band mates John Fisher, who co-wrote many of the tunes, and brothers Vincent Sudetta and George Sudetta did not play on the sessions. Offered a chance to tour England with Johnny Burnette, he had to decline due to his being under eighteen. Johnny's sound is quite unusual within the surf genre. He has a warm and muffled, relatively dry sound with unusual whammy action that sets it apart from the rest, and from the big guitar sound of the Duane Eddy's of the world. Johnny's tunes are melodic and rhythmic, and have a lasting quality about them.
Picks: Soul Surfer, Midnight Surf, Chinese Surfer, SurferÕs Trip, Lone Surfer, Wild Weekend, Surf Rider, Sunset, Soul Traveler, Moonglow And Theme From Picnic, Siboney, Dragster

Track by Track Review

Soul Surfer dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is one of those magical tracks that stands alone soundwise. "Soul Surfer" was written in the back seat of the car on the way to the studio. An afterthought of sorts, it became a classic in it's own time, being covered by contemporary bands. Johnny Fortune's melodic sense, combined with some flamenco and jazz influences to create a wholly unique sound. Highly melodic and magnetically rhythmic.

Midnight Surf dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a soulful surf tune with a percussive opening and a smoothly suave progression on guitar against a very savvy sax. It flows with a stunning fluid Spanish feel. Totally great. I remember playing this to death on the record player when I was supposed to be doing homework.

Chinese Surfer dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is an almost entirely un-Oriental track. At least it has none of the trite eastern clichˇs used in so many tracks with oriental names. This is a slowish, well written thing with a groovy melody line, and a fluid lilt.

SurferÕs Trip dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is another great Johnny Fortune track with an infectious lead line and a fine round tone. It has plenty of fast paced almost prancing soul, with an infectious hook.

Lone Surfer dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a very sad semi-slow number with fine whammy and exceptionally delicate picking. Like an Ernesto Lecuona tune, it literally dances on the guitar strings. The trumpet adds to the bull fight feel. Marvelous.

Wild Weekend dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a fairly pedestrian cover of the Rockin' Ramrods' hit single. It is much less inspired than the rest of Johnny Sudetta's work. It is interesting to hear the song done in a less intense fashion.

Surf Rider dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

The Ventures' tune made into a surf monster by the Lively Ones takes on quite a sophisticated air in this treatment. Johnny Sudetta's guitar work is super fine, and he has added some notes to fill the nooks and crannies, as well as playing with a softer attack, which is especially interesting against the strong drum work. It all makes for a very nice variation on this classic song.

Sunset dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This tune has all the markings of the kind of thing that the Buddy Merrills and Bert Kempferts of the day would have included in their compendiums of instrumental magic. This is very pretty, almost too pretty. Not only melodic, but fingered much like Les Paul might. Very good technique. It's easy to see from this track why Sudetta was able to do studio work on hit singles.

Soul Traveler dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is almost a Paul Johnson kinda construction, but with Johnny Fortune's great tone. The jazzy damped chops and sassy sax over the fine drums are very cool, and the fluid guitar work is magnificent.

Moonglow And Theme From Picnic dotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

This is a mighty polished and MOR merger of two standard film score songs. The drums are doing the soft brushed thing, while the bass plays a softly picked thump-thump walking line. The guitar work is almost Three Suns pretty.

Siboney dotdotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

Siboney is among the many exotica standards adopted by the surf bands. It's flamenco routes (Ernesto Lacuona) are obvious, and it's bull fight mariachi horns are very inviting. Like Herb Alpert would have like to sound. The rhythm is infectious, and the simple nature of the Spanish influences is most rewarding.

Dragster dotdotdotdot
Surf (Instrumental)

If it says Johnny Fortune, you need it. A master at the age of 16, already a veteran of hit records by Sam Cooke among others, and his 10 year old brother is the drummer. Great tune, and Johnny had a totally unique sound.