When you consider the great music of the 1960’s I’m sure you think about ” The British Invasion”, Motown, all the Girl Groups and the blending of Folk music and Rock and Roll. However it was Surf music that truly ushered in the music of the 60’s. It inspired us to listen,and established a new genre, culture and lifestyle, not just on the west coast of California but across the world. It gave us pioneers and Super Stars The Beach Boys, Jan and Dean and The Honeys. Some purists even argue The Mamas and Pappas, sighting ” California Dreaming” as the best song ever written about “Praying For Surf” But I digress, because no matter what new genre coalesced and shaped the sound of the Sixties they all owe a nod and must pay homage to the artists and the music that Kick Started ” The Best Decade of Music in History.
Instrumental Surf Music. Burning through like a firestorm as the new decade debuted and continued to influence the sound and culture of “Pop” music, not jus thru the 60’s but for every decade to follow. The Ventures, ( who have sold, to date, over 110 million records…yup, you read that right!) The Surfaries, The Chantays,The Bel-Airs, The Challenger’s, and of course “The King of the Surf Guitar”,Dick Dale and his Deltones. Even The U.K. Gave us The Tornedos with ” Telstar” and The Shadows with “Apache” The sound was always 3 guitars, bass and drums with someone doubling on electric piano with an occasional Sax solo The instruments were nearly always made by Fender and all were drenched in Reverb to give them that ” Wet Sound” No other genre of music( with the exception of The Beatles) inspired young music lovers to pick up a guitar or a pair of sticks and immediately be part of this new cool scene coming out of Southern California.
Many historians sight Dick Dales incredible high energy debut ” Let’s Go Tripping as the first hit record to put Inst. Surf on the charts. But I’ll argue that it was Santo and Johnny’s hauntingly beautiful ” Sleep Walk” that established and galvanized Instr. Surf Music and beyond. Santo and Johnny Farina hailing from Brooklyn N.Y. wrote the song inspired by a dream of Johnny’s. Johnny played a six string Gretch, while Santo played, AND GET THIS, a fender custom built three necked Pedal Steele, with each neck holding EIGHT strings. I can’t do the math or even begin to imagine how many options of Keys, Tunings and Sounds Santo could conjure up! Experts might point out that “Sleep Walk topped the Billboard charts in Sept. of 1959( when it also achieved the number 4 position on Billboards R&B chart !!!) but it’s lingering popularity kept it in “Heavy Rotation” not just thru the transition of the decade but throughout the surf music years and beyond. Lastly, Sleep Walk just may be the greatest love song ever written,and it has no lyrics. But dim the lights with Sleep Walk murmuring in the background and romance is yours. Ah,the power of Surf music instrumentals ! With the genre surging and new Surf Instrumentals entering the charts weekly, “Pipeline” by The Chantays, “Mr. Moto by The Bel Airs and “Walk Don’t Run” by The Ventures all number ones. And all capturing the more mellow sound of Surf music until 1962, when Dick Dale came blasting through our radios with “Misirlou” a monster of a record that grabbed you by the throat and thru you in the water. Along with Dicks smoking ” Double Picking, “Misirlou included a piano and trumpet solo. There simply no other Surf record that can match the power, aggression and pure energy of Misirlou” For you younger readers it’s that amazing piece of music that is featured in the opening scene of “Pulp Fiction” Lastly, as we were trying to catch our breath, we caught a “sucker punch” from The Surfaris with “Wipe Out in 1963. Ironically Wipe Out was an absolute throw away “B” side (The A side was the ridiculous “Surfer Joe”…go figure) Opening with a maniacle laugh and the sound of a breaking surfboard. And then the songs 1st. verse… A DRUM SOLO Yup…In fact the entire song is mostly this same drum solo. Which ultimately became an audition test for any young drummer trying out for a new band. I should know, I did it a dozen times. Surf music continued to rule, but ” The British Invasion” was right over the horizon. So what was the final Surf instrumental that sounded the “Death Knell” to this powerful and influential genre.?….. it was “Penetration” by The Pyramids. The band hailed out of Long Beach Calif. It’s to bad that The Pyramids were short-lived, if only for their outrages approach to their band and the music business. They were a five piece (of course) but their founder and lead guitar player Will Glover was a Black man. Remember this is now early 1964 ! To add to the controversy ( remember, the song is called “Penetration “) The band did the unthinkable in 1964. Seeing early pictures of The Beatles, They Shaved Their Heads. Picture their line up if you can. They also were fond of stunts at their shows. They often opened for The Beach Boys, and if the boys showed up in Limos, The Pyramids showed up on horses, The Boys showed up in larger stretch limos, The Pyramids actually showed up on Elephants! Bottom line, if you ask any remaining member of any of the bands mentioned in this article ” What was the best thing about Surf music and being in a Surf Band, they all say the same thing “We had soooo much Fun. “Surf’s Up” meanwhile, here’s Santo and Johnny’s incredible “Sleep Walk”