Surf’s Up!

When you consider the great music of the 1960’s we’re 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 in music 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 we’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. We 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”


  1. during this early time growing up in L.A. I WAS definitely inspired and motivated to ask my parents for my first guitar. we had no idea what was to soon come our way in the music world but being about 11 years old and up to this time only practicing music on trumpet which I knew would no longer do…I wanted to begin to learn and play many of the songs you mention above. by the way before I put down the trumpet I learned “Sleep Walk”..yes on the trumpet! but when I hears “Apache” THAT’S when I wanted a guitar. when I got to jr. high the surf music scene was blowing up on the radio. I remember many hours learning to tremolo pick “Misirlou”, ply pipeline etc. and etc. the Ventures” sealed it for me I wanted a Mosrite” guitar real bad!!! one final thought: I heard “Misirlou” on a college radio station in my area and the song was just great but different…different GOOD. I called the radio host and he informed me it was recorded by Stevie Ray Vaughn….blew my mind…never knew. thanks for the great piece you wrote rick…talk soon……the Wood

    • Ron, Wow what a great piece…Fascinating, and I have a feeling much of what you experienced and your experimentation was something that was happening universally. I just love the idea of “Sleepwalk” being performed on the Trumpet. However, sliding from note to note as Santo and Johnny did had to be hard on your lips…..No?
      Like I said, love your story and would love to hear from more readers about their personal experience on the road to becoming a player…..
      All my best, my friend…

  2. Hey Rick. Great post. One of the cover bands I currently play with here in Connecticut plays Sleep Walk. Never get tired of it! Hope you are doing well.

    • Wow…..Allan great to here you’re still “Rockin”……And you’re playing classics like “Sleep Walk!
      Do you have a pedal Steele player in the group?….Do you cover any other Surf Instrumental classics?
      Great to see you here at Sixties Music Secrets….Please get back to us and fill us in a bit more about your band….
      Thanx Allan, look forward to hearing more from you…

  3. GREAT post, Rick! Man, you touched all the bases on this one. It’s so true, when I started taking guitar lessons back in 65, the FIRST song that I wanted to learn was “Walk, Don’t Run” I must admit a healthy stab for a young kid but I was determined and after MANY months, I did it. Yeah, this music was/is FUN. A pure joy to listen to. Thanks for the sweet memories. Gotta close with my favorite, which you so rightly noted, “Pipeline” by The Chantays. Enjoy:

    • Hey Jimmy…..The truth is, I thought of you while writing the post. ” Walk Don’t Run.” An impressive stab for a young Newbie guitar slinger. Well Done ! And……As you know, The Ventures were the fiirst ( and maybe only) band to have TWO top 10 hits with two different versions of the same song. “Walk Don’t Run” ( released in 1960) and then “Walk Don’t Run ‘ 64″ Meanwhile, thank you for that great clip of ” Pipeline” from The Chantays. Asking someone what their favorite Surf record is like asking a parent who their favorite child is! But if I’m asked, The answer is always “Pipeline” Thank You Mr. Jimmy

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