Making Memories with Rock and Roll and Doo Wop

Making Memories with Rock and Roll and Doo Wop

Jul 31, 2017

“Let’s go surfin now, everybody’s learnin how, come on a safari with me…” The Beach Boys

Of all the various trends and fads that influence the younger generation there is only one that transcends from a sport to music. While surfing is not a new sport, it is, or was, in the dawn of 1960, a relatively new way of life. Surfing came to California by way of Hawaii. Wave riding had been a past time for two thousand years but found its way to Huntington Beach in 1914 when George Freeth would become the first surfer to catch a wave on an eight-foot piece of wood.

The Surf Craze

The surfer was different. They mastered the big waves with a custom surfboard, dressed differently and created their own language, (who could forget: ‘Ho-Dad, Skeg, Woody, Gremmie, Hotdoggen, Shootin the Pier, Walkin the Board and Goofy Footin’?) But it was the dancing and music that would create a new lifestyle that would be emulated in the words of songs and finally reach Hollywood and the film industry.

Surfing was a talent that not everyone could master. It is an elevator ride where you fall off a wave with water sliding down your board. If you try to control it, you will lose your way. If you just let it ride itself, it is an incredible feeling.

Surf Music – Dick Dale

The origin of “surf music” can be directly attributed to Dick Dale and his band, The Del-Tones. Growing up in Southern California and specifically the Newport Beach area, Dick Dale created a unique sound and style. As the “King of the Surf Guitar,” Dale set up shop on the Newport Peninsula at an old dance hall called The Rendezvous Ballroom. Since 1928 big band greats Tommy Dorsey, Stan Kenton, Artie Shaw, Gene Krupa and Woody Herman had all gone before him. No one packed 2500 kids in a hall to do the “Surfer’s Stomp” like Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. All on a 12,000 square foot hardwood dance floor. The Rendezvous Ballroom burned down in 1935 and was rebuilt. Coincidently, it burned again in 1966 and never reopened. The site is now home to condominiums that are directly on the sand of the Balboa Peninsula. All that is left is a commemorative plaque with a very fitting inscription, the memories linger on…

Dick Dale was unique in many ways. He played the guitar left handed without reversing the strings, and also doubled on trumpet and drums. He utilized electronic reverberation, the altering of sound to provide a type of echo effect, developing a portable device with the help of Leo Fender of “Fender Instruments” in Santa Ana/Fullerton. With a Fender Showman amplifier and ‘reverb’ he captured a sensation as if the guitar was being played wet or under water.

Instrumentals were almost non-existent. Dale would change that as well with “Let’s Go Trippin,” his first recording and what should be considered as the very first surf record. Waiting off stage by just a few months were the likes of Jan and Dean, The Beach Boys and a host of “me too” bands, including your author. It was his use of tremolo in “Miserlou” that separated Dale from all others. The song still shakes the walls and makes you stomp your feet!

He truly is the King of the Surf Guitar.

To give our readers an idea of the overall impact of Surf music, one need only look at the fact that the Beach Boys music became the musical backdrop for the Joffrey Ballet.

The music was an expression of the surfing lifestyle. It was a means of describing what it was like being a teenager and growing up in Southern California.

The Beach Boys

The South Bay of Los Angeles County comprises Palos Verdes, Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, El Segundo, Torrance and Hawthorne. It was Hawthorne High School that would spawn the Beach Boys with the Wilson brothers, Brian, Dennis and Carl, along with cousin Mike Love and Al Jardine. When the brothers announced they were forming a band and going to do “surf music,” one of their classmates, Ezekiel Montenez, joked that “hey, you guys don’t even surf! I surf and you don’t. Can I join in?” Wanting to keep it a family affair, Brian declined. Ezekiel would not tell anyone, but he had just recorded a song for an obscure record company and would soon be known as Chris Montez with his hit, “Let’s Dance.” As a footnote, Dennis Wilson did surf and drowned in the process.

While the Beach Boys are still doing their 50th anniversary tour with a few new members, the sounds of “Surfin” is still with us. Their astonishing harmonies embody a happy ‘So Cal’ that engulfed an entire nation. Everyone wanted to know a “Surfer Girl,” and knew that “California Girls,” were the cutest and best looking athletic charmers. Eastern teenagers had their turf of ‘Jersey’, ‘the Bronx’ or ‘Queens,’ but So Cal had cars, girls, surfing and drive-in restaurants.

The Movies and Surfing

It would not be long before Hollywood figured out that the surfing era was fertile ground for movie making. After all, we had the perfect set in our own backyard, the ocean. The book “Gidget: The Little Girl with Big Ideas” would spawn a series of movies, and Teen Queen Sandra Dee would become the first “Gidget” that would depict the surfing craze, the music, and the loves. There would be six movies ranging from “Gidget goes Hawaiian, Gidget Goes to Rome, Gidget Grows Up, Gidget Gets Married”, and finally, “Gidget’ s Summer Reunion.” While various actresses would portray Gidget, there was really only one; Sandra Dee. Frankie Avalon would sing Annette’s praises with surf music in the background throughout “Beach Blanket Bingo.” The only challenges for teenagers was what to wear, catching the next wave, and holding on to your girlfriend/boyfriend.

Jan Berry and Dean Torrence would hook up in the studio and create somewhat of a copycat sound of the Beach Boys, but with their tacit approval. After all, they were all friends and loved So Cal. “Jan and Dean” would talk about “Surf City,” and “Ride the Wild Surf,” and Dead Man’s Curve.” The Beach Boys would counter with “Surfin USA,” and “Surfer Girl.”

Surf Instrumentals

It was the instrumentals from various So Cal regional bands that would carry the day with surf music. While obscure to the rest of the nation, The Lively Ones (Surf Rider), Eddie and the Showmen, The Sunsets (Blue Love and Latin Surfer), Astronauts (Baja), Rhythm Rockers, Surfaris, Chanteys and the Tornadoes (Bustin Surfboards) would recreate the surf craze each weekend at every teen age dancing spot from San Diego to Ventura. It was not until the movie “Pulp Fiction,” by Quinten Tarrentino in 1994 that the anthem for surf music would be resurrected in “Miserlou.” Used as the opening song, Dick Dale’s staccato style trademark accented a period movie that brought the music back, just one more time.

From Santa Ana High School, the Chanteys would counter with “Pipeline,” a surfing term used to depict hiding inside the curl of a wave. Other notable surfing songs included ”Surfer’s Stomp” by the Mar-Kets, and “Rumble,” by Link Wray and the Wraymen.

Other vocal groups came on the scene to briefly take advantage of the musical lament called surf music. The Happenings with, “New York’s a Lonely Town, (When You’re the Only Surfer Boy Around),” The Regents and the Beach Boys each had medium hits with the same song about, “Barbara Ann,” but the Regents version would get the nod for the movie soundtrack for American Graffiti. “I Live For the Sun,” by none other than the Sun Rays, with Glenn Campbell on guitar, was a one-hit wonder and even Roy Orbison, in his last album, saluted the waves with “Windsurfer.”

Surf music was to have a very small window in the scheme of the industry, but it was profound and lasting for many of the groups. Dick Dale is still performing around the country as is Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean (Jan passed away in 2004). Dean was instrumental in the City of Huntington Beach being labeled “Surf City” after the song he and Jan wrote.

To give our readers an idea of the overall impact of Surf music, one need only look at the fact that the Beach Boys music became the musical backdrop for the Joffrey Ballet.

The music was an expression of the surfing lifestyle. It was a means of describing what it was like being a teenager and growing up in Southern California.

Joe D

Making Your Memories is a commentary on the music of the 1950’s and early 60’s. “Joe D” is an on-air talent for Orange County based KSBR FM 88.5 and is host of “MAKING YOUR MEMORIES” Sunday nights at 10PM. He is also author of “Making Your Memories With Rock & Roll and  Doo Wop - -The Music and Artists of the 1950’s and early 60’s.” For info, visit www.making-your-memories.com

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