‘Blasts Of The Pasts’ is a series of articles brought to you by the Inland Empire Musicians Hall of Fame (IEMHOF), a group that documents and recognizes the musical tapestry of the Inland Empire. The IEMHOF hopes to preserve the musical history of the IE by building an archive of recordings, photographs, and memorabilia that begins with the 1940’s, a collection which would be accessible by any musician and researcher.
In early 60’s Southern California, if you were in high school band, playing guitar, drums, saxophone, or piano, there was a good chance that you also had a gig in a local surf band. Every local high school seemed to have at least three, as they battled for jobs at the many school dances held at the time. They played a brand of instrumental music featuring a primal drum beat, reverb laden guitars, and a “wailing” sax. The music was so aggressive that the dance of the day was called the “Surfers Stomp.”
Instrumental music had long been a staple of the 1950’s emerging rock and roll scene. Performers such as Duane Eddy, the Ventures, Johnny and the Hurricanes, and solo artists like Dave “Baby” Cortez and Preston Epps, had hit the charts without vocals. These artists paved the way for a different type of instrumental music called Surf music.
Surf music featured a “wet” sound that connected with the sport of surfing and the movement of large, thundering, mighty waves. A pioneer of Surf was Dick Dale, “King of the Surf Guitar”. Dale developed a sound that incorporated past guitar sounds but also included Middle Eastern and Mexican influences. Dale’s guitar style included an alternate picking style from Arab music. His sound may have also come from the fact he played the guitar left handed, upside down, and did not reverse the strings as other southpaw guitarists had done.
Dick developed an early relationship with Leo Fender, and gave input to the famous guitar manufacturer as to what he required in both guitars and amplifiers. Fender would end up producing an amplifier with built in reverb, along with a stand alone reverb unit that became a standard in the industry. Fender also improved the electric bass that was also seen in surf bands. We encourage you to visit the Fender Museum in Corona, CA.
Another factor that increased the popularity of Surf Music was the proliferation of Surf shows on television and in the media. Nothing like the sound of a reverb laden escalating guitar riff could match the visual image of a surfer “dropping” into a Makaha giant or momentarily disappearing into a Pipeline “tube.” Filmmaker Bruce Brown toured around Southern California, including San Bernardino’s Pacific High School, showing his latest Surf film on a large screen, accompanied by the latest surf sounds.
Dale would tour Southern California, appearing Friday and Saturday at regular venues. The most famous is the Rendezvous’ Ballroom in Balboa, but he also appeared at the Riverside Armory in Fairmount Park, and San Bernardino’s Municipal Auditorium. The ‘King of the Surf Guitar’ would continue to play into his 70’s, but recently passed away in Loma Linda, at the age of 81.
Surf music has been classified into two major forms: instrumental and vocal. Purists argue that surf music is only instrumental with an occasional shout out like, “Let’s Go Tripping, or Wipeout.” They contend that Vocal Surf is only pop music with lyrics about surfing life. This is not to diminish the distinctive sounds of the Beach Boys and the popularity of Jan and Dean, among others. There is just no way smooth, choreographed harmonies could match the raw energy of gnarly guitars, a driving bass, throbbing drums, and a three foot set from the north at Tin Can Beach (Bolsa Chica).
As soon as conditions permit, the Inland Musicians Hall of Fame will schedule a performance of a live concert at the Garcia Center for the Arts. Performances will feature live Surf Music, guest speakers, and fond memories of the Golden Age of Surf Music.
This article was written by Greg Eckler, President of the IEMHOF. Greg started as a drummer in the Tornados, a surf band from Rialto’s Eisenhower High School, between 1963 and 1964. Greg has had a lifetime career in music and has played in such notable bands as the Tokens, Rick Nelson, Jon and the Nightriders, and Gospel Blues Artist Darrell Mansfield. Greg is the visionary behind the Inland Empire Musicians’ Hall of Fame, established to increase awareness of the region’s rich rock & roll, R&B and blues heritage; document its history and provide recognition for countless musicians who were & are a part of its musical tapestry.
Learn more about IE Musicians Hall of Fame by going to facebook.com/groups/iemhof/.