Saturday, July 02, 2011
Reading the new book Surf Beat published by Backbeat. It's a good overview and I'm enjoying it so far. Lot's of little nuggets of info (Gold Star studio related in particular) even if there are a couple of odd errors like 'England's Johnny & The Hurricanes'. Not sure if the author meant to reference the magnificent Ohio group or just got them mixed up with Rory Storm's band? Also, this looks like some sort of in-between proofreadings state of the manuscript, and I thought my typing was crap! Quality control at Backbeat/Jawbone has really crashed in that respect. The book is divided into three waves of popular interest in instro/surf-inspired rock, something I don't really understand and which may not hold water for readers in Europe. It reminds me of the three waves of interest in ska music without more fuzzy dividing lines for the last two waves. Looking forward to getting to the later stuff like Honk and Corky Carroll's recordings. Yes, there were surf-influenced recordings made post 1964 and into the '70s, and some of them are the most interesting! I remember playing a Shadows best of CD as background for a gathering once, and a genuine surfer dude from back in the day commented later he liked the old syrf music, so that's how ingrained the idea of all late '50s and early '60s instrumental rock being surf music goes, but really it's not, and of course the Shadows were thee premiere English group up until the Beatles came along. The actual surfers of the era were into all kinds of music as it turns out anyway, and jazz in particular more so than rock & roll guitar stuff. But most people agree that Dick Dale is the epicenter of whatever surf music means to you. I look at it as he was inspired by his experiences surfing in creating effects on his Fender strat. There were other pop records with themes of beaches and water sports, but they are only honorable mentions in my book if not this current one.
As a kid growing up in 1970s Canada one major source of entertainment for me was my Dad's record collections. It was really more of an accumulation though; gifts from a DJ friend with a hole drilled through every label, or obsolete mono thrift shop finds. I was surrounded by seemingly everything from a nearly complete Wilf Carter discography to your cheesiest sophisticated lounge performer. While reading Surf Beat, a handful of Dad's records float to the surface of my memory. Foremost perhaps is the original Del-Fi Ritchie Valens LP, the one with the sparkly curtain background and back cover copy with the words "will continue". Ricardo Valensuela is still one of the most exciting rock & roll guitarists and singers I've ever heard! I must've played 'Come On Let's Go' from this album a hundred times. Along with a couple of singles from Eddie Cochran this is the music that really put California on my music map, that plus how Gene Vincent and Buck Owens recorded at Capitol studios in Hollywood. For further excitement I was also lucky to have access to not one but two all time classic surf albums from the crest of that first wave in 1963; 'The Ventures, Surfing' and 'Surfin' With The Astronauts'. After all this time I still don't think either has been bettered nor equaled for instrumentals evoking that liquid sound of summers never known. The Ventures were heavily represented in Dad's library of vinyl, but their lone surf themed album of mostly originals could well be their greatest achievement, one of a handful of perfect LPs ever made. Due to the presence of a couple not-so-inspired covers the Astronauts misses that perfect ten rating by a toe, but what a wonder their reverb drenched sound rising from mysterious black grooves was and still is to me! I feel lucky that the copies of these were great early stereo editions, the kind with too much separation, but all the better for me to focus on the individual elements! But mono had it's place too, like on the first beach Boys LP. Who needs stereo on a stomper like 'Surfin' (is the only life, the only life for me)'. Dating from 1962 this is more historically important than fully satisfying due to the presence of a few not so bitchin' tracks co-written with Gary Usher, although the presence of the aforementioned Eddie's 'Summertime Blues' makes up for it a little. Guitarists Carl Wilson and David Marks could shred when given a bit of room to; when David left the Boys got unbalanced in favor of the vocals as far as I'm concerned. Other records I had access to included Arthur Lyman Hawaiiana, but also a generally overlooked LP from the cheapie Crown label; 'Hawaiian Tattoo' by The Hawaiians, no doubt some generic California studio creation, had a killer uptempo lead guitar on 'Hawaiian War Chant'. There were also a couple of fascinating tracks on a tv spin-off various artists LP on ABC-Parmount, but maybe the Terorotua and His Tahitians tracks weren't actually recorded in Cali? They could authentic field recordings I suppose, but who ever is hammering on that hollow log could've taught even Mel Taylor a couple of things. These are the LPs reading Surf Beat brings to mind. In the book's definitions of first wave, second wave and third wave I guess I'm a 'didn't-catch-a-wave' as I latched onto the California instrumental sound all on my own schedule before any Nightriders or Pulp Fiction revivals. The only revival I was aware of was when fellow Canadians Shadowy Men From A Shadowy Planet burst upon the local University station's airwaves followed by Man Or Astroman.