And You'll Never Hear Surf Music Again
It doesn't seem strange that the "King of the Surf Guitar" Dick Dale (Richard Anthony Monsour) was born in Boston and raised in Quincy,Mass. Nor that his father was born in Beirut and his maternal grandparents arrived in the U.S. from Poland. Nor that the first musical instrument he played was the tarabaki, a goblet drum he played under his arm while his Lebanese relatives belly-danced. Dick Dale is credited with introducing Middle Eastern influences to surf music in the form of rapid alternating picking and fast scales. “It's the pulsation, that drumming beat I learned by playing the tarabaki” A multi-instrumentalist, young Richard gravitated towards the guitar and surfing once his family moved cross country to El Segundo, Ca. while he was still in high school.
A common misconception is that Dick Dale's unique sound was the result of his Stratocaster played through “wet” spring reverb while using the vibrato arm to bend the pitch of notes downward. The reverb and rapid tremolo picking worked for others, but that wasn't Dale's style. In Ben Marcus' book “Surfing, an illustrated history of the coolest sport of all time” He laid those misconceptions to rest “I surfed sun up to sun down, I don't claim to be a musician, I didn't go to Julliard. I'm into just chopping, chopping at 60 gauge, 50 gauge strings. That's the sound, the sound of the waves chopping. The surfing is not the reverb. So when historians... so called historians, say reverb is the surf sound, they don't know what they're talking about.”
Dick Dale met Leo Fender in 1959 as he was transitioning away from his old repertoire of songs which Gordon McClelland described as “mostly rhythm & blues, funky cowboy music and just a bit of surf music” (An apt description as Dale favored jazz and country, citing Gene Krupa as his biggest influence) Problem was, Dick was pushing his equipment to its limit and simply couldn't duplicate on his guitar the sound he heard in his head. Leo Fender came up with a solution, an early prototype spring reverb unit that combined with Dick's signature staccato picking and heavy guitar strings allowed him to emulate the sound of the waves he heard while surfing. Another problem Dale had was that he kept blowing the amps that Fender gave him, trying to play over the noise of 4,000 stoked up surfers at the surfer stomps that he helped promote.
Out of desperation, Leo Fender went to JBL, a pioneering loudspeaker design company and asked for fifteen inch speakers built to his specifications. The result was the 15” JBL D130F better known as the Single Showman Amp (which Dick Dale still uses to this day) Another note of interest is that Dick Dale being left handed played his Stratocaster upside down and backwards, rather than re-stringing (Jimi Hendrix another famous left handed guitarist took that route) This adaptation amused Leo Fender to no end. But that technique, born out of necessity, only served to enhance Dick Dale's signature sound and his growing reputation. Paul Johnson, guitarist for the Belairs was duly impressed the first time he heard Dick play “The tone of Dale's guitar was bigger than any I had ever heard and his blazing technique was something to behold. His music was incredibly dynamic”
As early as 1957 Jan Berry was experimenting with different vocal techniques at his makeshift home studio in Westwood. His University H.S. class mates Dean Torrance and Arnie Ginsburg worked along with him until Torrance left for a stint in the Army Reserves. Jan Berry's first taste of success came in 1958 with "Jennie Lee" (a song about Hollywood stripper Virginia Lee Hicks, the “Bazoom Girl” best known for her strategically placed spinning tassels) Though Dean had worked on the song before his departure, it was credited to Jan and Arnie, peaking at #8 on the Billboard chart. Dean Torrance returned in 1959 and Ginsburg was drafted into the Army, giving rise to Jan and Dean.
"Baby Talk" released that year was a Top Ten hit. Sporting blonde flat tops, white bucks and Pat Boone sweaters, Jan and Dean were still far removed from the surf scene. Brian Wilson would claim that "Baby Talk" inspired him to write music, while Jan Berry said he was equally inspired by the Beach Boys' sound. Either way it wasn't until Jan & Dean recorded "Surf City" (two Girls for every boy!) in 1963 that they came to be associated with surf music. Surf City, a collaboration between Brian Wilson and Jan Berry, went all the way to #1. That break would lead to Jan and Dean scoring an impressive string of Top 40 hits, prior to the car accident that left Jan Berry with serious brain injuries in 1966.
Wilson's father Murry, who was also the band's manager, was irate about the song, believing that Brian had given away a number one record which could have gone to the Beach Boys. Brian took it in stride “I was proud of the fact that another group had a #1 hit with a song I had written.... but dad would hear none of it... he called Jan a record pirate” The three Wilson brothers (Brian, Carl and Dennis) grew up in Hawthorne, Ca. under the tutelage of their overbearing and abusive father. The brothers, their cousin Mike Love and class mate Al Jardine, honed their vocal skills during sessions held in Brian's bedroom. Creating a vocal style that would give voice to a genre that up until then had been mostly instrumental.
Originally known as the Pendletones (they all wore matching Pendleton plaid shirts, the kind now favored by cholos) Their first session took place at Bob Keen's recording studio (of Ritchie Valens fame) and resulted in Surfin' the band's first single release in late 1961. To the boys' chagrin when they opened the first box of singles (on the Candix label) the band had been renamed as The Beach Boys (Murry claimed it was because there was already a group called the Pendletones, while in reality he had suggested a name change, though his choice was The Surfers) Surfin' stalled at #74 on the national charts, though the following sessions would be more productive.
Their next single Surfin' Safari released in 1962 made it to #14 in the U.S. While the b-side 409 topped out at #76, putting hot rod music on the musical map for the first time. The follow up single, Ten Little Indians limped in at #49. This set the stage for The Beach Boys' break out year, 1963, which saw them release three Top 10 singles (Surfin' USA, Surfer Girl, Be True to Your School) and three more Top 40 singles (Shut Down, Little Deuce Coupe, In My Room) Number one still eluded them, which caused Murry Wilson no small amount of consternation, but without a doubt, surf music had arrived on the scene.
Brian Wilson had his finger on SoCal's teenage pulse, equally proficient at writing about surfing, hot rods or teen angst in a style not that different from Eddie Cochran's. He accompanied his operatic tales with music inspired by (some would say stolen from) Chuck Berry. Mike Love, often written off as the guy with the receding hairline, was as vital to the band's success as Brian himself. Mike Love collaborated with Brian on the majority of the group's songs and it was Mike's vocal style, a deliberately unhurried SoCal drawl that nailed down the Beach Boy's surfer aesthetic. Love however was resistant to change, especially once Brian declared that he was finished with surfing music in 1964.
Brian Wilson was without a doubt America's premier pop composer and the best was yet to come. Today it's hard to remember that The Beach Boys were once cutting edge, and not just an oldies band led by some asshole in a baseball cap. Leadership of the group fell to Mike Love, once Brian came undone. Starting with Pet Sounds (which was viewed as Brian's solo album) Cousin Mike grew paranoid that the others would see their roles diminished and he opposed most of Brian's more progressive musical ideas, insisting that Brian "not fuck with the formula" In the end, mostly by default, Love would get his way and The Beach Boys became an insipid novelty act.
"Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot...... there'll never be another Camelot again… It will never be that way again."
Jacqueline Lee "Jackie" Kennedy 1963
If you're of a certain age, you know exactly where you were on Nov. 22nd 1963. On that day I found myself on the school playground. For reasons unbeknownst to us, recess never ended. We just kept galloping and tussling until it dawned on us that something wasn't right. That's when I noticed the playground monitor smoking a cigarette, a scarf tied around her head, wearing a black leather jacket and dark Ray bans. She seemed oblivious to her surrounding, lost deep in thought. A teacher smoking on the playground wasn't out of the ordinary in those days.... but the tears streaming out from behind her sunglasses were. Other teachers approached, all were crying. They seemed unsure of what to tell the growing crowd of children around them. Finally one teacher spoke up “President Kennedy is dead, he was shot in Dallas, Tx.” we looked around at each other, “Que dijo?” one kid asked. Another boy translated for him “They killed the President” puzzled the kid then asked in Spanish “Who, the president of Mexico?” “No stupid, our president” the translator replied.
A few minutes before 1:00 p.m. CST, Ft. Dallas radio station KXOL interrupted “I Have a Boyfriend” by The Chiffons to report that the presidential motorcade had been fired upon at Dealey Plaza and that more reports were forthcoming. The next song cued up was “Everybody” by Tommy Roe which played in its entirety. An ad for Hamms beer ran before the next news update. “I'm Leaving It (all) Up To You” by Dale & Grace was the #1 song in the country that day and reportedly a Dallas station was playing the song at the exact moment that gunshots were fired. “You decide what you're gonna do, now do you want my love.... or are we through”
"Guitar groups are on their way out, Mr Epstein."
On November 18, 1963 NBC’s evening news program, The Huntley-Brinkley Report, aired a four-minute segment on the Beatles. The same day, Newsweek ran a one-page article: "Beatlemania" On the morning of November 22, 1963, The CBS Morning News With Mike Wallace ran a story on the Beatles for the network’s morning news show. CBS planned to repeat the segment that evening on Walter Cronkite’s newscast. Pre-empted by the JFK tragedy, the segment aired Dec. 10, 1963 on the CBS Evening News. Across the pond on November 22, 1963 “With The Beatles”, was released in the U.K., rising to No. 1 on the British album charts and remaining there for 21 weeks. “With The Beatles” becomes the Beatles’ first million-selling album. Thus it was, that in late November as America mourned the death of a president, a joyous noise oblivious to our sorrow sprang forth.
There had been a handful of U.S. Releases. In Jan.1963, Vee Jay records of Chicago obtained a contract to release a limited number of Beatles recordings in the U.S. They followed through with Please Please Me/ Ask Me Why on Feb. 25th. By March, it reached the #35 spot at Chicago station WLS, but failed to chart nationally. Undaunted, Vee Jay put out From Me To You/ Thank You Girl on May 27th. It stalled at #116. Swan Records a Philadelphia label, released She Loves You/ I'll Get You on Sept. 16th. it failed to chart. WLS of Chicago was far and away the first U.S. radio station to play Please Please Me, spinning it just days after its release. By April, KFXM in San Bernardino, Ca. And WQAM in Miami both included Please Please Me in their weekly polls. KNUZ in Houston and KEWB in San Francisco added Please Please Me to their charts in May.
*In June 1963, WFRX in West Frankfort, Ill. Received a copy of From Me to You from George Harrison's older sister Louise, who lived in nearby Benton. Louise promoted the Beatles to any media outlet that would listen; bear in mind the group was unknown in the United States at the time. She petitioned radio and TV stations, sent letters, made calls, wrote Beatles manager Brian Epstein lengthy letters advising how to break the band into America. In late Sept.'63. The Beatles were topping the UK charts and due for a holiday. With the break, George planned a trip to visit his older sister, initially with Ringo, who, after learning that Louise had arranged a local TV appearance, begged off, saying, "If she's going to make us work, I'm not going." And so it was that George Harrison, along with brother Peter, stepped off a plane at Lambert Field in St. Louis and became the first Beatle to set foot on American soil. And no one cared.
“There were no throngs of screaming, frenzied young girls, no gang of reporters, no legions of police, no limo. Instead, there was a twenty-year-old British traveler with a strange haircut holding his bags, standing at his designated meeting spot beneath a replica of Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, waiting for his ride. Louise, the self-appointed, ever-networking queen of Beatles promo, hooked her brother up with the hottest band in Southern Illinois, the Four Vests, a move that resulted in another historic moment: He was the first Beatle to play onstage in America. Down the road in West Frankfort. At VFW Post 3479. Interestingly, Harrison — a decade younger than the Vests — had enough material in common with the band to fill 90 minutes onstage. And nary a Beatles tune was played.”
*excerpt from Riverfront Times article “Beatles Sister Louise Harrison Departs the Midwest After 50 Odd and Entertaining Years” written by Peter Gilstrap Mar 18th 2015
In late November, KOIA in Des Moines, Iowa started playing I Saw Her Standing There and I Want to Hold Your Hand from a copy of “With the Beatles” owned by a student. Dec. 18th. Carroll James at WWDC in Washington D.C. Played a copy of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” that was hand delivered by an airline stewardess flying in from London. Capitol Records having just obtained all future rights to Beatles recordings, ordered WWDC to stop playing the song, then reversed the order and started rushing production in a push to have some vinyl out before Christmas day. Footnote: Del Shannon's 1963 cover of “From Me to You” has the distinction of being the first Lennon & McCartney song covered by an American artist... many more would follow.
The bombora of British Invasion bands that followed in the wake of Beatlemania pitted everything that had come before it. By the summer of 1964, the musical landscape of the U.S. was radically different from that of the previous summer when baggies and huaraches were in vogue. Brian Wilson inspired by Lennon & McCartney, shucked his trunks, dusted off his hands and declared surf music dead to him. It wasn't of course, even without the Beach Boys, surf music kept rolling in just like the waves at Haggerty's and Swami's. Surf music stuck around until 1966 when the advent of flower power pretty much killed it. As everyone knows; Hippies don't surf. Surfing culture was suddenly the very definition of square, although those shoobies just loved them some Sha Na Na......