July 31, 2021

The birth of surf music

Scene 1

The ticket cost 36 dollars. The aircraft was a 1947 Beechcraft 35 Bonanza. Its crew members had performed the night before, Monday, February 2, 1959, in the historic concert hall. Surf Ballroom, in the town of Clear Lake, Iowa, USA.

Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens y J. P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson, three rock and roll legends who screwed and played with that rhythm born in the hands of Chuck Berry, from Elvis presley, from Jerry Lee Lewis or, why not, of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, they sought to shorten one of the routes that the extensive tour had made eternal and exhausting.

The small aircraft, piloted by Roger Peterson, 21, took off in the middle of a small snowfall around 1 in the morning. Two hours later, she was reported missing and, around 9:35 a.m., she was found injured in a corn field just 6 miles from the airport. All its crew had died.

“The Day The Music Died”: this is how some media titled and this is how this date is remembered, a line that also immortalized Don McLean in his song “American Pie”, in which he sings to the event:

But February made me shiver
With every paper I’d deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn’t take one more step
I can’t remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
Something touched me deep inside
The day the music died

Scene 2

At 8 p.m., live from the city of New York, CBS broadcast a television program that condensed all kinds of shows: rock, opera, comedians, dancers and a long etcetera. Between 1948 and 1971 they went through the set of The Ed Sullivan Show from Elvis Presley to Salvador Dali, since James Brown even the puppet of the Top Gigio.

On February 9, 1964, as Efe Eme magazine recounted, the streets of New York and the United States were ghostly. That night, about 73 million people sat in front of their televisions to watch a performance by some Beatles tied and carefully groomed.

The anecdote is not minor. On the one hand was the landing of the beatlemania in the North American country and the start of a business that lasts to this day. On the other, it was to open a door through which they sneaked The Kinks, Rolling Stones, The Who and many other groupings that gave way to what is known as the British invasion, when bands from that part of the world dominated the charts in the US.


There are several journalists, documentaries and academics who have said that between that death in 1959 and the invasion of 1964, el rock and roll languideció. That it was a short hiatus in which, although things could be heating up, nothing significant emerged that would mark some kind of important myth within Western music.

It was not so. When the music died it exploded a revolution in california that it was going to have consequences in the folk-rock, an el punk, el grunge, and even in the heavy metal. Between the summer of ’60 and the winter of ’61, a variant of rock and roll was born that was mixed with the mythology of the tables in the sea. Unlike other US music such as blue grass, country western, Cajun, gospel, which originate in various territories in that country, this phenomenon was concentrated in a very specific geography: Southern California Beach Communities.

As the music journalist explains Kent Crowley, local surfers, like Robert Simmons, Hobie Alter y Dave Sweet, they built boards with light wood, polyurethane foam and covered them with waterproof fiberglass. Thus they transformed the elegant Hawaiian kings ritual in a sporty and popular Californian expression.

Surfers became the architects of a new culture in which surfers Baby Boomers, born after the Second World War, they took refuge to receive the first attack of the sexual revolution. All with the soundtrack of nascent local rock and roll groups that wanted to amuse their friends. The electric guitar became the lead singer in a large number of local and national hits from artists such as Link Wray, Duane Eddy, The Ventures o The Fireballs.

The fathers and mothers of the time, who lived through decades marked by deprivation, saw a new generation in dressed in bathing suits and with their sunburned skins as they explored and inspired their music in the waves that crash along the California coast.

Soon California surfers and musicians came together to celebrate this lifestyle: it went from surfing music, to surfing guitar, and later to surf music.

The musician and guitarist Richard Anthony Monsour, Better known as Dick Dale, as he expressed it: “Surf music is a defined style of heavy staccato picking with the fluid sound of a reverb unit to eliminate flat guitar tones and make notes seem endless. Very heavy guitar strings are used to elongate the sound of the vibrating strings, not the feedback qualities of an amp. It becomes a very deep combination of things that, when put together, spells real surf music. “.

Dale’s decisions when it comes to expressing this sound, also heavily influenced by drummers from big bands What Gene Krupa Y Buddy Rich, marked that impulse for the speed and dance characteristic of this new music. Dick Dale, with his band The Del-tones, turned synonymous with surf music.

The union of the guitarist with Leo Fender, from Fender Musical Instruments, He also gave it that brushstroke to finish defining its sound. Together they worked closely for several years experimenting until they developed the Fender Reverb Unit, a device that gave the guitar a wet sound. The guitar amp, dubbed Fender Showman, was introduced in 1960 and its production continued until 1993, marking a milestone in the history of music. They were also devices that gave greater accessibility, portability and flexibility, allowing young people to bypass the expensive and complex public address system of the time.

All of these changes were tested by the Rendezvous Ballroom, a large ballroom built in 1928, located on the beach of the peninsula of Balboa in county of Orange. Hundreds of young people arrived there every weekend in the fall and winter of 1961. There they danced until they were propped up in history.

The discos in Hollywood, and in Orange County itself, they did not yet exist, as it was not until 1964 that they began to proliferate, especially due to the musical explosion that the British invasion brought. Thus, the surf bands played in schools, civic auditoriums, armories of the National Guard, convention centers and some dance halls. Places like the Clerks Union Hall Retail Auditorium in Buena Park, the Pavalon Ballroom in Huntington Beach, the Harmony Park Ballroom in Anaheim and the Marina Palace in Seal Beach, the Lido Ballroom in Long Beach and the Palladium in Hollywood were epicenters of surf music. .

But if at first the guitar was the guide of thousands of young garage bands, it was a matter of time before a group arrived to give it a voice. In late 1961, the Beach Boys they released their first single Surfin’, in which they gave words to the lifestyle of southern California -although that first piece took on other sound elements. Dale was relegated to the background and that vocal mold, full of harmonies, ended up capturing the essence of adolescence in this part of the world. A mold that reached other areas of the country and crossed the ocean. There other groups appeared like Dan & Dean Y Bruce & Terry.

Despite everything, the national acceptance of surfing was difficult. Also, between the peak of its popularity in the summer of 1963 and its disappearance some years later, music was hit by political, cultural and musical events that contributed to its decline: the assassination of John F. Kennedy spread a dark cloud over fun; The vietnam war it increased a more political and social reaction; the watts riots, between August 11 and 17, 1965 in Los Angeles, they revealed the persistent inequality between the black and white population and the tensions that existed. The idealism on which the image projected by surf music was eroded.

In addition, the arrival of the Beatles and the rise of Motown, the American record company specializing in African-American music, radically changed musical taste in 1965. Bands in California reacted to the new offer and the sound moved away from the beach dream. Even in the late 1960s and early 1970s, artists forged in the crucible of surfing recoiled from the accusation that they were making surf music.

This sound resurfaced twice, in the late 70s and early 90s, perhaps the soundtrack of Pulp fiction (1994), from Quentin Tarantino, had something to do with that boom. Artists such as Dick Dale, Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, Lively Ones, Chantays, Eddie & the Showmen, Blazers, Dave Myers & the Surftones, Adrian & the Sunsets.

Today that primitive and sensual sound, the first genre around a sport that spawned a list of guitarists who led this instrument to be the star of rock and roll, is revisited by music lovers from all over the world. Its sound continues to chase ears and lead to dance on the crest of the night. The beach is reborn as a horizon every time it rings.