Surf Music or Not Surf Music

Update: listening to an informative video about Surf Music, made by a guy in Southern California – aiming his efforts at students, and referring to the global phenomenon of Rock Instrumentals as inspired by Surf Music – only making an exception for The Shadows, I think it’s important to point out that the european, asian and australian groups singularly mention The Shadows as their influence. One can assume they were also listening to the other early Rock’n’Roll instrumentals by Duane Eddy or Bill Justis. The only major exception is Japan, where the Eleki bands were inspired by american Bands like The Ventures and The Astronauts.


In recent years I realized a growing confusion about what would be called Surf music, so this post is my attempt to help bring order to the chaos for the interested. To keep things simple I will stay with 1960s guitar led instrumental Rock’n’Roll. When I got into this music, my peers and I could hear the differences of the regional variants. These all developed from 50s Rock’n’Roll, but the local scenes had distinct musical styles and sounds. Of course there’s the ocassional band or release that is blurring the edges. I do like those in particular, but to make my point I will present genuine examples. I will mention some outstanding bands of each genre, post links to YouTube videos examplifying the genre in question and list gear-wise cornerstones.


Much has been written about Surf’s history and I would like to refer you to the writings of Domenic Priore (Los Angeles Pop Culture historian), Bob Dalley (collected articles and interviews with first wave, SoCal Surf bands in his book Surfin’ Guitars) and John Blair (author of The Illustrated Discographie of Surf Music 1961 – 1965). There’s also tons of worthwhile info on Phil Dirt’s website Reverb Central. Surf is the single musical genre to exploit the spring reverb unit to the extreme, sometimes with three reverbed guitars playing different parts of an arrangement, creating the trademark splashy, dripping wet sound. This kind of reverb effect is seldomly heard in other musical styles, but can be found on the drum tracks of 1970s dub reggae recordings. With the connection to mid century surfing culture came influences from abroad in the form of Flamenco melodies, Polynesian inspired Exotica tunes and jungle mood drumming.


USA with the center being in Southern California
also Australia (mixing American energy with Euro echos)

strictly speaking the first wave was 1961 – 1965

Dick Dale & The Del-Tones
The Livey Ones
The Astronauts
The Chantays
The Bel-Airs
The Surfaris

Fender Jaguar
Fender Jazzmaster
Fender Stratocaster
Fender Basses
Fender amps (Showman, Dual-Showman, Bandmaster, Bassman, Tremolux)
Fender outboard reverb unit

The Astronauts – Firewater
Meshugga Beach Party – Hava Nagila / Miserlou
The Illusions – Nite-Mare
The Pyramids – Bikini Drag
The Safaris – Lonely Surf Guitar
The Atlantics – Bombora

Indo Rock

The bands had 2-3 guitars, electric bass and drums. The guitar sound was usually dry, played directly into Fender piggy-back amps. The Tielman Brothers experimented with tunings and extra strings, and used two Fender Bass VI for a while, tuned as a baritone and a six-string bass. Despite their indonesian heritage these bands didn’t sound as exotic as one could expect. The major influence in repertoire and delivery is American Rock’n’Roll. However, part of the instro repertoire was european folk songs rocked-up. The Indo acts featured vocals as often as instrumentals. The unconventional handling of the guitars and the showmanship were their most unique assets.


home country the Netherlands
touring Western Europe during the 1960s

mainly late 50s to mid 60s

The Tielman Brothers
The Javalins

Fender Jazzmaster
Fender Bass VI
Gibson Les Pauls (Tielmans) and various Euro brand guitars in the early years
Fender piggy-back amps (see Surf)

Electric Johnny & The Sky Rockets – Gitarren spielt auf
Oety & his Real Rockers – Sway
The Revolts – Pelita
The Javalins – Al Capone
The Tielman Brothers – Schwarze Augen


Like all asian countries Japan has a long history of stringed instruments. Rock’n’Roll took a while to establish itself in Japan, with Swing and various Latin styles being more popular during the 1950s. The Japanese passion in adopting new technolgies and in turn starting native production lead to a host of homegrown electric guitar brands such as Teisco, Yamaha, Ibanez and Aria. The term Eleki is apparently derived from the english word electric. When The Ventures visited Japan in the mid 1960s something clicked there. The four piece’s style and musicianship proved very inspiring to the local guitar-men and they in turn managed to record some of the most dramatic and powerful electric guitar pieces de resisténce in history.



mid to late 60s

Takeshi Terauchi & The Bunnys
Terry & The Blues Jeans
The Sharp 5

Fender Jaguar
Fender Basses
Fender amps
Yamaha guitars
Mosrite Ventures model guitars
Guyatone amps and effects

Takeshi Terauchi & The Bunnys
Takeshi Terauchi & The Blue Jeans
Growing up in post-war Japan

Asia Á Go-Go Instrumentals

For some reason Singapore and Hong-Kong stand out with their instrumental recordings. The other south east asian countries like Cambodia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Macao or the Philipines favored vocal recordings, but the odd instrumental can be found there as well. The bands often had electric organ, tape echo units, glockenspiel or vibraphon to enhance the exotic, guitar led melodies. Their melodies are more meandering than Rock’n’Roll ones and seem to be rooted more or less in traditional music. The beat is often popular local dance rhythms like the Hala-Hala, the Soul (also slow Soul), the A-Go-Go and the Off-Beat Cha-Cha. The last one is very similar to the Jamaican Ska or Blue-Beat.



mid 60s to mid 70s

The Stylers
The Quests
The Fabulous Falcons
White Cloud Orchestra
The Trailers
The Silver Stones
Maurice Patton & The Melodians

Höfner guitars and basses
Fender Jaguar
Fender Stratocaster
Fender Basses
Fender amps (Showman, Dual-Showman, Bandmaster, Bassman, Tremolux)
combo organs
tape echo units

The Stylers
The Telstar Combo
White Cloud Orchestra
The Sparklers

European Rock Instrumentals

Cliff Richard’s band The Shadows started something big over here. They had Fender Stratocasters before anybody else and used the first Vox amps coupled with tube-tape echo units to create one incredibly beautiful sound. As could be expected, most countries or regions had their own variety of this RI recipe, but they still can be put into the same pot. Whether it’s Finnish Rautalanka, Norwegian Piggtrad or Czech Big Beat – in the end they are more similar than not. Just like Surf, this sound had a second wave in the early 80s, but it was only realized by a tight knit collectors scene. Some recordings, like The Scorpions from England, sound very American, while others, like The Rowdies from Belgium, sound rather Australian. Forces Networks and international AM radio stations did wonders for hopeful European Rock Instrumental composers. There were also waves of eastern, classical and folk-song themed records.


United Kingdom
European mainland

late 50s to late 60s

The Shadows
The Spotnicks
The Tornadoes
The Sputniks
The Jokers
Ensemble Sincron
Les Fantomes
Los Electricks

Fender Stratocaster
Fender Jazzmaster
various Euro brands (Egmond, Höfner, Framus, Eko)
Vox, Selmer, Dynacord amps
echo tape units by Dynacord, Echolette, Meazzi and Vox among others

Ellert Nordmark
The Moontrekkers
The Twangies
The Jumping Jewels
Cees & his Skyliners
Los Sonor
Sreburnite Grivni

Latin American Instros

This huge landmass is hard to pin down in regards to stylistic classification. What I have heard from there takes the toughness and dynamics of the American sound and mixes them with Euro qualities like flowing, sentimental melodies. The gear sounds very north American.

Los Belkings playing Theme for Young Lovers

Biker Exploitation Movie Soundtracks

This can easily be summed with one name: Davie Allan. He left his earliest Surf stylings behind when he discovered the sound of the fuzz guitar and recorded loads of American International exploitation movie soundtracks until around 1970. He is still recording and playing live, and lost none of his bite and instinct for brooding, moody and exciting melodies.


Mosrite doubleneck “Joe Maphis Model”
modified Fender Jazzmaster
Mosrite Fuzzbox
modern distortion unit (maybe a Rat)

Davie Allan & the Arrows

The Pioneers

These musicians played instrumental Rock’n’Roll before anybody else. They kept going through the 60s, in some cases until today and actually moved very close to the Surf sound with some recordings in the early 1960s. But after all these excursions made up one or two albums in their much bigger back catalogues.

The Ventures
Sandy Nelson
Duane Eddy
Link Wray
Johnny & the Hurricanes

Here’s a Grain of Sea-Salt

So why was it easier to learn details about these somewhat similar styles of music, identifying a sound with the correctly matching name, before the internet? Seems backwards, right? You have to keep in mind that on the internet everybody can put a label on everything. This is the main cause of mixing up historical, regional styles.

To us on the other hand it was easier to distinguish, because the sounds came from very different sources. Let me explain. In Germany you would see Ricky King on TV, hear The Shadows on the radio, read about Indo Rock in a hipster magazine but hardly ever saw any records. Surf was a genre you did find records of in shops, mostly second wave and compilations, and on record conventions with crates full of original, vintage vinyl. Eleki was only on the radar of jaded and wealthy collectors and the Hong-Kong/Singapore bands were practically unknown.

When somebody played a record to you he knew what it was. All these musical styles have been given names by people. These names made sense to them, for one reason or another. Trying to change names of historical styles in retrospect is laughable and unjustified.

I never understood what the movie King Kong had to do with 1930s’ New York. I always thought it had a strong Godzilla vibe to it.

– Tintin Quarantino

One Question Remains

Why of all the different styles is it Surf’s name that keeps being attached to the others? Eleki would make more sense for a generalization, after all they’re all being played on electric guitars. Or the the term Rock Instrumentals (or short RI) as used by such pioneering british zines like Pipeline and New Gandy Dancer.

The answer has two parts. The internet is US dominated and it was a Hollywood movie bringing instrumental Rock back into the general mainstream consciousness in the mid-nineties. The tracks chosen in Pulp Fiction happened to be Surf. Understandably people in the mainstream, not knowing the variety inside the field that is Rock Instrumentals, think the meanings of Surf and RI are interchangeable,.

Second, it’s a short word people love to say. People like to say different words at different times in their lives. Often these words have four letters: mama, baby, love or tiki.

Most Helpful Hint

Saying “surf” slowly sounds a bit like what it means. A peeling lip sizzling towards you. The slightly hollow rumble of the curl lifting you up and washing over you. And finally the F, which is the white water rolling to shore. If you can’t follow me here, then don’t continue reading that a stage filled with three 1963 Fender Showman amps, a drumset, dual saxes, heavily reverbed, loud and clean lead guitar over a thundering bass are the musical translation of a surf experience. I have never heard about anybody in attendance at such a surfers stomp in the early 60s in California denying this.

Claire de Lune – Three Degrees of Pitch Modulation

For the people who like a wobbly g-string on their guitar to play more expressive I have three versions of the wonderful tune Claire de Lune by turn of the 19th/20th century composer Claude Debussy.


The first is a theremin version with the ultimate degree of pitch modulation.

The second is a violin version with the moderate pitch vibrato that the movement of the left hand permits.

The third and last version is played on harmonica and for me is the winner in the emotion (and sound) department.

So in conclusion: there’s more to an emotional sound than shaky pitch.

Retro Cocktail Hour in Space!

Darrell Brogdon writes:

On Saturday, June 27 at 7:00pm, The Retro Cocktail Hour blasts off on KPR stations with a night of ‘outer space exotica’, featuring music from such memorable albums as Les Baxter’s Space Escapade, Fantastica by Russ Garcia, Music Out of the Moon (featuring the theremin!), Music for Heavenly Bodies (with the electro-theremin) and many more.

As a preview, check out the NEW album cover gallery, featuring images from some classic outer space records of the 1950s and ’60s.

And please join us in orbit for The Retro Cocktail Hour – Saturday, June 27 at 7:00pm on KPR stations (and available on-demand soon after at the RCH website).Les Baxter’s ‘Space Escapade’

Many more images available at our new cover gallery!

Brian Wilson Upcoming Tour Dates

David Berger writes:

Hi every one!
Here are the latest tour updates…


July 4, 2009
Deutsches Theater
Munich, Germany

July 5, 2009
Nuremberg, Germany

July 6, 2009
Amsterdam, Holland

July 8, 2009
Berlin, Germany

July 9, 2009
Bonn, Germany

July 11, 2009
Guilford, England

July 12, 2009
The Sage Gateshead
Gateshead, England

September 4-6, 2009
Stradbally Hall
County Laois, Ireland


October 24, 2009
Pabst Theatre
Milwaukee, WI

October 26, 2009
Count Basie Theatre
Red Bank, NJ

October 27, 2009
Bergen Performing Arts Center
Englewood, NJ

October 29, 2009
Keswick Theatre
Glenside, PA

October 30, 2009
Community Theatre at Mayo Center for the Performing Arts
Morristown, NJ

The Waitiki All-Star Exotica Septet February 16th

Waitiki at Wassermusik 08

Waitiki at Wassermusik 08

The highly recommended Exotica live-act Waitiki playing live in Massachusets in the middle of february.
Quote form the Exotica Mailing List

Who: The Waitiki All-Star Exotica Septet

When: Monday, 2/16/09, 7-9 PM

Where: The Lily Pad (Inman Sq: 1353 Cambridge St., Cambridge, MA), 617-395-1393 COST: $10

Come See Our All-Star Exotica Band: 2/16 in Cambridge, MA

Waitiki’s next show will be on President’s Day (Monday, February 16) from 7-9PM sharp! See our All-Star Exotica band make its first performance in the northeast at The Lily Pad [1353 Cambridge St., Inman Square].

Flying in direct from Hawaii: Percussionist and birdcaller extraordinaire Lopaka Colon (son of famed percussionist/bird caller Augie Colon, of Martin Denny’s band). Our co-founder and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr also makes the wintry trip to Boston from Los Angeles.

Suggested donation is $10; All ages are welcome (bring the kids or your folks—it’s all music; finally, no burlesque or anything risque!).

Also in the band: Tim Mayer (sax, flutes), Helen Liu (violin), Zaccai Curtis (piano), Jim Benoit & Greg Parerandy Wong (bass). We may have a few special guest performers too! (vibraphone),

This is the same band that played its European Debut last July at the Wassermusik Festival in Berlin, Germany, and its American Debut at the Celebration for the 500th Retro Cocktail Hour show last November!

Your favorite classic exotica tunes… your favorite Waitiki hits… brand-new arrangements and newer-than-new originals—hear them all at The Lily Pad show. Following us at 10 pm is The Fringe, the avant-garde jazz trio led by tenor man George Garzone.

The next day we record the long-awaited Waitiki All-Star Exotica Septet album!! Hope to see you there!!!!

Vinnie Bell’s Basement Guitars

Vinnie Bell Sitar Ad

Today I googled for Vincent Bell’s name because I couldn’t believe Danelectro didn’t mention him in their promo for the Coral Hornet re-issue now called Dead-On-67. He designed those in the sixties along with several other classic and unique models like the Bellzouki (first electric 12-string) and the Coral Sitar (electric guitar with 12 bordun strings and a sitar bridge). Anyway, so I came across this great page by Moe Thomas for the first time. He says he’s a long time friend of Mr. Bell and when he visited the legendary guitar player’s basement he took pictures of the sheer mass of historic and unique guitars and prototypes – many built by Vinnie himself. He’s a very inventive guy thinking up things like the first wahwah or his trademark underwater sound as heard on Moon Gas and apparently various practices and machinery used in guitar manufacturing – all while making a living as one of the east coast’s busiest studio session men.

Here are links to some highlights of the collection:

  • photo of Sitar prototypes
  • the sitar-shaped Bellzouki as portrayed on the back of Joe Harnell’s Bossa Now! album
  • Vinnie Bell’s personal 6-string bass (who knows how many records we have heard this one on?!!!)
  • one of a kind Coral Scorpio-style 12-string Sitar (a dream instrument of mine)
  • Vinnie Bell model Stratocaster as presented to him by Fender Musical Instruments (note straight bridge pick-up)
  • the banjo he played on Louis Armstrong’s recording Hello Dolly
  • the mandolin Bell played on The Godfather-soundtracks

also visit

46 Classic TV- and Movie Opening Credits

opening still


  1. Lady in Cement
  2. The Prisoner
  3. Randall and Hopkirk Deceased
  4. Duffy
  5. Department S
  6. The Saint
  7. The Rockford files
  8. La Polizia ordina: sparate a vista
  9. The Avengers
  10. The Baron
  11. Columbo
  12. Seven Golden Men
  13. Cannon
  14. Deadly Shots on Broadway
  15. The Streets of San Francisco
  16. Superargo


  1. Le Gendarme de Saint-Tropez
  2. My Favorite Martian
  3. Pink Panther


  1. No matter what shape your stomach is in


  1. Menace from the Bottom of the World
  2. Stingray
  3. Rod Scribner Opening for UPA shorts
  4. ?????????? ED
  5. Ghost A Go-Go


  1. The Cool Ones
  2. Sor Yeye
  3. The Mariners
  4. American Graffiti


  1. Assassination
  2. The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
  3. Gerak Kilat
  4. Where the Spies Are
  5. Spy Today Die Tomorrow
  6. Spy in Your Eye
  7. Some Girls Do
  8. From the Orient with Fury
  9. Master Stroke
  10. Mission Bloody Mary


  1. Daktari
  2. The High Chaparral
  3. Der Schatz im Silbersee
  4. The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly
  5. Robinson Crusoe


  1. Love is a Many Splendored Thing
  2. Arabesque
  3. The Sandpiper

Loudness and Old Exotica Recordings

When I was asked to DJ Exotica music on a boat recently I had to burn some vinyl of mine to CD. So I could see the sound waves and made two screenshots of the perfectly mastered Arthur Lyman album Bahia.

The reason I chose this one was that the loudest and first track I ripped peaked at 0dB without the limiter catching it. I just left the dials to their own devices and hoped I can capture the entire album with this “magic” setting. It was just plain luck. So I ripped this particular vinyl record without any additional limiting or compression, peaking at 0dB and all the music of that album perfectly relative to that peak.

When you see the soundwaves you will recogn that each one has got its own shape. This means that the creativity of the musicians is reflected in the volume at any given point in time, allowing for drama, surprises and expression. Sure there was some kind of processing going on even in those days, but it was to get a good, hi-fi sound at the end-consumer, with the goal being a natural room impression – heavy compression doesn’t allow that. See that one very quiet track – it’s meant to be that way. How they made it? They played their instruments softer. You have to be quiet yourself to clearly hear it, you start interacting with the music.

It all made me realize on a new level, what beautiful works of art music masters can be.

Here are two Heavy Metal soundfiles for comparison. It’s the same track, the upper, more dynamic one was given to a game company, the lower one is from the CD album. Wether this was a mistake or the less dynamic sound was considered more desireable I don’t know.

related posts:
Turn Me Up! | Bringing Dynamics Back To Music
Loudness Wars Explained
Article on Metallica‘s new album at Wired.