SURF MUSIC

Early 1960s
Surf music played no small part in the surf craze of the 1960s. “King of the surf guitar,” Dick Dale, took up surfing in the late 1950s, but had greater success expressing his love of the sport with his guitar.  Born Richard Anthony Monsour (1937), in Boston, Massachusetts, to a Polish mother and Lebanese father, Dale’s musical influences stemmed, not from Polynesia, but from his Middle-Eastern heritage, including distinctive scales and string plucking techniques taught to him by his uncle, who played the oud—a direct ancestor to the guitar.  Dale and his band, the Del-Tones, drew large audiences touring around southern California and inspired a host of other local bands from the Chantays (“Pipeline”) to the Surfaris (“Wipe Out”) to experiment with the instrumental guitar sound.  Playing to youth-filled crowds in large ballrooms and, not incidentally, regional armories—transformed from World War II production sites into energetic dance halls—these bands resonated with the booming, post-War youth culture in southern California from the beaches inland to Ontario and Riverside.  Early on, he had two primary audiences: local youth, especially in coastal areas, including surfers, but also an additional fan base from the Middle-Eastern immigrant community.  Accordingly, he recorded two versions of his early hits: those that became known as “surf music” standards and a second version of the same tunes with what he called “Arabic strings” added to appeal to fans with Middle-Eastern heritage. Dale wrote the soundtrack to the popular Beach Party film, but despite his local success and status as founder of the widely popular genre, global attention clamored to Brian Wilson and his Beach Boys.

Though the Beach Boys and a second early 1960s Southern California vocal-based group, Jan and Dean, are often lumped with Dick Dale and the Del-Tones under the rubric “surf music,” their songs about surfing should be understood as a simultaneous, yet separate, development.

By the 1960s, surf culture had become a full-fledged industry, comprised of music, movies, magazines, mass produced boards, clothes and gear, that exported not just surfing, fashion, and an image—one arguably disproportionately linked to Southern California.  Nascent surf scenes popped up, and embraced not only the sport, but the accoutrements of music, vocabulary and style as well.  In places such as the United Kingdom, where surfing began as early as it did in California and Australia, the surf craze also took hold, crowding the beaches and incorporating cultural practices derived from California.  [Example:  Hearse cars, first adapted by southern California youth to accommodate their boards could be found in the United Kingdom.]

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