What Is Surf
Part II: Surf It Up!
Does a surfband doing a surf cover of a non-surf song constitute surf music, and does
that make the song a surf song?
At its most basic, this question goes to the heart of the matter. Duane Eddy never recorded any surf music, but many surfbands recorded his hit material, such as "Forty Miles Of Bad Road," "Ramrod," and "Movin' & Groovin'." Some classic surf instrumentals like "Baja," "El Aguila," and "The Hearse" are from the pen of Al Casey & Lee Hazelwood, who also wrote for Duane. So, if an instrumental surfband pays homage to their influences by rearranging a non-surf tune into the surf genre, does it then become a surf tune?
Generally, I think the answer to this question is that the recording is a surf recording, but the tune remains not a surf tune. There's nothing surf about the Munsters television show, but "Theme From The Munsters" has been "surfed up" by many modern bands, including the Woodies & the Shockwaves. Is Exodus a surf film because both the Lively Ones and the Halibuts have surfed its theme?
It would be a considerable stretch of the imagination to envision country writer Stan Jones as having been a surfmeister, yet the Chantays and Dick Dale (plus a dozen others) have run roughshod over "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky." Jerry Lordan's hauntingly Indian influenced "Apache" was recorded & became a hit by the Shadows in Europe, Jorgen Ingmann in the US, and even put to words by Sonny James.
Flamenco genius Ernesto Lecuoña's "Malaguena" was surfed up by Minneapolis legends the Trashmen, and Jim Messina & The Jesters reverbed out his "The Breeze & I." While there is certainly a ton of Spanish influence in surf, and even some flamenco, there's little evidence to support the notion that Cuban guitarista Lecuoña headed up his own surfband or wrote surf music. The Surfaris surf recording of "Similau" is based on a Cuban song about the ghosts in the cane fields, but that doesn't make calypso a surf sub-genre.
Did Vince Guaraldi play piano in a surfband in Palo Alto because JFA surfed up his "Linus & Lucy?" Conversely, is "Penetration" really a jazz fusion song because Steve Khan (ex-Chantays) recorded it arranged that way, or worse yet, is "Pipeline" an octogenarian two-step because Lawrence Welk recorded it?
Even farther out on the limb, Spies Who Surf did a surfified version of "Hocus Pocus," so we might conclude that Focus was a surfband. Even more bizarre is the happening reverb version of the "Swedish Rhapsody" by the Neon Spores. Then there's the time the Shockwaves rolled into a couple of bars of Led Zeppelin with "Whole Lotta Surf!" I've heard Dick Dale doing a few bars of "Louie Louie," but Richard Berry never rode a board or played with a surfband, though, coincidentally, he did share the Rillera brothers (Ricky Rillera and the Rhythm Rockers) with the Del-tones.
Speaking of Dick Dale, his classic surf archetype "Miserlou" is a Mediterranean classic pop standard from long before his time. And, don't forget "Hava Nagila!" Only the surf arrangements are surf songs, not the song itself.
I know I'll tread on thin ice here with some of you, but there are many who include the Ventures in the list of surfbands, as well as their songs. Not only did they predate surf, but they were never a surfband. They did record a few albums of surf instros, even renamed some of their tunes to try to catch the wave, but they never developed the feel or the power of the surf genre. It was the Lively Ones who took the Ventures' dry version of "Spudnik" from their potato album and made it into the surf classic "Surf Rider."
OK, there's another piece of the definition that doesn't work.