Surf Beat
Rock 'N' Roll's Forgotten Revolution
By Kent Crowley
surf beat Author Kent Crwiely gathers significant parts of the history of surf music, placing it in historical and musical context. The picture he paints is compelling.

The idea here is to present the surf uprising in terms of its social and musical backdrop to support the cause and affect sequence of events as Crowely sees them. The story is well written and easy to enjoy. The presentation in story form, backed up by interview extracts and other historical data makes for compelling reading, and it helps put the widely overlooked genre in perspective.

No attempt is made to come down on one side of the story or another, and some testimony or conventional wisdom is present with counter point. This provides the average reader with a colorful and insightful look at the genre's importance while allowing the reader to assume what he will

Most glaring errors include the often repeated but incorrect story that Minneapolis' Trashmen headlined over The Rolling Stones. According to band members and flyers from the dates in question, the Trashemn headlined at a different venue that night. What they did was pack their venue despite the Stones playing the same night.

There are some details presented as facts that are in conflict with stories told directly to me by the folks that were there, and some glaring errors such as writing that the surf instrumentals were primarily limited to Southern California, when there were thousands of bars and many hundreds of records issued across the US, and significant influence and adaptation in much of Europe, Asia, and South America. The book also gives way more importance to the music factories role in professionalizing the genre after its birth in the garages of Southern California, when even a casual look shows that the music machine did what it always does, strop down, poorly imitate, and exploit. Not that some very strong records didn't come from this system, but the vast majority of treasured releases came from real working bands, not crews of hired guns.

The book also spends way too much time on mostly irrelevant fringe happenings, such as
Frank Zappa
's time with PAL/Studio Z. While important historically, it's very difficult to say it was pivotal and worth so many pages of story line.

Puzzling are the forays into surfers playing music, so it must be surf music, especially as it is used to bridge the time between the mid sixties and the revival. Crwoley misses the obvious transition via The Bozone through to The Surf Punks, and the ongoing b-side inclusion of updated surf instrumentals during the seventies, such as Dutch and the Dynamos' version of "Penetraion."

The revival is also very poorly handled, with the whole struggle between traditional and re-evolved surf instrumentals largely ignored. The most important transitional bands, all but The Insect Surfers being from the San Francisco Bay Area, are left out almost completely. It is precisely bands like The Ultras, Pollo Del Mar, and The Mermen that reshaped surf instrumentals, and influenced musicians across the globe. Also missing are the experimental Australian bands like GT Stringer.

The book reads like it was written to explain a view point, instead of gathering all the historical facts and allowing the facts to determine the story. I personally think the gal story is much more interesting, but for general consumption, this tale woven with the high profile players with general non-surf audience name recognition will surely be more successful than a story about The Goldtones and Dave and the Customs.

There are some social backdrops also used to explain the music's development, but even there the cause and affect relationships and the real society teenager found themselves in at surf music's birth are limited to politically corrected hindsight.

The impact of what top forty radio was like, and how all those disparate styles played influential roles in the developing genre is mostly overlooked, and the genres' from which surf sprang are also skewed somewhat from the actual influences you can hear in the music itself.

Significant time is spent on Leo Fender's role in making surf what it became. Without Leo, it might never have bloomed! Surf music is meant to be loud and clean€ and that was only possible with Fender gear back then.

All in all, Surf Beat is a story of the charts and the under- appreciated surf genre.
I generally use books for reference rather than story line, and even though this work does not lend itself to this use well, it's still an excellent read and interesting look into one perspective on our favorite genre.

All that said, this is well worth reading, and I think you'll find it very enjoyable.