Monday, September 28, 2009

Banzai Washout!

Phil Dirt of Felton, CA defines surf-rock quite succinctly as "rhythm guitar locked into the lead single-note staccato synched with the bass and drums -- a solid bed for fiery leads."

It is claimed, among those who think about these things, that Dick Dale and the Deltones' "Let's Go Trippin," 1961, was the first surf rock single. Whatever is thought to be a first in the arts has always been preceeded by others which had the bad luck to go unnoticed and be mostly forgotten (Elvira, Jimi Hendrix, The DaVinci Code -- all were successful copies). The Tornadoes' "Bustin' Surfboards," the Belairs' "Mr. Moto," the Fireballs' "Bulldog," the Ventures' "Walk Don't Run" and The Gamblers' "Moon Dawg" in 1960 - 61 were actually first, but -- except for the Ventures -- who remembers them? No disrespect to Mr. Dale (born Richard Monsour), who is not only a leader in electric music innovation, but is a great guy and one heck of a survivor (kicking Death in the rear no less than three times). The "King of the Surf Guitar"'s wonder years were confined to the brief reign of the surf genre from 1961 - 1964, but he has 15 albums to his credit and tours the West Coast to this day. He even played his inimitable version of part of Saint-Saen's "Carnival of the Animals" for the musical background of the Space Mountain rollercoaster at Disneyland.

Along with Les Paul, Sam Phillips and Leo Fender (and not-so-famous Sister Rosetta Tharp), Dick Dale is a foundation builder in electric music. One of the few real surfers in the genre, he wanted to reproduce what he called the "wet sound" that he heard while under the curl, but the weak equipment of the time couldn't cut it. He was known to grind down a pick in just one song, and used very heavy strings (16 - 58w!), which he broke anyway. This left-handed shredder, with his ever-present reverb unit, worked with Fender to produce the first 100 watt amp, the Single Showman, with a 15" JBL D130 speaker. Maybe now he wouldn't blow them up regularly!

And his signature gold Strat is as iconic as Elvis' gold lame' suit.

Just as E was a transformer, making a new and irresistable weave from diverse musical threads, Dick D brought together country twang (The early Elvis "Mystery Train" has elements presaging surf, for example), rockabilly, the sounds in his head, and Middle Eastern/Eastern European themes welded to a propulsive beat. With a Lebanese father, a Polish mother, and an uncle who played oud in belly-dance music in his background, his knowledge of non-Western scales, and a Greek/oriental melody, he came up with his version of "Miserlou," a unique instrumental which went on to be used as the theme for Pulp Fiction years later.

Despite its brief lifetime in mass popularity (other rock/pop genres were blown away by the British Invasion of 1964 too), surf-rock has a lineage of vibrant and enduring sources, and has contributed back mightily to West Coast jazz, Latin jazz, space music and psychedelia. It was self-limiting in its small but stunning stock of ideas, demographic, and instrumental-only orientation (Eliminators rhythm guitarist Preston Wilson said, "Leo Fender's the lead singer"). Where would The Dead, Phish and Eddie van Halen be without it?

They're not just golden oldies -- the Chantay's "Pipeline," the Surfaris' drummers standard "Wipeout," or the many Roger "Hot Dog" Christian compositions performed by Jan and Dean or the Beach Boys -- they're crystal-clear moments in that creative collision of ethnic musical traditions and individual genius that also birthed the blues, jazz, fusion and singer-songwriters. Righteous.

Odd bits:

"Wipeout" was a B-side to "Surfer Joe" made up on the spot in the studio, and the Surfaris never got royalties.

The "surfer's stomp" dance just evolved from people chanting and stomping at Dick Dale's shows. Thus , a 1963 group adopted the name The Surf Stompers.

Dale's band, the Del-Tones, was named after his father's record label.

Link Wray and the Raymen should be noted for their style based on minimalism and sustain. And their cool name.
The old dude above is not a surf rock legend, but he plays one on

1960's instrumental single, "Moon Dawg," by Hollywood studio players (including premiere surf drummer Sandy Nelson and future Canned Heat bassist Larry "the Mole" Taylor) calling themselves The Gamblers, not only can lay claim to be one of the very first in the genre, but had a B side tagged "LSD 25." Surf's not only an important element of later psychedelic music, but had the very first drug reference in a song title!

A revival started in 1988, with many groups in the SF Bay area (NoCal) active today. Some of the notables are The Insect Surfers, The Mermen, The Woodies and Buzzy Frets & the Surfabilly Orchestra. No gremmies or hodaddies!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Object of Lust

Made you look!
Paul Reed Smith SE Custom 22 Semi-hollow body. We are not worthy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cletus Knows the Way

We're back from another adventure, with only one of us the worse for wear. To celebrate JM's 40th and my recent birthday (yeah, way beyond 40), JM and Pat took us along on a return trip to Wellsboro, PA, where they had gone two years previously. In the "Northern Tier" of rural counties lying below the N.Y. state border, Wellsboro and Tioga County (which is larger than Rhode Island) are famous for the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, site of an ancient glacial lake and quite green and leafy, unlike its western cousin. It's been preserved by two state parks, a state forest and game lands, fortunately, because the northern half of the state was stripped bare a hundred years ago by the white pine loggers and left to erosion; the wildlife was decimated. Now the bears and bobcats are back, and oaks, hemlocks and hickories feed legions of chipmunks. Agriculture, hunting and tourism have replaced the early 1900s rapacity, and despite forbidding winters, the wide stretch of hills and valleys is well worth the drive to see during the milder half of the year.
We stayed in a French-themed Victorian B&B, La Belle Auberge, with Jacuzzi tubs and a breakfast spread that will be long remembered (burp), saw the Canyon and hiked around along the hardwood forest trails a little, and enjoyed two of the several surprisingly good restaurants. There is natural gas production and some industry in the area to raise it up from the usual rural claptrap poverty, and the logging era left behind more perfectly maintained Victorian mansions than you can tip your top hat to, so Wellsboro is one of the most prosperous and diligently kept small towns I have ever seen. It even has a family-owned department store (no WallyMart!).
The next day we headed out to the hamlet of Ansonia to go horseback riding. The weather forecast was not good, and the terrain is steep, rocky and muddy in places, so we greenhorns thought we were about to star in City Slickers, Part II. We didn't need the outerwear and gloves after all, because as the day progressed it just got more perfect. After a very good introduction by Rachael, our guide, we hoisted ourselves up onto our 1300 lb. hayburning Harleys, namely Poe, Freedom, Firefox and Cletus. This last rascal was red, about 16 years old, and pretty determined to do whatever he wanted to; he was my buddy up hill and down for the next couple of hours. We took a different trail than usual, and that turned out great--not as much steep mountain climbing, and we crossed a broad rocky stream twice (just like in Western movies). On the opposite bank, halfway up in the dense treeline, sat a bald eagle -- never saw one of those in the wild before! In the tangled growth and tall grass, the horses are tempted to eat their way along, and you're not supposed to let them, but try telling Cletus that. I jerked up on the reins (as instructed) to dissuade him, but he's been doing this a long time and proved to be a master of the salad bar we threaded our way through. He really liked sycamore tree saplings (must be horse arugula).
All the horses just headed to their parking spaces, to be tied up to trees, when we stopped at a high, dry lunch spot in the forest. They knew what they were doing; we pretended we were giving them directions which I'm pretty sure they just ignored. Cletus had to be first even though I started out in back, and nudged and squeezed his way to front of the line. When I tried to control him and keep an even pace, he fixed my wagon by breaking into a trot and bouncing me around like a lottery ping pong ball.
Back at the corral, Nancy's horse Poe had to step back while being tied to the fence, and unintentionally stepped on her little toe. It wasn't broken, but that little piggy sure is a livid shade of purple today!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Top Ten from Esquire's "60 Things Worth Shortening Your Life For"

1. Danger Dogs: Tijuana hot dog wrapped in bacon and fried, then topped with mayonnaise
2. Jersey Breakfast Dogs: with scrambled eggs and melted cheese
3. Surf Teahuppoo, Tahiti: great swells above a cheese-grater coral reef
4. Give Someone a Kidney
5. Black Cat Espresso from Intelligentsia Coffee & Tea: a triple. makes you vibrate.
6. Vision Quest Bull Riding Experience, Branson MO: "we try to match the livestock to your abilities"
7. Bullfighting School in California (the only legal one): someone's getting wounded in this battle
8. Butter
9. Drugs
10.Cream Puffs: the best are at the Wisconsin State Fair
Gives you something to think about, anyway.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

From The Zahir, by Paulo Coelho

"...I need you to write something about the new Renaissance."

"What's the new Renaissance?"

"It's similar to the Italian Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, when geniuses like Erasmus, Leonardo and Michelangelo rejected the limitations of the present and the oppressive conventions of their own time and turned instead to the past. We're beginning to see a return to a magical language, to alchemy and the idea of the Mother Goddess, to people reclaiming the freedom to do what they believe in and not what the church or the government demand of them. As in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Florence, we are discovering that the past contains the answers to the future."


It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it doesn't matter what we call it; what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over. Slowly, I began to realize that I could not go back and force things to be as they once were...


When the Unwanted Guest arrives...
I might be afraid.
Or I might say:
My day was good, let night fall.
You will find the fields ploughed, the house clean,
the table set,
and everything in its place.