The First Wave: A Brief History of the Roots of Surf Music


Have You Ever Heard Of The Surf Music Genre?

Have You Ever Heard Of The Surf Music Genre?

Just like history and any other stories, fictional and non-fictional alike, music has also its own vibrant ups and downs of trends and stories. And if the history of music is to be discussed, perhaps surf music is the one thing that should never be forgotten by the people.

So what is surf music? You may have heard of it in a music bar or restaurant somewhere but do you know the essence of it and its roots? Have you ever realized that surf music in one of the corner stone of today’s instrumental rock music? We want to acquaint you with the past of music and its forefathers, hence, let us take you back in time as we discover the roots, decline, and renaissance of surf music.


            The first streak of rise and fall of the surf music is referred to as the first wave. This music era occurs from 1956 to 1964. Elvis Presley is considered the founding father of rock and roll by which he entered into it by 1956. As we all know blacks and whites were separated by a social barrier in the past, hence their music differed by a mile. Elvis reconciled this by combining the white folk music like country and hillbilly and the black themed music like blues. Presley was able to stick this fusion into his listeners hence propping up artists along the way to follow the same fusion that he started out. Rock and roll was then born.


            There are many variations of surf music and one variation may contain a feature or two that is not present with the other. However, the one distinct characteristic of surf music that is probably present in almost all forms of it is that it is in instrumental form, meaning there isn’t any singing and it is arranged to make people dance. It is usually geared towards the youth at that time and is usually played by rock bands composed of your typical rock ‘n roll instruments like guitars, bass, and full set of drums. Some had added additional color and flavor to surf music by integrating a saxophone, keyboard, an additional keyboard and even a trumpet. Also, there is also a distinct drum rhythm in every surf music beat.

Also in terms of guitar beat and rhythm surf music has also created a distinct pattern rule. In order to fully embody the feel and sound of surf music a guitarist should be able to double pick in order to simulate the feel and sound of rushing water as well as be able to slide one’s hands and fingers along the fret board. This sliding would perfectly create the feel of a wave rushing. There are also a lot of reverb effects that can be added into the music in order to create a more “underwater” theme.


            This debate has been going on for many years and it was only until recently that people were able to reconcile the question as to whether or not the beach boys are part of the surf music movement. Well, one, they sang during the era of the surf music genre so they were somehow part of the timeline. They sang songs about surfing, bikinis, girls, boys in the beach, etc. so this isn’t necessarily surf music. However many refer to is as beach music or vocal-surf-music. These are more or less sub-genre of surf music and somewhat a combination of it and pop. Some of their styles were definitely surf music however, if we are to be strict, technically they did not sang a very technical surf music type of song, albeit they contributed so much in terms of letting the people gain an affinity towards surf music.


Dick Dale or originally named Richard Monsour was born and raised in Boston. As a young man, to pursue his dreams of starting a music career, the teen Richard moved to California. He originally intended to be a country guitarist and singer and was very adamant in his dreams even to the point of teaching himself to play the guitar upside down since he was left handed. He was able to contribute a lot into the music scene and he was one of the few guitarists who discovered, ventured, experimented, and developed surf music. Obviously he didn’t invent it single-handedly but sure enough Dale was one of the few founders of it. He even collaborated with Fender to develop amps that were robust enough for surf music since normal amps would have been fried due to how loud surf music can be sometimes.


            Dick Dale couldn’t have raised the name of surf music alone if not for the help and participation of other music bands. The Deltones collaborated with Dick Dale to create a lot of surf music hits. The Belairs also collaborated with him and was able to make it big during the 1960s. Other bands that originated in California followed Mr. Dale’s path in promoting surf music. The Chantays in 1961 was able to follow through Dale’s fame in the field of surf music. The Surfaris which were most popular in 1962 was also able to contribute in making surf music a hit.


            Surf music opposite to what everybody believes, was never isolated in California. Bands from other parts of USA was heavily influenced by early writers and Dick Dale, hence they started out their own trail of surf music in their places. The Trashmen of Minneapolis became famous in 1964 for their “Surfin’ Bird” hit. A lot of bands which include The Fireballs, the New Mexico and even the Shadows were able to perform the same style in 1960s even if they were originally from Washington and other parts of USA.


            Sad as it is, even in every history textbook, an empire after enjoying lots of fame, fortune and honor, will eventually crumble down and fall. As the Beatles were rising into fame, it would later go down in history that their rise would mean the eventual fall of the surf music. The Beatles obviously did not do this intentionally or with malice, but their unique style and unfathomable charisma was able to steal the hearts and ears of America’s youth as the popularized vocal pop music. The Beach Boys started out this trend however, they (The Beach Boys) still followed a somewhat surf music style of rhythm and playing. The songs of Beatles were ultimately new and fresh on the youth hence they were able to turn everyone’s eyes away from surf music. The first wave then that was considered to be started out by Elvis Presley in 1956 died a natural death by the Beatles in 1964. This was a bit short-lived for a genre considering they were a hit for only less than a decade, however this was just a decline and a second wave was about to be born in the mere future. However, the first wave halted due to Dick Dale, one of its founders being diagnosed with cancer on the same year when the Beatles rose. This lessened his appearance, hence occurring a large blow on the part of surf music. However the history of surf music wouldn’t stop there as still many people would still try to raise and revive the already-thought-dead surf music.