Since Dick Dale ‘The King of Surf Guitar’ sadly passed away in March 2019, there’s been an uprising of great surf guitar bands ready to fill the void.
Now’s the time to grab your Hawaiian shirts and dance till it hurts.
What is surf guitar music?
Surf guitar music is up-tempo, instrumental, electric guitar led, with waves of ‘wet’ reverb and lots of vibrato arm pulling. Remember the opening credits to Pulp Fiction? That’s surf guitar music.
In the early 1960s, bands like The Venturas, The Chantays and The Bel Airs pioneered an instrumental rock and roll sound that mimicked the waves and fueled a growing surf culture. But Dick Dale and the Del-tones are perhaps the most enduring, due in no small part to Dick Dale’s version of ‘Misirlou’ from 1962 being introduced to a new generation through Pulp Fiction.
Who was Dick Dale?
Dick Dale was described by the New Yorker as a Lebanese-American kid from Boston who invented surf rock.
In fact he was born Richard Anthony Monsour in 1937. His father’s parents were immigrants from Lebanon and Dale’s uncle taught him how to play the derbakkeh (a middle-eastern hour-glass shaped hand drum). They played together at an annual Lebanese festival in Boston, which is probably where they came across Anton “Tony” Abdelahad’s rendition of the traditional mediterranean song Misirlou.
Dale is quoted as saying “my music comes from the rhythm of Arab songs” (New Yorker) and if you listen to Abdelahad’s version of Misirlou you’ll instantly hear how.
Another unique factor of surf guitar music was the volume. Dale blew up over 50 amps, used 60 gauge guitar strings and made people’s ears bleed (Kerrang). He became an official tester for Leo Fender and helped create the first-ever 100-watt guitar amp. Leo Fender was quoted as saying “When it can withstand the barrage of punishment from Dick Dale, then it is fit for the human consumption.” (Guardian)
Today just about every surf guitar kit includes Fender style guitars with single coil pickups, huge Fender amps and a tube-driven Fender reverb unit.
The best surf guitar bands playing today
If you want to experience wet reverb for real, here’s a few surf bands playing live near you (hopefully).
Surfquake – East Coast, UK
Surfquake are East Anglia’s original and finest Surf Guitar band. This fun & upbeat 4-piece Surf Rock Band, will get you shakin’ around to the infectious surf beat before you can say WIPE OUT! Together now for over 9 years Surfquake perform familiar hit tunes and songs from the halcyon days of surf-guitar and well known classic TV & film themes, plus some original retro style numbers. Read all about these psychedelic surf rockers on their Surfquake website.
The Secret Spot Surf Band – South Coast, UK
The Secret Spot surf band is a three-piece band from Bournemouth, South England consisting of Uri, Mike and Howard. When they’re not surfing the south coast’s swells, you’ll find them belting out sixties surf sounds in beach bars and other good music venues. Pay them a visit and you can expect reverb, pounding drums and surfing guitar solos with the backdrop of cult surf movies. Get to know the band better and check out their next event on Facebook.
Pointbreak – Ireland
Pointbreak is a Dublin surf rock band, born in the autumn of 2014. Their live show is a raucous blend of soaking wet, twangy Fender guitars, screaming sax and a pulsating rhythm on the drums that gets everybody up and dancing. Playing a mix of sixties surf rock tunes, more contemporary surf tunes, original tunes and a bit of nonsense means you’ll never get bored watching these guys playing live. Find out more on Pointbreak’s Facebook pages.
BRUUT! and Anton Goudsmit – The Netherlands
This four piece superjazz band have teamed up with well respected jazz musician Anton Goudsmit to create a new album Go Surfing, out now! Whilst the waves are far from guaranteed in this part of Europe, you can guarantee up tempo, high energy, surf sounds if you listen to their album or go to a gig. Currently on tour across The Netherlands, Germany and beyond. Find out dates, venues and more on the BRUUT! Facebook page.
Agent Octopus – America’s Atlantic Coast
Agent Octopus are a group of seasoned Surf/Instro lovers who live, tour and record on the Atlantic coast of America. The band is a merry collection of former members from Maryland’s Reverb Galaxy, Mojito and Commander Nitro, with current Atom Bumz drummer Lew Bobbit. They also have a new album out ‘Blue Eyed Surf’ available on Bandcamp.
OuterWave – California
Outerwave is one of the hottest instrumental surf rock bands in Southern California. They’ve been playing reverb drenched surf rock and classic sixties surf tunes since 2004. OuterWave plays surf music the way it was meant to be played, without digital effects and with plenty of wet dripping reverb, staying true to the original surf music. Find out where Outerwave are playing next on Facebook.
Now for something completely different…
Not strictly a surf guitar band, in fact they’re not even loosely a surf band, but this is too good to miss:
If you know and love a local surf guitar band that’s not mentioned above, please give them a shout out in the comments below.
In all seriousness, I’m also a Jack Johnson fan. In fact there’s a whole load of awesome surfers creating amazing music, you can find a few in my ‘music by surfers for surfers‘ collection.