Images of America: Southern California Surf Music 1960-1966, by John Blair (2015): Books

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The Images of America series is a great source for those needing a crash course on a particular town or city in the country. Typically numbering 125-130 pages, these handy guides from Arcadia Publishing not only offer rare black and white snapshots of the past, but a fair share of text as well.

In recent years, Images of America has expanded its focus, with entertainment being one subject added to the format. And that leads us to Southern California Surf Music 1960-1966, which was written and compiled by internationally noted surf rock historian, record producer, and guitarist John Blair.

Although the surf rock movement was short-lived, having peaked in 1963 and pretty much evaporating by the end of 1964 when the British bands, with their soaring vocal harmonies, shaggy manes and mod threads, dominated the globe, its influence was far-reaching. In the beginning, surf rock was also confined to select areas in Southern California, where surf, sun, and sand is naturally in abundance.

Pioneered by guitarist Dick Dale, whose catchy and unique fretwork resembled the sound of waves on the ocean, surf rock was first and foremost an all-instrumental genre. Two, sometimes three electric guitarists, drove the combos, along with a drummer and occasionally a saxophonist.

But the best description of the music came from King Dale himself, who was quoted as saying: “Surf music is a definite style of heavy staccato picking with the flowing sound of a reverb unit to take away the flat tones on the guitar and make the notes seem endless. Very heavy guitar strings are used to elongate the sound from the vibration of strings, not the feedback qualities of an amplifier. It becomes a very in-depth combination of things, that when put together, spells out true surf music.”

Mixing hit acts (Dick Dale and the Deltones, the Bel-Airs, the Chantays, the Surfaris, the Beach Boys, the Pyramids, and Jan and Dean) with a host of obscurities, Southern California Surf Music 1960-1966 certainly provides ample coverage of the faces rocking the scene. Then there’s those who cut their teeth playing surf rock before finding success with other bands later in the decade.

For example, the Jesters boasted Jim Messina, who made history with Buffalo Springfield and Loggins and Messina. Dick Dodd served time in Eddie and the Showmen prior to the Standells. The Cornells featured Peter Lewis, who put Moby Grape on the map as psychedelic country mavericks. The Crossfires, meanwhile, starred Howard Kaylan and Mark Vollman, who scored winning singles as the Turtles.

Attention is further given to the clubs, fairs and ballrooms where the bands peddled their goods, not to mention musical gear, beach movies, TV shows and the culture in general. Packed to the bone with cool pictures of the musicians, vinyl, guitars, and posters advertising gigs, Southern California Surf Music 1960-1966 will cause surf rock fans to sigh with happiness.

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson

Beverly Paterson was born the day Ben E. King hit No. 4 with "Stand By Me" -- which is actually one of her favorite songs, especially John Lennon's version. She's contributed to Lance Monthly and Amplifier, and served as Rock Beat International's associate editor. Paterson has also published Inside Out, and Twist & Shake. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Beverly Paterson
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