Surf Rock Rides a New Wave

April showers bring May surf rock?

As surf guitar king Dick Dale, turns 80, the genre he’s pioneered is enjoying another high tide. Classic surf tunes are in style again and new bands and indie labels are riding the wave.

If you want to DJ the perfect afternoon of beach blanket bingo, you have to dive in the deep. You can’t just put The Black Eyed Peas’ “Pump It” on repeat. That intro is sampled from Dale’s “Misirlou,” a traditional Greek tune played with a surf rock twist that made Dale and surf rock as a whole a worldwide sensation. Dale brought his high tension guitar rock to films like “Beach Party” and on TV for The Ed Sullivan Show strumming his SoCal tunes.

He wasn’t alone in the surf. The west coast band The Ventures took the world by storm in 1960 with the instrumental hit “Walk, Don’t Run and solidified their place in pop culture history by performing the theme song for “Hawaii Five-O.”

In the mid ‘60s, surf rock was washed away in the wake of Beatlemania. However, it never died. New wave innovators like the B-52s, the Dead Kennedys and The Cramps were deeply influenced by surf rock. A decade later, we saw a third wave of surf rock via bands like The Trashwomen and the explosive force of Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction.

Photo by Matt Kanbergs

Another surf rock is now underway. Contemporary indie artists have begun to follow in the footsteps of Dale and The Ventures. Bands like, The Growlers, The Allah-Las, Shannon and The Clams, Tijuana Panthers, and High Waisted, are growing in popularity.

Jessica Louise-Dye, vocalist and guitarist of High Waisted, tells BTRtoday that surf rock brought her band together. She met her original bassist during a BYOR (Bring Your Own Records) night at a bar in Manhattan and immediately connected through the old school surf records they both had brought.

“We were starting to work on my old folk project at first, because we thought it would be easier, but the surf stuff just happened naturally,” says Dye. “Dick [Dale] has taught me to play with precision, that the simplest riff is the best if you add some speed and never give up on music—through sickness or sadness.”

High Waisted has an annual boat show and Dye’s seen surf rock growing in popularity every year through the show.

“I think the revival started a decade ago–a classic surf beat makes people dance, the tones are infectious, the riffs are fun and simple, which means all levels of players can tackle them,” Dye says. “I think people are enthusiastic about it because it sparks memories of wave-crashed daydreams, the smell of sun tan oils, and melted ice cream.”

Surf music signals that the sun’s out and it’s time to let loose at top volume. That’s no coincidence, Dale also helped in creating some of the loudest amps available for sale.

No matter what goes on your perfect beach party playlist, make sure to crank it up.

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