Southern California Psychedelic Surf Music Evolves
By Jessica Kane- SoundStage Direct
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Southern California Psychedelic Surf Music Evolves
In the realms of American music, California is as important as any other state in the nation. California has been associated with the arts, film, and music industries for many decades. The songs and artists that have their start or come from the state of California are too numerous to list here. Important music style have been able to evolve their own West Coast style including punk rock, hip hop, rock, country, heavy metal and electronica, but there is one style that is quintessential to the California sound. That music is the sounds of surf rock.
When Jimi Hendrix sings, "You will never hear surf music again..." in song 3rd Stone From the Sun, he is referring to the evolution of psychedelic music into California surf culture. The hippie culture and flower power culture had strength in Northern California during the 1960s, but Southern California moved to a different groove. Surf music already existed with long instrumentals, twang guitars and also the pop culture beatnik styles. Add to that mix the psychedelic and acid rock influences, you end up with the later mutation of surf music that Hendrix is referring to.
What started with the West coast blues and Western swing sounds of the San Francisco soundstages, becomes morphed with the new 'California Dreaming' youth culture of the 1960s. Bands like the Blue Cheer, Jefferson Airplane, along with the Warlocks and the Grateful Dead, become the first generation of true psychedelic music in California. Early psychedelic influences lead to the formula that becomes known as the California Sound or sunshine pop, but eventually gets known around America as Surf rock.
Early Surf Rock Music
Although technically surf rock historically was born with the 1961 album release of Let's Go Trippin' by Dick Dale, most fans don't cite that moment. In 1963 a wave of instrumental make a serious dent in the California scene and establish surf rock to the radio listeners with “Mr. Moto,” “Pipeline,” and holy gospel of all surf instrumentals, “Wipe Out.”
Surf music could easily be called the real California folk style. It is the sound that embodies the experience of surf culture and continues to evolve, since being born out of the 1960s pop music in answer to the darker side of psychedelic drug culture. Just as bands like The Seeds, The Leaves, and The Music Machine are forming throughout the Los Angeles area, there is a youth culture movement that becomes enamored with beach parties and surfing. Within this is born a whole new answer to the psychedelic music scene, bringing with it a crop of new artists including Jan and Dean, The Honeys, The Bel-Airs, The Challengers, The Surfaris and of course, the Beach Boys.
It ends up being he Beach Boys end up writing the anthem pop songs that are identified with modern surf culture like 'Surfin' USA' and 'Surfer Girl'. Some would argue that Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys is a surf rock album answer to St. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band by the Beatles. The evolution of surf culture has been a steady stream of new music, new artists and copycats of the style for the next 40 years or more of popular music culture. Surf music ends up being copied and covered as extensively as lounge music in jazz, or blues standards from hard rock culture.
Add a Little Punk Rock Anarchism
Modern corporate life has injected itself into the archetypal Southern California surf culture today, but the culture remains steadfast, none the less. Still emanating from the shoreline frontiers between the South Bay and Orange County, teenage grinders surf and dance with glorious pagan primitivism. The drums and guitars of surf music remain a distinctive South California technique, making the genre ever recognizable. The surf set and the outsider views were are primarily reflected in the concurrent interests shared with hot rod, biker gangs, and skater cultures. Because of these anarchistic influences, the punk rock scene evolves into another transcendent version of the South California surf music and the ever growing cult surrounding it.
The punk influences lead to an era of great South California groups like the Germs, The Weirdos, 45 Grave, Nervous Gender, and X. In South Bay punk takes roots with bands like Black Flag, Circle Jerks, Minutemen, ANTI, and Youth Brigade. The list goes on and on, as adding a little punk rock anarchism even leads to the ultimate mix of reggae and punk in Ska music. All this being due to the inherent friendships merged artistically and musically in the name of Southern California surf culture.
Modern California Dreaming
In America surf music ends up being as important and original a style, as jazz is for our national history. Therefore, when you hear that surf rock guitar, take a moment to tip your hat to the sound that has launched a thousand boards, make bikinis a style, created Valley girl slang, and embeds the West Coast sound in our minds, no matter what radio station we tune into. Surf music will live forever in Southern California, where dreams are made off the ebb tides and where mermaids sing.
Jessica Kane is a writer for SoundStage Direct, the number one online source for the best vinyl records and turntables.