The Next Wave

Dick Dale Scores The Surf Sounds Of The '90s

by David Arnson

Thanks to Dick Dale, the "King of the Surf Guitar," surf music has never really gone away. Contrary to what Jimi Hendrix once exclaimed on Are You Experienced, Dale has always remained current - and the surf scene he pioneered is as vital today (especially in the punk market) as it was in the early '60s. Since there are so many California bands releasing surf records at the moment, BAM thought it would be interesting to have Mr. Dale take a "blindfold test," whereby Dick listens to undisclosed bands and comments on what he hears. And who better to conduct this than one of LA's most enthusiastic surf experts, David Arnson, who plays guitar with those Southern California surf demons the Insect Surfers. (Check out their cover of "Massachusetts" on the new Melody Fair Bee Gees tribute LP; the brothers Gibb meet the Ventures!) Arnson met up with Dale in his mobile home, which was parked near the Santa Monica Pier, where the guitarist gave an incredible performance several hours later. According to Arnson, he was gracious, patient, and listened carefully to everything on the tapes and CDs. "These bands are all your children," Arnson told the legend. "They've all heard your music, and they've all been profoundly affected by it." What follows are not only expert reviews of some California groups, but also some notable units from other parts of the globe.

  -- B.H.

Aqua Velvets
"Surf Boogie" (San Francisco)

"I'm listening to the cleanliness here; everybody playing their instrument, whether they're on the meter, the drum beat - that's always the most important thing to me, the beat that everybody's 'on.' [Listens a bit more]. It's a nice clean band. What I heard here is a nice clean sound, and everybody had their shit together. I also hear discipline into the playing - nobody going off into left field or anything."

"The Natives Are Restless" (Los Angeles)

"The guitarist plays real nice, real clean. The drummer's right on. They modulated a key in there. Nice. Real good, nice to hear somebody counting - right on time, right on the money. Are these all different bands?"

"Spy vs. Spy" (Los Angeles)

"You know these bands have to be careful so they don't all sound alike. I like to go from one extreme to another. To get my sound, though, you need to play the same equipment as me - a Fender Strat and a Fender Showman amp. These kids are playing good, they're playing well, but they're playing like bands in the '50s. I'd like to see more bands playing with more focus and power - balls in your eye! You have to look for what separates you from someone else. Put a hundred surf bands up there, and then put Dick Dale up there, and tell me which one the audience is going to feel the most. You have to be focused and many bands just don't know how to do that."

Insect Surfers
"Polaris" (Los Angeles)

"Thank God everybody's nice and clean together. You know, every band I've heard so far seems to be well disciplined and well put together. Just because it's not blowing me off this Earth … That guy in the movie, Crossroads, that guitarist, Steve Vai. He blew me off the Earth. Stevie Ray Vaughan. I played with him. He also played with that type of intensity. [Listens] I see a guy on the nose of a longboard, sun goin' down, wind blowing through his hair, going across the face of a wave, like in Endless Summer. This is real nice. It's music I wouldn't blow up a building with, but it's music that I'd lay back, shut the lights out, and listen to. It's well done."

"The Bender" (San Francisco)

"All this stuff is well done. But it sounds like it's being played through teeny speakers. It's like the Ventures! Nothing bad yet … but they all sound like they're playing through the same equipment."

Agent Orange
"Mr. Moto" (Los Angeles)

"That's a neat song! I've always liked that song. But, once again, it's music for traveling. Reminds me of the '50s and '60s. Certainly doesn't remind me of 'alternative rock.'"

Phantom Surfers
"Pacific Shores" (San Francisco)

"I also find this hard to separate from the others. What do you like about this?"

"Ocean Beach" (San Francisco)

"Now, I like that! That's innovative! That sounds like something I'd be doing! That staggered line; I've always been into syncopation things. Big band music has a lot of that. Man, that was great. I like to write with visuals in mind."

Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet
"Aunt's Invasion" (Toronto)

"See. Now, I can see this as being more visual than anything else I've heard. I can see it! Guys with their legs spread apart, moving! The drummer is movin'! I see them blazing, getting right into it!" [Dick's pretty savvy - this band actually provides the soundtrack music for the TV show Kids In The Hall]

Laika And The Cosmonauts
"Six Seconds In Dallas" (Helsinki)

[Hums along] … "Sounds like a takeoff on 'Mr. Moto'! Some good chord changes though …"

Man Or Astro-Man?
"Taxidermist Surf" (Auburn, Alabama)

[Laughs] "That's a good part in there! Well done. That sounds like a band that opened for us once … Wait a minute. What's their name? They did open for us!"

"I mean, I can realte to all this stuff so far. I like to hear music that drives, to music that's middle of the road, to sweet music. I mean, I love Hank Williams and Hank Jr. And that guy with the skinny ass … What's his name? Dwight Yoakam. And I like all the old, old guys. And yet I like the guys who know their scales. The thrashers - the Satrianis. I appreciate everything they do. The kids give me those guitar magazines to read. You know, I read an interview with Yngwie Malmsteen once. He was saying that everybody else was just shit! I can't believe they even printed it! You can't go that way! You can't believe that! I mean, take Segovia! I can't play Segovia. But Segovia can't play Dick Dale surf, either. I can't play scales. I don't even know how to play one scale! So who am I to be a critic! All I can say is, Do I like it? I like the stuff that reaches, that shows creativity. And everything so far has been good, and, believe me, I've heard some real shit traveling across this country!"

"Death Of A Revenilo" (Los Angeles)

"Is this song all in the same key? I'd like to hear some more of these guys … that break sounds like the one in 'Nitro' [Dick Dale '93 tune]. Whoa! There we go! Is this still the same song? [Laughs] Nice ending! They could have ended on the same two chords, but they added another!"

"O.J. The World Traveler" (Detroit)

"I liked that. That was the Goldentones? Jesus! We played with them, too! I'm listening to my family here!"

Spies Who Surf
"Calling All Martians" (Detroit)

"It's important when doing staccato picking that you stick to the meter. Like this here. This is kind of unique. This sounds like one of my songs where I reverse a jazz lick [spacy musical break]. That's cool! Very innovative. That was Spies Who Surf? These guys played with us, too! Did you know that? [Laughs] Are you doing this on purpose? I just love being considered part of the family with all these bands so far. To me, it's the greatest fuckin' honor. To be even thought of … for somebody to say 'Hey, he's one of us!' You can't get any better than that! It's like a slap in the face to all these assholes in the mainstream … It's like 'Ha, ha, ha! Look! We're all doing this kind of music!'"

"Daddy Love" (San Francisco)

"No impression here. Did they fuck up the ending there? [Plays ending back three times to check] Nope … [I inform Dick that the Trashwomen probably revel in their trashiness more than any of the other bands here.]

Davie Allan & The Arrows
"Arrow Space" (Los Angeles)

"This is the way it should be done! Listen to those drums! Good drummer, right on the meter, right where he should be. This is right on. This is rockin'!"

Unfortunately, space doesn't allow for Mr. Dale's comments on his new CD, Kurt Cobain, or Johnny Cash. Maybe in a future issue. Thanks again to Dick Dale for his time and patience. And please keep in mind, that this sampling is only the tip of the iceberg. There are still plenty of surf bands, both in California and other states, that have yet to release material.

Notes from the Shadowy Webmaster: