Saturday, April 18, 2015

Before we go back... Hawthorne, let's take a little break and hit the beach.

If you're a hardcore Beach Boys fan like me, you may already know that Brian Wilson was neither a "rodder" (hot rod enthusiast) nor a surfer (unlike his brother Dennis). But what you may not be aware of is that he was actually afraid of the water. And that's ironic, since the Beach Boys started out as a surfing group.

Singing the title track from their first album, "Surfin' Safari," written by Brian Wilson and Mike Love, this could very well be the first video ever made of the Beach Boys (and a pretty crude one at that). With their 14-year-old neighbor, David Marks, on rhythm guitar at far left, the Pendletones, as they were originally called, performed in Pendleton shirts (get it?), which were a fad at the time. (It was only until the boys opened the crate with their first shipment of records that they found out they had been rechristened the Beach Boys.)

The Boys followed this album the following year with Surfin' U.S.A., featuring the title track, above. From Wikipedia:

The song features Brian Wilson's surfing-related lyrics set to the music of Chuck Berry's "Sweet Little Sixteen." According to Wilson,

"I was going with a girl called Judy Bowles, and her brother Jimmy was a surfer. He knew all the surfing spots. I started humming the melody to 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and I got fascinated with the fact of doing it, and I thought to myself, 'God! What about trying to put surf lyrics to 'Sweet Little Sixteen's melody? The concept was about, 'They are doing this in this city, and they're doing that in that city' So I said to Jimmy, 'Hey Jimmy, I want to do a song mentioning all the surf spots.' So he gave me a list."
Now, if you're only a casual fan of the Beach Boys, you may not know that they didn't pioneer the surf rock genre but merely rode the wave which had already been made popular by such artists as Dick Dale, aka the King of the Surf Guitar, above.

Dale himself was a surfer and wanted his music to reflect the sounds he heard in his mind while surfing. While he is primarily known for introducing the use of guitar reverb that would give the guitar a "wet" sound, which has since become a staple of surf music, it was Dale's staccato picking that was his trademark.

His performances at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California during the summer of 1961, and his regional hit "Let's Go Trippin'" later that year, launched the surf music craze, which he followed up with hits like "Misirlou" (1962).

(The Boys covered both of those on Surfin' U.S.A.)

On the first day of my vacation I spent the late morning and early afternoon in Hawthorne before heading out to Hermosa Beach (at top). On the following day, Tuesday, I did the same, except I hit Redondo Beach (above) instead. (Those two names just sound cool, don't they?)

It was from the pier at Hermosa (above), I believe, that Dennis -- the only true beach boy in the group -- used to fish. He later picked up surfing from the "bums" on the beach and was the first to suggest to Brian and Mike that they take advantage of the craze by writing some surf-themed songs.

At Redondo, I even got to watch some real, live surfers (can you see them out there?) while doing my best impersonation of a beachcomber. (I wonder if anyone was fooled by this Midwestern hodad.)

"409" was on the flip side of "Surfin' Safari," and was the first of many of the group's hot rod songs written with the help of Gary Usher and later Roger Christian. (Brian wasn't a "rodder," remember?) The sound of the engine at the beginning was recorded not from an actual Chevrolet 409 but from a similar car with a "Big Block" engine in front of the Wilsons' house one night. It caused a bit of a ruckus in the neighborhood.

And that reminds me, it's time to get back into my not-so-hot rod and return to Hawthorne and take a little spin around the actual town in which the Beach Boys grew up. Won't you join me?

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