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Surf Music Makes a Comback

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You may think surf music has gone the way of Brylcreem and the beehive, but that high-octane, reverb-drenched, guitar-driven instrumental rock is riding a new wave of popularity. Dick Dale, the 57-year-old ”King of the Surf Guitar,” made a comeback last year and has just released a new album, Unknown Territory. Surf-music reissues are flooding the market, led by Del-Fi Records’ ”Original California Surf Series” — a collection of original albums and new compilations featuring the likes of soon-to-be-Beach Boy Bruce Johnston and the Centurions, whose 1962 song ”Bullwinkle P. II” is featured in the soundtrack to the upcoming film Pulp Fiction. And a new generation of surf rockers, including groups like the Aqua Velvets, the Mermen, and the Singing None, has surfaced on the West Coast, where the music has always been a regional phenomenon.

Today’s younger (mid-20s to mid-30s) surf bands range from purists like the Eliminators to the Halibuts, who add ukuleles and mandolins to their twangy guitars. All the bands share the same goal as their forefathers: replicating the sensation of riding the curl. ”People talk about blues as an indigenous art form,” says Mel Bergman, guitarist for the Bay Area-based Phantom Surfers. ”Well, surf music is no less valid a form. It’s white teenage suburban kid music. It’s like a folk art, and we’re just trying to keep it alive.”

Ironically, Dale — whose ”Let’s Go Trippin”’ launched surf guitar in 1961 — hasn’t hung 10 in years. A fervent environmentalist, he’s convinced our waters are too polluted. ”Snowboarding is the future,” he announces, ”because the snow’s still white. It hasn’t turned yellow yet.”

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