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Bob Berryhill, original guitarist, tells GARY JAMES that surf's up...

The Surfaris - 2002

The Surfaris had only one 'hit' record, but what a 'hit' record it was!!

'Wipeout', the 1963 instrumental rock record, with that classic drum solo, went to the Number 2 spot in the charts and was written and recorded by The Surfaris.

GJ: Instrumental music was probably more commonplace in the '60s than today, why do you suppose that is?

BB: As a child of the 50s I was aware that a lot of chart songs at that time were country and western instrumentals, there were also movie soundtracks that were popular. When Elvis appeared on the sscene that pretty much marked a radical change of style. The Teen Idol era started and with that songs with lyrics.

Also at the time there was music with a bit of edge to it, it wasn't called surf music, it was basically hard rock. And of course Leo Fender was building equipment that was better quality but to get a good quality guitar you had to get a Gibson which was very expensive in those days. Leo Fender brought the Telecaster out and you could get one of these and an amp for about 150 dollars in 1958 or 1959. So of course with better quality instruments the music started to sound better.

We started playing for local dances. Dick Dale took instrumental music to a new level at this time. When we went down to Harmony Park (Los Angeles, California) we were blasted away by the loud, blaring guitars and that influenced us also. We got reverb and started jamming. The kids loved instrumental music.The beach party thing was really something in films of the time. There was never any electricity on the neach so before the sun went down you strummed a few tunes and then you used to go to somebody's house.

We were all avid surfers, though.

GJ: Your music has been labelled surf music. That seems too narrow to me. What would you prefer your music to be called?

BB: The label surf music kind of stuck. I remember my idols at the time were The ventures and they weren't considered surf music. I suppose you would call it instrumental music, but hard driving guitar music.

GJ: How long did it take to write 'Wipe Out'?

BB: Well, remember we were 15-17 year olds. When the drummer Ron Wilson came to me and said he had a dream about a song called 'Surfer Joe', that was the first time anybody came to me with a song idea. I was 15 years old. I could play guitar and knew how to read music. So we sat around and we came up with a basic framework. We actually took the song to a guy in Cucamonga, California who had a recording studio (Paul Buff) and my mother ended up wriring a check for $100 for the recording plus one hundred singles.

One night in December 1962 we drove to the studio and recorded 'Surfer Joe'. Dale Smallen, our manager, thought we needed a 'B' side for the single and thought we could write a song on the spot!

What happened, was that Ron Wilson who was an excellent drummer and a big inspiration in the group, started playing a drum solo which turned out to be the 'Wipe Out' drum solo. I put a chord structure to it and in ten minutes we had 'Wipe Out' amd I think they took the second or third 'take'.

After we'd finished recording it, we had to come up with a title. Jim Fuller wanted it to be called 'Switch Blade' but the name was changed to 'Wipe Out'. My Dad went out in the alley and picked up an old piece of plywood and we used that to create the "surfboard" effect. It was Dale Smallen who happened to do voice-overs that came up with the Goofy-type laugh…

GJ: What kind of promotion was done for 'Wipe Out'?

BB: Well it came out on a subsidiary of Dot Records, and wa spromoted on the local radio stations in san bernadino. It became one of the most requested records. By July 1963 the song was Number 2 on the Billboard charts.

GJ: You're releasing a new CD: will that be instrumental?

BB: Well, we're going to do 'Wipe Out' and 'Surfer Joe'. I guess you would call it guitar rock. The only reason we're including the old hits because people who come to our concerts want to buy them on CD. We're doing an album that is almost the "lost Surfaris album" - in other words what would an album have sounded like in the same sort of style as 'Wipe Out'.

© 2002 Gary James. Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved.


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