The story of the Surfaris is similar to scores of other bands of the 1950s and 1960s. Plagued by deceitful record company practices, elusive royalty payments, and of course the ever popular “too much, too soon” teenaged rock’n’roll effect, the Glendora, California quintet’s saga is one that has been repeated many times. The Surfari’s tale displays the saddening paradox of vital music being made by un-business savvy kids who, only in it for the fun, unknowingly fill the coffers of the record executives who profit the most from their naive golden geese.
The Surfaris, like many other Southern California bands of the early 1960s, were initially influenced by Dick Dale’s 1961 single “Let’s Go Trippin.” Dale’s sound, created with a loud trebly Fender Stratocaster through a wall of spring reverb was fast, with his pick moving in staccato bursts carrying the melody over a backing characterized by an incessant ride cymbal and snare hits on the twos and fours. A whooshing, gusty, almost ghostly sound was created suggesting the feeling of riding a wave. With the popularization of surfing in southern California in the 1950s, a new genre of music was born.
A junior high school talent show in 1961 was The Surfaris beginning. A guitar teacher and his pupil, Bob Berryhill, took the stage and played “Rebel Rouser” by Duane Eddy. Fellow contestants Pat Connolly, also a guitarist, and bass player Jim Fuller, remembered Berryhill and one year later asked him to join them for a party gig they had hustled up. Drummer, Ron Wilson was also recruited for the show. After receiving ten dollars for their show—at a Catholic school—the name The Surfaris was chosen. One reason they chose the name Surfaris was quite obviously from its surfing connotation. Some, however, have argued that the other inspirations for the name came from the vocal group of the time, The Safaris, or from the fledgling Beach Boys’ first national hit, “Surfin’Safari.”
With the later addition of a 12 year old saxophone player named Jim Pash, The Surfaris were complete and were taken under the tutelage of local record producer Dale Smallin, at whose house they practiced. In November of 1962, Smallin, who had become the band’s manager, booked the band for a one hour session at Paul Buff’s Pal Recording Studio in nearby Cucamonga. The band knocked out two tracks, “Wipe Out” and “Surfer Joe,” which would make up their first single. “Surfer Joe” the song they had initially planned on recording was written by drummer Ron Wilson who, oddly enough, had been inspired to write the song about a cool “beach blondie” surfer dude who gets drafted into the armed forces, by a dream he had. The legendary “Wipe Out,” with its maniacal laughter and sped up marching band drumming, was written in the studio, as an afterthought, primarily because the band just needed a B-side for “Surfer Joe.”
Smallin, seeing major potential in the group, started showing the master copies of the newly recorded singles around to local major and independent labels. Among others, Capitol, Liberty, Del-Fi, and Era all turned down the option to release the single. Undaunted, Smallin paid for a pressing of 2000 records which came out on his own DFS label and the band sold the records at shows or gave them away to friends. Smallin continued to shop the Surfaris around and finally hit paydirt with the tiny Princess record label owned by John Marascalco. Signing a contract for an advance of $200 against future royalties and for the publishing of both songs to go to Marascalco’s Robin Hood Music, The Surfaris were on their way.
By early 1963, the record started gaining popularity in markets like Fresno and Santa Barbara, California. Spurned by these regional successes, Princess’s next move was to lease the masters to the major label Dot Records for national distribution. Starting to gain national air play, the Surfaris and Princess then sold the masters to Dot who signed the band to an album contract. Richard Delvy, who had hooked the band up with Princess actually ended up signing the contract
Band members have included Bob Berry hill, (from 1962-66), guitar; Pat Connolly, (from 1962-65), bass; Ken Forsi, (from 1965-66), bass; Jim Fuller, (from 1962- 66), guitar; Jack Oldham, (from 1966-67), bass; Jim Pash. (1962-1967), saxophone, guitar; Guy Watson, (in 1966), guitar; and Ron Wilson, (died c. 1990, played in band from 1962-67), drums.
Formed in Glendora, California, 1962; signed to Princess records, 1963; won national distribution with Dot records, 1963; disbanded, 1967; reformed sporadically with original members through the 1970s and 1980s.
Awards: BMI award 1963, number one song “Wipe Out;” Australian record of the year award for “Wipe Out,” 1964.
with his band, The Challengers. This piece of shadiness led to another band actually being the ones playing on the album. When The Surfaris realized that it wasn’t them playing (they had also recorded the songs), their manager confessed that the reason was they weren’t music union members. Shadier still was the fact that the Surfari’s versions of “Wipe Out” and “Surfer Joe” were still used on the album. Filing suit, the band was released from their contract with Dot.
After the Dot debacle, the Surfaris signed with Decca records and recorded their first real album, The Surfaris Play. They also re-recorded “Wipe Out” and “Surfer Joe,” since Princess Records still held the rights to the original versions. Unable to tour because of high school commitments, the band played local dances and recorded. A new single, “Point Panic,” did fairly well on the charts and by February of 1964 Hit City ’64 was released. By the end of 1964, the band had toured Hawaii, Australia, and New Zealand, won a BMI award for “Wipe Out” as 1963’s number one song, won a settlement from Dot records, and fired their manager, Dale Smallin.
By 1965, The Beatles and the British Invasion had been around for about a year and popular musical tastes were shifting. Another Decca LP, Hit City ’65 was released and the band headed out to tour Japan, where they were still quite popular, having hit the Japanese charts at number two with their song, “Karen.” By this time, the band was being produced by Gary Usher, former Brian Wilson collaborator who unsuccessfully tried to foist a sort of Beach Boys sound on the band. Their late 1965 release It Ain’t Me Babe, saw them trying very hard to keep with the times. It also saw the departure of founding members Jim Fuller and Bob Berryhill. Pat Conolly had left the band a year earlier prior to their tour of Japan. With only Jim Pash and Ron Wilson still around from the first line up, the band continued on until 1967 when Jim Pash became a born again Christian. In an odd twist, the band’s last two singles were released on Dot, whom they signed with again after leaving Decca.
Since the breakup, The Surfaris have regrouped several times for Surf revival shows, appearing at the First Annual Surfers Stomp in 1973 with the likes of Dick Dale, Jan and Dean, and The Marketts. They also re-recorded “Wipe Out” in 1976 for a K-Tel compilation. Through the eighties the band split off into two different sets of Surfaris with Berryhill, Pash, and Fuller staying in Southern California and Ron Wilson fronting a Northern California bunch of Surfaris. While most of their catalog has gone out of print, several compilation albums are still available. “Wipe Out” is still a mainstay of oldies radio formats.
“Wipe Out,” Dot, 1963.
The Surfaris Play, Decca, 1963.
Hit City ‘64, Decca, 1964.
Fun City USA, Decca, 1964.
Hit City ’65, Decca, 1965.
It Ain’t Me Babe, Decca, 1965.
Wipe Cut! The Best of the Surfaris, Varese Sarabande, 1994.
Surfin ’ Guitars: Instrumental Surf Bands of the Sixties, Robert J. Dalley, 1988, Surf Publications, California, USA.
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