The Surfaris - Biography

By Nick Castro


Surfaris have become of the world's most famous surf rock bands, mainly due to their main hit, "Wipe Out", but to a lesser extent, another song called "Surfer Joe". The band was formed by Glendale musicians, Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly,  Jim Fuller and Ron Wilson. Various other members have worked their ways through the band's ranks, most notably though is Ken Forssi, later to play in legendary Los Angeles band, Love. Another noteworthy member was saxophonist Jim Pash, who was only 12 years old when he joined the group.


Surfaris were taken under the wing of record producer Dale Smallin, and he nurtured the young band. They would even practice at Smallin's house in their early days. Smallin would soon see their emerging talent and begin managing the group, including booking some studio time for the group, where they recorded "Surfer Joe" and "Wipe Out". "Wipe Out" was originally intended to be the b-side to "Surfer Joe".  Smallin began shopping the recordings around town but was having trouble getting anyone to sign the band. They were turned down by every major label, and several independent ones as well. Smallin, being a man of ingenuity, saw the setback as an opportunity. Truly believing in Surfaris, Smallin put up the money to start his own label, DFS, and pressed 2,000 copies of the single himself. The band would sell the records at shows or to people they knew. All the while, Smallin would continue to seek proper label representation and finally found a small independent label that was interested. Surfaris signed to Princess records. The began to get a lot of attention, albeit regionally, with their record. Princess licensed the songs to Dot, who then proceeded to sign the band for their first full length album, Wipe Out (1963 - Dot). There was some controversy with this album though; it was not actually Surfaris playing on the record. Instead, in a dubious maneuver, Richard Delvy, the man who partially owned Princess records and was negotiating the contract on Surfaris' behalf, actually signed his own band, The Challengers, to the contract but under Surfaris' name. Surfaris, being young and naive, trustingly allowed Delvy to hold the rights to their publishing so he took advantage, being no rookie to the music business himself. When Surfaris confronted Delvy about the hoax, he tried to say that the reason was because the young Surfaris were not union members, and that it was merely a formality. This explanation may have held water if it were not for the fact that the original Surfaris versions of the songs "Wipe Out' and "Surfer Joe" were still issued on the record, alongside the new Challengers recordings. Surfaris filed a lawsuit against Delvy and Dot records, who settled by letting the band out of their contract. By this time, Surfaris had established themselves in the eyes of the media and record executives and they had no trouble securing another deal, this time with Decca records. They were finally able to record a legitimate debut album.


Surfaris released the album The Surfaris Play (1963 - Decca), which contained both songs from their debut single, but newly recorded versions since Princess still owned the masters, as well as the album's excellent opener, "Waikiki Run". One of the standout tracks on the album is their cover version of Link Wray's classic song, "Jack the Ripper". This album solidified the band amongst the ranks of rising stars of surf rock. Most of the surf groups of the day were influenced by Dick Dale, especially his song "Let's Go Trippin". The band was still in high school though, so missed many opportunities to tour. The did however release another single of the song "Point Panic", which became another minor hit for the group. Towards the end of 1964, Surfaris finally began to tour, which took them to Australia and New Zealand. With their newfound success, Surfaris fired their shady manager, won a settlement from Dot over their songs and won the BMI award for song of the year, 1963, for their song "Wipe Out", which is now one of the most famous rock songs in the world. Its opening surfboard breaking sound, maniacal laugh and descending guitar line, which surf guitar players picked from middle eastern oud records all helped to carve out its place in rock history. Decca released a series of Surfaris album, including a number of repackaged ones, including Fun City USA/Wipe Out (1964 - Decca), Fun City (1964 - Decca), Hit City '64 (1964 - Decca) and Hit City '65 (1965 - Decca). Hit City was one of the last great surf rock albums of its time. Tastes were changing as the British invasion took hold of America and the popularity of groups like Surfaris was beginning to wane. There are still excellent moments and guitar work on this record, including on the songs "Scatter Shield" and Wax, Board and Woodie". Hit City '65 found the band even doing Beatles material, with the song "She's a Woman", as well as doing other popular covers of the time, like "Love Potion No. 9", written by Leiber/Stoller, and "Dance, Dance, Dance" by the Beach Boys. By this time the band was being produced by Gary Usher, who had worked with the Beach Boys and would later work with The Byrds on their seminal late 60's albums. Usher tried to puch the group towards a Beach Boys sound and he helped them create the album It Aint Me, Babe (1965 - Decca), which many see as the album that finally killed the last of the group's popularity. Berryhill and Fuller left the group. The diparate element tried to go on, but by 1967 they called it wuits as well.


As musical tastes have continued to change, the popularity of the group has continued to rise and fall, as it did in the 70's when the group enjoyed a short reunion period. By the 80's, they were operating as two different bands, once again, with the same name. Berryhill can still be seen on his rigorous tour schedules.

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