After five decades, surf-sound music and Orange County remain synonymous.
The classic tunes continue to be performed by oldie surf rock and vocal surf pop bands, much of it now made by middle-aged musicians with a mutual and undying love for the California sound.
The bands play originals as well as covers by surf-sound instrumental legends like Dick Dale, & the Deltones (“Misirlou”), the Ventures (“Walk, Don’t Run”) the Surfaris (“Wipeout”) and the Chantays (“Pipeline), as well as vocal pop groups like the Beach Boys (“Surfin’ USA”) and Jan and Dean (“Surf City”). They perform paid and charity gigs in Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and Orange County as well as all over Southern California.
Jay Truax, a 21-year Balboa Island resident began his musical career in 1962, when he started playing rhythm guitar and bass with the Nomads from Downey.
In 1983, he was asked to join The Surfaris of “Wipeout” fame. After 30 years playing under the Surfaris band name, a trademark dispute ensued, which ceased all future use of the name by Truax and the other current band members.
The band is now known as Big Wednesday and Legends, and it still plays Surfaris’ tunes. Big Wednesday is a three-piece version of the now-Legends Band and was originally formed to play Mammoth Mountain during ski season.
“When we were in the Surfaris we did the Fourth of July parade in Huntington Beach as guests of the H.B. Surf Museum in 2008,” he said. “The judging was very early, like 7 a.m. "[Since] there were only three of us on the float when the judges came by we played ‘Misirlou’ for the judges and won first prize out of all the many bands in the parade.
“Thus the idea of the three-piece [band]. The band has played all over the world, casinos, cruises, TV, state fairs, and clubs and is still going strong as the Legends.”
According to lead guitarist John Daffron, also a Balboa Island resident, the Newport Beach-based Fabulous Nomads remains one of the longest-running surf bands. Their Facebook pages describes them as “synonymous with waves, sunshine, music, and fun.”
“Around 1959, a bunch of young kids were recruited, and the band has gone on with different members for 50 years,” Daffron said.
The Fabulous Nomads have played the Balboa Island parade annually since its inception 22 years ago.
Sometimes they perform two to three times each weekend at local bars, like the Shamrock Bar & Grill in Newport and the Harp Inn in Costa Mesa, as well as surfing events, the Surf City Marathon in H.B. and the O.C. Fair, and they are regulars at the American Legion Post 291 on the peninsula, where all four are members.
“We are most proud about the Nomads’ charity events, such as school events and wounded warriors,” Daffron said.
The Breakaways Surf Band, known for playing ‘60s-era instrumental surf and beach music, was founded by guitarist Craig Skelly in 1996.
Most of the gigs are event-based rather than in bar settings, and with the growing need to perform at charity events, like Ronald McDonald House, Race For The Cure and Alzheimer’s Assn., Skelly created a second band, specifically for that purpose, called the Curlriders.
“Rather than turn down the charity, we took the time to find the right players, which requires a certain temperament to play for free,” explained Skelly.
Nostalgia helps fuel interest in the music, Skelly said.
“With hundreds of bands and songs created in such a short period of time, hearing [that] music makes people feel like they are 17 again,” he explained. “What keeps my band alive, why my phone rings, is the music that makes people think back fondly to childhood. Besides it’s family friendly, no negative lyrics. Kids and grandparents can have a fun time together, it’s timeless.”
It was also that mutual love of instrumental surf music that drew a group of guys from UC Santa Barbara in 1987 to form The Swingin’ Tikis. According to drummer Dominic Tucci, the band has transitioned since then and, with the addition of Tim Carr, has gone in the direction of more traditional beach party music.
The five members all have a soft spot for charitable organizations, so much so that the majority of their performances are at no charge.
“We are most proud of whenever the band has raised a ton of money for a lot of great charities, such as the Surfing Heritage and Cultural Center (over $17,000), the John Wayne Cancer Foundation, the Surfrider Foundation, the McKenna Claire Foundation for Pediatric Brain Cancer,” Tucci said. “We not only performed but organized many of those events.”
It’s never really about making a lot of money, or wanting to be get rich or be rock stars, it’s more about the music, Tucci said.
The Retros claim a nice following because of their versatile ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s music style, in addition to their surf medley. They have been around for 21 years and call L.A. their hometown.
“A lot of our gigs are down in O.C., and we don’t mind the drive, except maybe on Fridays,” said guitarist Joe Kory.
They perform monthly at both the American Legion Post 291 and the Newport Beach Elks Club. They also play the Balboa Island Artwalk and the Balboa Island Parade as well as private events.
With full-time day jobs restricting them to perform exclusively on weekends, they manage to juggle the 50 to 70 gigs that they have booked during a year.
Schedules like that ensure that surf music will survive the decades to come.