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Former Surf Musicians of '60s Predict New Wave of Popularity for Their Music

January 08, 1989|GERALD FARIS | Times Staff Writer

These days, Dave Stadler owns a company in Long Beach that finds new homes for people displaced by redevelopment projects.

But as a 19-year-old in the early 1960s, the Manhattan Beach resident played bass guitar with the Vibrants, one of several South Bay teen surf bands that created a pulsating style of instrumental music that celebrated riding the waves from Ventura to San Diego County.

"We played all the local dances where the surfing crowd went--Moose halls, high schools, you name it," said the 45-year-old Stadler--savoring the memory of when the Vibrants were billed over The Beach Boys, a Hawthorne band that was just starting out.

It's been a while, he said, since he has touched a guitar.

These days, too, Bob Spickard--a guitarist who organized the Chantay's in the 1960s--owns an industrial equipment manufacturing company in Santa Ana. But the Chantay's have remained together all these years and play four or five dates a month--from oldies shows in Reno to private parties at the posh Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Laguna Niguel.

Expanded Repertoire

"We're more versatile than we used to be and, of course, older," said Spickard, 42. While retaining the basic guitar-dominated surf music style, the Chantay's now play "everything from Buddy Holly to Bob Seeger," he said.

It was the music that glorified the beach and surfing and came to symbolize life on the sand along the California coast.

The producers of a nostalgic CD and cassette of vintage surf music would like to bring together these former surf musicians, many of whom are now in their 40s and in careers far removed from music.

"We want to have a reunion to get everybody together . . . and sort of have a nice, relaxed instrumental jam session like the old days," said Steve Hoffman of Dunhill Compact Classics. "We want them appreciated and applauded. A lot of rock 'n' roll fans would be interested in hearing these pioneer musicians."

The time for this is right, said Robert J. Dalley, a one-time surf musician and historian of the music. Surf music, which has been in and out of favor over the years, is becoming in again. "It's really good, clean dance music," he said.

In today's music world with its leather, torn jeans, heavy metal and spiked purple hair, the '60s boys of summer appear innocent, indeed. Period photos taken at sock hops and teen fairs show smiling kids with short hair, skinny black ties and matching jackets.

Some were hardly out of puberty when they put together bands with eager, surfing chums who twanged electric guitars, coaxed gritty sounds out of saxophones and made everything sound hollow and echoing by using electronic reverb units.

And many were barely out of their teens when the surf music craze ended in 1965 after five short years--killed off by the so-called "British invasion" and its shock troops, the revolutionary Beatles.

"The Beatles took the thunder away," said Paul Johnson, 42, who was 15 when he put together the Belairs--named for the '55 Chevy one band member owned--at his house in Rolling Hills Estates.

"Music had to have a message, and instrumental bands got shoved aside," continued Johnson, who lives in Carlsbad and makes a living repairing and installing auto interiors. Surf music, however, is still a part of his life, and he was written a history of the Belairs and leads a surf band.

Dalley, who chronicles 41 bands in his illustrated "Surfin' Guitars," said there also were political and social overtones to the bands' demise.

Their music conjured visions of girls, "woodies," boards and the beach, "a time of good, innocent fun," he said. The assassination of President Kennedy, Yankee Go Home and the Vietnam War brought a darkness to America.

"The innocence was gone," he said.

Dunhill's "Surf Legends (And Rumors)," issued in December, is a collection of 26 instrumental tunes recorded between 1961 and 1964 in a studio in Downey. Among the bands are the Chantay's, Blazers and Revels. The music--on Downey Records--was recorded at Wenzel's Music Town record store. The store is still there, says owner Tom Wenzel, but the recording studio is gone.

Dunhill acquired re-issue rights and put out the collection. And while they know the names of all the bands, the identity of some of the musicians is a mystery, said Dunhill's Hoffman. So another purpose for the reunion would be to "set the record straight about who some of the people were in these records."

Finding these people would be a challenge but not impossible for whoever might want to find them, based on Times interviews with some one-time surf musicians and with Dalley, who spent eight years tracing people for his book. They live in such places as Redondo Beach, King City, Yorba Linda and Sacramento.

Some are still in music, often as a sideline, while others see the flowering of surf bands as something out of long ago.

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