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MUSIC : Halibuts Riding Wave of Surfer Popularity : The revivalist group should feel at home at Santa Barbara's Toes Tavern, which is decorated with mementos of the area's celebrated sport.

August 18, 1994|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

". . . And you'll never hear surf music again . . ."

--Jimi Hendrix

Hey, so what do you expect from a guy from Seattle--a reliable surf forecast?

Surf music, a phenomenon originating in Southern California, has never really gone away, and today it's probably healthier than the water in the Santa Monica Bay.

For more than 30 years, surf music with its twangy guitars, thundering basses and wailing saxes has had its ups and downs, much like the waves along the coast of the Southland beach cities. This kowabunga karma probably won't ever play in Kansas or even Bakersfield, at least until the Big One creates beachfront property in Kern County.

But along the coast, there's always a surf music revival group. This time it's the Halibuts, who will be hanging-10 all over Toes Tavern in Santa Barbara on Friday night, causing finheads, gremmies and hodads alike to do that surfer stomp.

The argument is still on as to who was first, but back in 1961, instrumental surf music seemed to sprout simultaneously in the South Bay with the Belairs and down the road apiece in Orange County with Dick Dale & the Del-Tones.

The Surfaris, the Chantays, the Pyramids, the Challengers, Eddie & the Showmen and the Lively Ones among others all had instrumental hits in the early '60s. While the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and the Fantastic Baggys sang about what it looked like in the Golden State--sun, surf, girls, cars and more girls--the instrumental bands described what it sounded like to be locked in the tube of a 10-foot left.

Dick Dale, "The King of the Surf Guitar," who just released an album a few months ago, bridges the gap from 1961 to the present. But the newer surf bands, which began appearing around 1980 and include the Malibooz, Jon & the Nightriders and Ventura's own Big Wednesday, are sometimes labeled surf revival bands.

Such, perhaps, are the Halibuts, who have been around for about 15 years, and definitely are not new by musical standards. The band includes Peter Curry and Rick Johnson on guitars, Kevin Daley on bass, Randy Haskins on drums, Joe Lyou on sax and Bruce Paddy on keyboards.

"Surf music right now is probably bigger than it has been for awhile," said Curry during a recent phone interview. "There's probably seven or eight bands right now playing surf music in the old style. About five years ago, we were about the only ones."

At one point, a band's address didn't matter, and even having a beach and waves nearby was unimportant. The Astronauts out of Denver had a hit with "Baja" in 1964, and the Rivieras had a hit about the same time when they sang of that warm "California Sun." The Rivieras were from the Midwest; maybe Lake Erie was breaking . . .

"Yeah, we get fan mail from all over California, the East Coast and even Europe, but nowhere in between," said Curry.

Instrumental surf music is far more predictable than the surf.

"It's pretty traditional," said Johnson. "We have a killer bass and drums and churning guitars. It hasn't really changed a lot except maybe it's a little more aggressive. We all use old equipment that we started collecting a long time ago. Since we started back in '79 or '80, we were into the old stuff. At first, we didn't even know how to play but we learned, and we've become quite a bit better as a band. But we'll never change and we've never wanted a singer. No desire."

If surf music hasn't changed much, the beaches have, especially up here in the 805 area code. Southers, since the '60s, are used to leaving a day early in order to find somewhere to park, then every wave has a million people going left, another going right, and now the lifeguards at some state beaches have guns.

"I surf a lot, and I've never had any trouble," said Johnson.

The Halibuts couldn't have chosen a more appropriate venue than Toes Tavern, whose owners refer to it as a "classic surf bar." There are surfboards hanging from the ceiling, 30-year-old surf movies running continuously and vintage photos, lending further proof to the old surf adage, "Dude, you should've been here yesterday . . ."

"We only play about once a month because we don't want to wear it out," said Curry. "People that come to see us are usually in their late 20s, early 30s, mostly surfers. Most of us have real jobs--we're all taxpayers. We usually do about three hours, usually without an opening act. We know about 75 songs, I think, about half of those are originals. Oh, and we don't play east of Sepulveda Boulevard anymore."

No matter how flat the surf is, there always seems to be a couple of finheads, members of the Optimist Club obviously, waiting for a swell. The Halibuts, too, are patient.

"I guess we'll do another CD, in three years or so, I dunno," said Curry. "We don't move very fast."

Details

* WHAT: The Halibuts.

* WHERE: Toes Tavern, 416 State St., Santa Barbara.

* WHEN: Friday, about 9.

* HOW MUCH: $5 or less.

* CALL: 965-4655.

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