Of all the bandwagons to infiltrate rock and roll, surf music would have to rank as one of the shortest lived but most widespread. I’m not talking about Dick Dale, the Belairs, the Surfaris, and the Chantays; they were the real deal.
But, since it was fairly simple guitar instrumental music, blues man Freddy King’s Let’s Hide Away And Dance Away, from 1961, was repackaged as Freddy King Goes Surfin’ two years later; instrumental pioneers like Duane Eddy and the Ventures, who had set the stage for surf, released surf-themed albums; even Bo Diddley, the bulk of whose material was vocal, put out the all-instrumental Surfin’ With Bo Diddley (which bore no resemblance to the genre and only featured Bo on about half the tracks); studio guitarists like Jerry Cole, Al Casey, and Richie Podolor cranked out low-budget instrumental albums that were western one minute, surf the next, then drag music, then go-go; and Phil Spector’s genius arranger turned a simple melody into an orchestrated epic and titled it “The Lonely Surfer.”
Podolor had been drummer Sandy Nelson’s guitarist. That’s him on “Teen Beat” and “Casbah,” the latter of which he also wrote. He’d eventually produce and/or engineer everyone from Steppenwolf to Iron Butterfly to the Electric Prunes to Alice Cooper to the Monkees to Three Dog Night to Black Oak Arkansas. But in the early ’60s, under the name Richie Allen, he recorded three instrumental guitar albums, two of which have been reissued by Sundazed.
Allen’s first LP, in 1963, was Stranger From Durango, which he describes in the liner notes to the Rising Surf reissue as “just a legitimate guitar record” – as opposed to anything surf-oriented. But jumping onto that bandwagon, Imperial Records got him back into the studio and, as Richie Allen And The Pacific Surfers, cut The Rising Surf – which, bandwagon or not, has some killer stuff, like the evocative title cut – not to mention killer session players like Nelson on drums, Rene Hall on rhythm guitar, Ray Pohlman on bass, and Plas Johnson and Steve Douglas on saxophones! One minute Richie could double-pick like Dick Dale (“Surfer’s Delight”), the next he could strum menacing tremolo chords a la Link Wray (“Undercurrent”), then twang a la Duane Eddy (“Foot Stomp U.S.A.”).
The label then re-titled three of Durango‘s tracks, recycled two from Rising (bothering to re-title only one), and cobbled together Surfer’s Slide, which doesn’t really measure up to the former effort (although “Ridin’ The Woodie” deserves mention for having perhaps the most unwittingly funny title of any surf song in history). This means that only seven of Slide‘s songs were unique to that album, which doesn’t measure up to Rising Surf‘s authenticity. It’s amazing to think that Imperial thought they could get away with such short-changing, but more amazing that they succeeded. But most amazing of all is that Sundazed decided to release these albums, each 27 minutes, individually, whereas if the duplications were omitted, they (and I’m guessing Durango too) would have fit on a single CD with room to spare!
Thankfully, each is budget-priced, but listeners (and, it would seem, Sundazed) would get more bang for their buck from a “Complete 1963 Recordings” explaining the whole story (or at least that prolific year) of the great, unsung guitarist Richie Allen.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s July ’06 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.