CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (May 18, 2023) — The familiar guitar riffs and catchy beats of traditional surf rock don’t exactly conjure up images of Stinson Beach or Ocean Beach, but a good amount of local bands and musicians are keeping the popular 1960s genre alive and well in the Bay Area.
With the warm weather returning, it’s a good time to explore some current regional acts offering that classic surf rock sound.
The Greasy Gills are a trio from Oakland who describe themselves as “three creatures playing high octwang (sic) instrumental rock ’n’ roll music.” Attendees of Concord’s Music and Market series may recall their performance last year on the Todos Santos Plaza stage ahead of Mitch Polzack and the Royal Deuces. Like Polzack’s group, the young trio’s catalog includes high-energy originals and covers of both surf rock and western twang.
Further embracing the throwback motif, the band released their 2019 EP on vinyl as a 45 RPM. More recently, the band released a 14-song “Greatest Hits” exclusively on CD, which incidentally is made to look like a vinyl record. The rest of their catalog is available on most streaming platforms and online retailers. The Greasy Gills also play routinely across the Bay Area.
Hailing from Martinez, Brian Walker released his album “The Last Wave” in late 2020, both digitally and on CD. Citing Brian Wilson and Dick Dale as major influences, Walker describes the sound on his debut album as “retro-modern surf music.”
Half of the tracks on “The Last Wave” are traditional instrumental surf rock tunes, driven by his twangy lead guitar, including one Joe Meek cover called “Telstar (Twist).” The other half are original songs with beach vibes about girls, waves and last chances. Walker will perform with his band the Killbillies on June 3 at Greenery Sports Bar & Grill at Diablo Hills Golf Course in Concord.
The wet season
San Francisco-based band Frankie and the Pool Boys have been putting out surf rock albums and singles since 2008. The band released a 27-track collection of songs called “The Wet Season” in 2021. Since then, they’ve had a handful of singles – the most recent being a surf rock interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” that dropped last month.
Frankie and the Pool Boys say they are committed to the traditional instrumental sound of the first wave of Southern California beach music because they want to emphasize melody, grooves and fun, arguing “who needs a bunch of dumb lyrics?”
The Mermen, also from San Francisco, have been playing surf rock-rooted instrumental jams since 1989. With 12 albums now under their belt, the group has enjoyed an illustrious career. They have extensively toured the United States and shared the stage with countless world-renowned artists, including surf rock titans Dick Dale and the Ventures.
Now in their 34th year as a band, their overall sound has branched out a bit but remains rooted in the primary elements of surf rock. The Mermen continue to perform live all across the greater Bay Area, and occasionally beyond.
To hear some offerings from the aforementioned artists, as well as more surf rock artists, tune into KVHS on Memorial Day weekend. A special surf rock episode of “The Beat of Diablo” will air at 7 p.m. Sunday, May 28, on 90.5 FM and stream at KVHS.com.
Links to social media accounts for all local artists mentioned in this column can be found by clicking “artists” at TheBeatofDiablo.com.
Dave Hughes is a local music advocate with an extensive network of independent artists. He produces and hosts a local music program on KVHS called The Beat of Diablo, every Sunday at 7:00 PM on 90.5 FM. Dave also catalogs local music releases at ConcordRockCity.com.