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How Surf music started: The Belairs and Mr. Moto

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The earliest  studio tracks, garage sessions and home recording of Paul Johnson and Eddie Bertrand date back soon after the first time they met on the school bus one afternoon in 1959 when they were 13 years of age and they became friends.

Johnson was 14 when he wrote Mr. Moto, named after a fictional Chinese detective made famous in a series of movies by actor Peter Lorre by the '40s. The young musician from L.A.'s South Bay had been playing less than a year when he worked out the tune while studying a guitar exercise. Mr. Moto was also the name of a popular 1950s LA-area wrestler. Couldn't find any explanation WHY he titled the song Mr. Moto, because it's an instrumental so no reference is obvious. Actually, a second recording of the band was titled Charle Chan, another fictional Chinese detective.

Soon Paul Johnson, Eddie Bertrand and other three high-school lads, Chas Stuart,  Richard Delvy and Jim Roberts formed a band and called it The BelAirs, after Stuart's car. Johnson's catchy song stood out among the tunes his band  played at country clubs and UCLA frat parties. The BelAirs finally recorded it and four other tunes in an hour long recording session that cost $32 in 1961. They then spent months knocking on doors before signing with Arvee Records, where a then-unknown Sonny Bono remixed it before its release. Mr. Moto made its way onto the radio when KRLA DJ Sam Riddle started playing it. Among those who heard it were The Beach Boys. This was the start of what became known as the California surfin' sound even if at the beginning it was not called "surf".

Johnson remembers the night an excited surfer approached him between sets at the Knights of Columbus hall:
"Your music sounds just like it feels out there on a wave," he told Johnson. "You ought to call it surf music!"

Johnson never surfed and didn't find The BelAirs much different from a string of other instrumental rock bands that had come before them, but that didn't matter. No other live bands were playing in the area, and area youths connected with a band composed of local teens. By default, The BelAirs had created the music of a region, and accidentally it became the soundtrack of a culture.

Mr. Moto is surf music’s pivotal recording, is an instrumental surf rock song that features a flamenco-inspired intro and contained a melodic piano interlude. Paul Johnson’s rhythmic minor key strumming style completely masks the fact that this song was recorded with only drums, sax, lead and rhythm guitars; no bass!


In some reference information, Dick Dale's "Let's go Tripping" is listed as the first proper surf sound but The BelAirs "Mr. Moto" was launched 3 months before. Since Mr. Moto is one of the very first songs considered Surf Music, this is what makes it the first instance of this style.  This fact should not reduce in any amount the merits of Dick Dale, recognized as The King of the Surf Guitar. He pioneered the surf music style, experimenting with reverberation, pushing the limits of electric amplification technology, helping to develop new equipment that was capable of producing distorted, "thick, clearly defined tones" at "previously undreamed-of volumes." The speed of his single-note staccato picking technique and showmanship with the guitar is considered a precursor to heavy metal music, influencing guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen.


However the most famous song of the first wave to employ this style is definitely "Pipeline" by The Chantay's.


The Belairs broke up after about two years and some of it's original members formed The Challengers, a group with some years of success in surf music and later in the car and hot rod music scene.





PD: Actually there are at least two other songs, previous to Mr. Moto, with this "surf" sound: Ritchie Valens with Fast Freight (1958) and  The Gamblers' Moon Dawg (1960)





Edited by luisam

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46 minutes ago, Advertiser said:


It's just timely to remember  that The Beach Boys' Surfin' USA by Brian Wilson is actually a surf remake of "Sweet Little Sixteen!" (1958) by Chuck Berry (R.I.P.). Under pressure from Berry's publisher, Wilson's father and manager, Murry Wilson, gave the copyright, including Brian Wilson's lyrics, to Arc Music.

By the way, The Beatles recorded this song, "Sweet Little Sixteen" for the "Pop Go The Beatles" radio show on 10 July 1963, following the original rock 'n' roll rhythm. Just another rock 'n' roll version was released by "Ten Years After" in 1970.







Edited by luisam

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The Beach Boys were also innovators in "Good Vibrations" - 1966 ... one of the most important compositions and recordings of the entire rock era and it is regularly hailed as one of the finest pop productions of all time ...also with changing atmospheres and new use of an old instrument: Theremin
... Most famously, Tanner played his Electro-Theremin on three songs by The Beach Boys: "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times", "Good Vibrations", and "Wild Honey". The instrument used in "Good Vibrations" was a Heathkit tube-type audio oscillator coupled to a mechanical action that allowed the player to mark notes along a ruler-type scale where notes could be located quickly and precisely.





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