I don’t surf. Never have. In fact, I have been deeply afraid of the ocean ever since I saw Jaws in theaters in the summer of 1975 when I was nine years old. And, it’s true what the locally famous, long defunct Euclid Beach Band once said, “There’s just no surf in Cleveland, U.S.A.!”
However, back in 1989, I was watching TV with my then girlfriend, Myleen, at her house, and we saw the HBO premier of the Canadian sketch comedy show The Kids In The Hall. I really liked the show’s surfy theme song which I later learned was called “Having An Average Weekend” by the Canadian instrumental rock band Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet. And, with that, I fell into an obsession for modern instrumental surf music, predating a resurgence whose catalyst was Quentin Tarantino‘s Pulp Fiction (1994).
I discovered a lot of cool modern instrumental surf bands, both traditional (The Volcanos, The Fathoms, etc) and neo-traditional (Los Straitjackets, Man or Astro-man?, etc). The obsession, eventually, faded, and I stopped listening to (most of) those bands, but, one band keeps demanding my attention every now and again. They’re called The Eliminators, and they are one the best modern traditional instrumental surf bands.
Instrumental surf music began in the early ’60s in Southern California. Its guitar-based sound was characterized by the use of heavy reverb to emulate the “wet” sound of the waves. Surf music also utilizes the guitar’s vibrato arm (“whammy bar”) to bend the notes, rapid tremolo picking and, typically, Fender guitars and amps. The great Dick Dale, whose song “Misirlou” was used on Pulp Fiction‘s soundtrack, was the first to popularize instrumental surf music in the 60s, and he kicked out a few very “punk” instrumental surf records in the 90s [Tribal Thunder (1993), Unknown Territory (1994)] when he was in his 50s. Anyway …
Unleashed (1995), The Eliminators‘ 1st CD, is a modern instrumental surf masterpiece, rivaled by none. The disc opens with the exhilarating rocker “Boneyard” which, in surf speak, is the “impact zone” or the place you don’t want to be when a set of waves comes out of nowhere. “Bone Cruncher” is a similar track.
“Moment of Truth” is a cover of a song originally recorded by The Original Surfaris in 1963. The Eliminators‘ version is not only the best version of that song, but, also one of the best damn modern traditional surf songs, like, ever! It’s frenetic and insanely melodic! “Chief Whoopin’ Koff”, driven by a tribal beat, is another cool cover, originally recorded by pre-surf rockers The Fireballs in 1960.
“Dawn Patrol” is a moodier track whose title, in surf speak, refers to the act of getting up before dawn to go surfing, and, it brings to mind Bodhi-esque surfers hoping to be the first to find that perfect wave. “Rincon” takes its name from one of the most famous surf spots in Southern California, and, the chunky driving riff reminds you that the spot is also one of the most dangerous.
“Punta Baja”, another moody track, is named after a well-known surfing spot in Mexico, but, for me, I think of a horrifying monster creeping from the surf to devour (or have sex with) a bikini-clad beach babe! So, instead, let’s call this one “El Monstruo de Punta Baja”!
“Johnny’s Noseride” is an upbeat blast of summer fun that would a fit nicely playing over B-movie surf scenes. “Noseriding”, by the way, is the art of maneuvering the surfboard from the front end. “Surfin’ Spies” is a darker spy theme that would be perfect in a movie about spies. Who surf. And, finally, “The Lonely Sea” offers a twangy romantic soundtrack for watching the sun set on the beach.
Listen to “Moment of Truth” here:
Ultra Sonic Surf Guitars (1998), The Eliminators‘ 2nd album, offered more authentic surf instrumentals, often with more eclectic influences (like mariachi in “El Borracho” and blues in “Monte Carlo Blues”). The best track is “Point Conception”, which was originally recorded by “2nd wave” instrumental surf band The Surf Raiders in 1982. But, The Eliminators‘ version is another amazing cover, with plenty of whammy! “Point Conception” is a headland along the Pacific coast of California. Now, the second best track is “Mysto Reef” which is named after a surfing spot in Santa Cruz in which the waves break on a far away reef. Other cool surf-inspired tracks include “E-Five”, “Surf Sacrifice”, “Da’ Coffin” and “Cross Steppin'”.
Elsewhere, “Shifter” is a cool drag instrumental [drag/hot rod is an offshoot of surf], while “Dr. Jelly Finger” is a another excellent spy theme. “Long Live the King” is not a tribute to Elvis, but, to Dick Dale, who was known as the “King of the Surf Guitar”. Finally, “The Breeze And I” is a twangy pleasant track for just relaxing on the beach all alone. Yes, another fine collection from a very cool band!
But, sadly, no videos (again!), and, I couldn’t find audio for “Point Conception”, so listen to “The Eliminator” by Dick Dale, at 64, from his album Spacial Disorientation (2001) here:
The Eliminators‘ long-awaited 3rd album, Room To Move, was released in 2010. It’s a good album, but, for me, a little of the magic was lost. But, I’ll be forever soaked in reverb with those first two albums!