If you’re of a certain age, you remember the Gidget movies from the ’60s. Girls in bikinis that seemed scandalous but weren’t, the Watusi dance around a beach bonfire, surfing against a green-screen ocean. And the music.
Okay, some of that was Frankie Avalon, the crooner yang to Annette Funicello’s girly yin. But in my case, I remember the surf rock tunes from bands like the Surfaris (1962), the Ventures (1958), and tunes like Surfari’s “Wipe Out” and “Walk, Don’t Run” by the Ventures. The almost other-worldly echo-twang of the guitar, the deep tom drum driving the beat like stormy waves rushing the sand… these instantly bring to mind images of peach-rose sunsets, the scent of coconut suntan lotion, the slight tang of ocean water.
It’s not all stuck in the swingin’ sixties, though. Pacific Records, a local label run by musician and entrepreneur Brian Witkin, has kept this torch alive throughout the years. This month, Witkin is celebrating this uniquely Southern California heritage with Pacific Wave, a celebration of all things surf rock. Get out your flip flops, wax your board, and prepare to hang ten musically.
Aaron Markland, of the band Seawall Prophet, credits concert producer RosaLea Schiavone with the idea. While hanging out with Aaron’s agent and dad, Steve Markland, he says the pair concocted that “the idea of the festival was to bring several Pacific Records recording artists together, all with different takes on beach-oriented music, and put on an unforgettable live rock show at world-renowned Humphrey’s Backstage Live.”
“The night opens with Slack Key ‘Ohana, authentic slack-key Hawaiian music with vocal harmonies reminiscent of the Beach Boys. Next up come the Tourmaliners, high octane surf rock to the likes of Dick Dale and the Surfaris. Closing the night will be Seawall Prophet [Markland’s band], a fusion of reggae, rock, jazz, and funk to create the sound of SoCal, inspired by Bob Marley, Sublime, and Slightly Stoopid. The vibe will be nothing less than a party on the beach,” Markland says.
Schiavone, of Wicked Harem Productions, was one of the real-life Gidgets, so the idea inspired her. “I grew up as a surfer right out there in the ’60s,” she says. “Because I was smart, I could skip school and still get As on all my tests, so I would skip school and go surfing. I have an affinity for the lifestyle and the music. It’s all about a culture and surfing and the life they live.”
So, what is that lifestyle? Schiavone describes it as “the love of the ocean…it’s pretty peaceful but it’s very environmentally conscious and people love to party and be happy. They find solace and Zen in the water. They are risk takers on the waves, but there is a lot of camaraderie.”
The show features three bands that all record on Pacific Records, but their styles offer a variety of takes on that concept. Markland’s band, Seawall Prophet, began with a chance meeting at the Whistle Stop Bar. “It’s kind of a funny story,” Markland says. “Prior to the current lineup, I had a new batch of song ideas and was jamming with my mom [Julie Markland] on bass, and my buddy Shane Darcey [from the local band Puerto] on drums. Then about five years ago, my wife and I were out at the Whistle Stop Bar in South Park to check out the incredible local band Thee Sacred Souls.
Exclusive premier of Seawall Prophet’s “Already Gone” lyric video.
“Before the show started, the SDSU basketball game was on and we randomly met and quickly made friends with AJ Price, the current bass player for Seawall Prophet. Our families had so much in common and when we found out we were both musicians, AJ invited me to his home studio for a jam session with his jazz-fusion band Zzajj. I was nervous when I showed up at his studio for the first time, for fear of completely sucking and embarrassing myself, but when I noticed the sign above the studio entrance that read ‘leave your ego at the door,’ I knew I was in good company. That evening I got to know AJ’s son Chris Price [guitar] and Big Steve Cunningham [drums], who were some of the nicest people I had ever met and some of the best musicians I had ever jammed with. We became family, and since that night we fused my original beach rock and reggae songs with the funk, hip hop, and jazz-influenced style of the Zzajj band to officially become Seawall Prophet.”
Markland describes the different flavors of music that will be on display at Pacific Wave. “The most accurate term for the type of music people will hear at this festival is beach music. In my opinion, surf rock refers more to the Tourmaliners’ style of beach music featuring classic ’60s surf guitar. I would classify Seawall Prophet as Beach Rock, bringing the SoCal sound of Reggae and DUB, and blending it with rock ‘n’ roll (the Holy Trinity of beach rock being Bob Marley, Sublime, and Slightly Stoopid). Slack Key ‘Ohana takes a laid-back approach to beach music, transporting you to the islands with a more traditional Hawaiian sound.”
Witkin’s Slack Key ‘Ohana offers a slightly different take on the concept of surf rock. “Slack Key ‘Ohana consists of myself and Kamaka Mullen,” Witkin notes. “We are the founders and ‘The Duo’ when we entertain in our smallest form. We are fortunate to have bandmates with diverse musical backgrounds and talents. Both my parents, Carol [ukulele] and Joe [keys / bass], along with Rand Anderson on pedal steel are in the band.
“The band is very talented. Rand is a whiz on the pedal steel and has performed with many greats including the Tom Curran band. Both my parents were in bands when I was growing up and my father was the original keyboard player for Sha Na Na and performed at Woodstock in 1969 right before Jimi Hendrix. We also have two hula dancers, Alyssa and Alana Godoy. Alana won Miss Pacific Islander Festival a couple times. Our focus, stylistically, as a band is on harmonies and incorporating our own style and influences with traditional Hawaiian and Slack Key music.”
Deven Berryhill has surf guitar in his DNA. His father, Bob Berryhill, still tours with the Surfaris, and started the band in the early ’60s. Deven plays occasionally with the Surfaris and has since 2002, but for Pacific Wave, his own band, the Tourmaliners, will be featured. “When most people think of surf rock, bands like the Ventures and the Surfaris come to mind. I know that many people have called our band surf rock. We prefer to call our music ‘surf guitar music.’“We play more in the instrumental style of artists like Dick Dale, Link Wray, the Ventures, and Los Straitjackets. Today, many have included artists like Jack Johnson, 311, Donovan Frankenreiter, and G-Love to the genre of surf rock.”
All three bands in the show have strong ties to the Southern California surf culture. Deven notes, “Our band’s name comes from the surf spot in North Pacific Beach called Tourmaline Surf Park/Canyon. Most of us in the band either live or grew up in the PB area. We love the retro longboard vibe and aloha spirit that exists down in the canyon. One of our sponsors has been Gordon & Smith Surfboards, with founding surfers from Tourmaline, like Larry Gordon and Skip Frye.”
Witkin, CEO of Pacific Records, says that the musical styles of the three featured bands, while different, all echo the basic beach life vibe. “To me, beach culture is art and music focused on all things relating to the ocean and the lifestyle that comes with being on the coast,” he says. “I surf often and live on the coast. Proximity to the ocean helps, but I think beach culture is something everyone can appreciate regardless of location or swimming ability…I mean what’s not to like? Good weather, beautiful scenery, and a laid-back lifestyle has an almost universal appeal. One of the greatest parts of beach culture and Hawaiian music is that anyone can enjoy it… it’s all inclusive and all about spreading positive vibes.”
Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Pacific Beach, and most of coastal San Diego are known for this laid-back, retro feel. The Pacific Wave Festival gives music lovers a chance to experience it first-hand, even if surfing isn’t on the schedule.
Markland puts it this way: “Without hesitation, I can say that San Diego is the best city in the world, and Ocean Beach is its finest community. I come from a long lineage of Portuguese fisherman who migrated to San Diego four generations ago and eventually settled in OB. I am proud of my heritage, and I am so lucky to be an Obecian [slang for one who lives in Ocean Beach]. OB is one of the few beach communities left that celebrates its rich history and maintains that vintage small-town feel. Ocean Beach has incredible surf, top-notch locally owned restaurants and bars, and a world class music scene. What else could you ask for?”
Pacific Wave: February 18, 7 p.m.
Humphrey’s Backstage Live
2241 Shelter Island Drive
Reserved seating. 21+
Pacific Wave https://www.humphreysbackstagelive.com/events/2023-02/Pacific Records: https://pacificrecords.com/
Pacific Wave tickets: https://www.livenation.com/event/vvG1IZ9_rffvr2/pacific-wave