Various Artists

Rare Surf, Vol. 1: South Bay Bands

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Rare Surf, Vol. 1: South Bay Bands Review

by Bruce Eder

Anyone who enjoyed "Tally-Ho" by P.J. & the Galaxies on Rhino's Legends of Surf Guitar Vol. 1 need look no further than this 25-track collection, 14 of which are by the very same band. Also present are instrumentals by P.J. & Artie and the Journeymen, the latter one of the very first surf instrumental outfits in L.A.'s south bay area, dating from 1959. The material here might offer the prospect of a certain sameness, but the listener is in for a surprise -- P.J. and the Galaxies had some real musical smarts when it came to finding and choosing material to record. Paul (P.J.) Johnson was a gifted guitar player and composer in his own right, but he knew a good tune when he heard it, and had the band cutting versions of Terry Gilkyson's "Wild Goose" and even a surf guitar excerpt of Bedrich Smetana's "The Moldau" (!!!!!) that works; he also reached out to repertory by the British instrumental band the Shadows ("The Rise and Fall of Fingel Blunt"), as well as grabbing solid rock & roll standards ("Rockin' Pneumonia and the Boogie Woogie Flu"). What's more, they had a surprising elegance in some of the handling of their instruments, and could play in several "voices," all very danceable. In any case, they cut tracks that were different enough to make up a strong album. The sad irony is that only one track by the band on this collection has ever appeared before, anywhere -- one wonders how the members who've survived feel hearing it on CD 30-odd years later. Now P.J. & Artie (Art Fisher), on the other hand, have a slightly rawer guitar sound, with more punch -- for example, their version of "They Call The Wind Maria" from Lerner & Loewe's Paint Your Wagon, which starts in a "Little Drummer Boy" beat, breaking into a full shake-and-shimmy finale. And then there are the Journeymen, lead by guitarist Lonnie Fredericks, who could win a Dick Dale award for surf band excellence if there were one -- they play with fire and a lot passion, raw virtuosity down to every one of Roger Piersall's drum rolls, ornamented with some mean sax. The sound is first-rate, and the notes are detailed, deeply evocative of the period and the people, and a delight in their own right.

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