Thom Starr & the Galaxies

South Side Surf: Anthology 1963-1964

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A gazillion instrumental surf bands sprang up across the U.S. during the early-'60s surf music boom, most of them fated to play nothing more than local dances and bars. California led the way in the whole thing, since one could actually surf in the Pacific Ocean, and some of the state’s surf combos actually knew what to do with a long board, although for the sake of music history, it’s what they could do with outboard reverb units that really mattered. One of the hardcore surf band centers was in South Bay, a coastline region between Orange County to the south and Los Angeles to the north, and the area spawned countless surf combos, including Thom Starr & the Galaxies. Guitarist Starr started the band in 1962 straight out of high school, modeling the group more or less on Paul Johnson's Bel-Airs (Johnson actually replaced Starr for a brief time in the group when Starr left to pursue auto racing in 1964). The Galaxies weren’t that different from the scores of other surf outfits in the area, but Starr had a knack for composition, and the bulk of their stage sets were made up of originals rather than note-for-note covers of Dick Dale and Ventures instrumentals. Somehow the band ended up in Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood in 1963, recording an entire album of Starr originals -- the album, titled Sons of the Beach, was never released and the tracks became a kind of Holy Grail for surf collectors. Sundazed has finally brought this lost album to the digital age in this set, which includes the whole of Sons of the Beach as well as three other tracks recorded at the session and nine previously unissued tracks from 1964. In truth, the Sons of the Beach tracks aren’t anything particularly distinctive, although they rock along with some zeal and kinetic energy -- any of South Beach’s surf units probably could have done as well. The tracks from 1964, though, show a more refined band, and cuts like the lovely, tropical-sounding “Enchanted Island” and the tough “Renegade,” both Starr originals, feature clearly thought-out arrangements and execution. Sons of the Beach may not be the great lost surf album, but the legacy presented here is still a nice one, and it captures a time and place when the sun seemed to shine forever and the waves were as tall as dreams.

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