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Skinny Jimmy’s Picks: 5 underappreciated surf bands of the first wave

Skinny Jimmy's Picks: 5 underappreciated surf bands of the first wave

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of special features on instro surf music by Skinny Jimmy Stingray, a guitarist and longtime fan of vintage instrumental rock. His past and future columns can be found here on The Atomic Grog.

Guests at the special Retro Rekindled event at The Mai-Kai on Dec. 15 not only caught a great set of tunes by Skinny Jimmy and his band [See all the videos here], they also enjoyed The Atomic Grog’s in-depth interview with the guitarist, titled “From punk rocker to surf guitarist: Skinny Jimmy Stingray’s musical journey.” You can check out the full presentation here:

Among the many topics discussed were Jimmy’s favorite bands of the first wave of instrumental surf (late ’50s through mid-’60s) that may not have achieved the fame of some of the genre’s more widely known artists. Before the live set, we treated the attendees to vintage recordings of songs from these artists, whose achievements are no less influential and memorable than their more popular peers.

Here’s the list along with some select YouTube audio. We urge to you find more vintage recordings by these overlooked artists.

Skinny Jimmy’s Picks: 5 underappreciated surf bands of the first wave

Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band perform at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale in November 2019
Skinny Jimmy Stingray and his band perform at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale in November 2019. (Atomic Grog photo)

By Skinny Jimmy Stingray

My love of instrumental surf music has made me something of an archaeologist, searching for the next obscurity from the vintage surf era that I haven’t yet heard. I couldn’t begin to count just how many bands released instrumental rock ‘n’ roll guitar singles between 1958 and 1964 that are still worth seeking out, if not worth owning in one’s collection.

During this era, there was a vast amount of serious bands producing music – both professionally and as D.I.Y. artists. Many of these bands were important and vital to the scene during their day. However, over the years, they have remained under the radar and lack the notoriety they deserve.

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Minimalist Tiki

Skinny Jimmy’s Picks: The all-time top 5 Dick Dale songs

Skinny Jimmy's Picks: The all-time top 5 Dick Dale songs

Editor’s note: This is the second in a series of special features on instro surf music by Skinny Jimmy Stingray, a guitarist and longtime fan of vintage instrumental rock. His past and future columns can be found here on The Atomic Grog. Catch Jimmy in a special Retro Rekindled event on Dec. 15 at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale. He’ll discuss the history of surf music with The Atomic Grog, followed by a live performance with his band.

Dick Dale, Skinny Jimmy Stingray at Churchill's in Miami in 2012
Skinny Jimmy Stingray’s band shared the stage with Dick Dale three times in 2012-2013 in South Florida.

Skinny Jimmy’s Picks: The all-time top 5 Dick Dale songs

Dick Dale, the King of the Surf Guitar, was a rock ‘n’ roll legend for more than 60 years until he sadly passed away in March at age 81. He has been a major influence on the music I have played and written for the past 15 years. Of all the music he created, I have chosen these five songs that stand out as my favorites.

1. Miserlou

Undisputedly THE Dick Dale song of all time. Upon its release it was uncommon, ground-breaking, and some serious wild-ass aggressive guitar for 1962. Miserlou turned heads all over the country and became an inspiration to every rock ‘n’ roll guitarist, then and now. Its musical impact has not diminished with time. Miserlou will always live on as the legacy of Dick Dale.

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Skinny Jimmy’s Picks: The top 5 most sinister surf songs

Skinny Jimmy's Picks: The top 5 most sinister surf songs

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of special features on instro surf music by Skinny Jimmy Stingray, a guitarist and longtime fan of vintage instrumental rock. This and all of his future columns can be found here.

Skinny Jimmy Stingray performs with his band at Hulaween, The Mai-Kai's annual Halloween party, in October 2013. (Atomic Grog photo)

When the moon is bright and the shadows grow long, sounds that echo send a chill through the night. Nothing echoes quite as ghoulishly as the sound of a reverb-soaked electric guitar.

Let me strike a chord to remind you, the surf guitar world is full of sinister sounding musical creations. The nature of this music lends itself to a foreboding intensity. This has always been a part of my intrigue with instrumental surf guitar. The five songs featured here are only a sampling of a much larger banquet of spine-tingling offerings surf music provides.

1. Peter Lorre by Satan’s Pilgrims

As surf bands go, Satan’s Pilgrims is definitely one of the best out there and has been going strong since the early ’90s. It’s clear that the band is heavily into horror and sci-fi. Peter Lorre is one of my personal favorites. The riffs are ominous, but the music never gets too loud. The lovely, creepy Hammond organ provides the lifeblood that courses through the song. Give it a listen and you will feel what I mean.

2. Unknown by the Vy-Dels

Not much is known about the band but this 1965 song is awesome! Their use of reverb is vital, and the interplay between the lead and rhythm guitars is impeccable. I liked this song so much when I discovered it, I insisted on playing it with my band back in 2013 at The Mai-Kai for Hulaween. It turned out to be a good idea. The band’s obscurity does not undermine the impact of Unknown.

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