7-7-07: Dusty Watson's Big Five-0

Six years ago tonight, Suzy's in Hermosa Beach was the venue for an amazing event:  Dusty Watson's fiftieth birthday!  I was novice to the "surf scene" and was in SoCal after finishing Guitar School, where I was a “surf, rockabilly, and psychobilly” student.  Three nights later was Dusty Watson’s birthday gig at Suzy’s in Hermosa Beach.  Here is a revised version of what I wrote that night.

School ended, and I headed to Hermosa Beach to catch my wits, rest for couple of days, and see Slacktone.

That Saturday night was the perfect end to a week of music.  One week before I had the opportunity to see Billy Boy on Poison featuring nephew Dash on lead guitar.  The band was very good – not necessarily my taste but still very good.  Because I am not really in tune with current music, I cannot categorize the band.  Girls seem to like it.  And isn’t that what rock and roll is all about?

Saturday was to my taste – a night of straight ahead surf music.  No frills – few effects – lots of reverb. 

I had time – a couple of days.  So, upon my arrival in Hermosa Beach on Thursday, I scoped out the venue – Suzy’s.  It was a small restaurant and bar in a shopping center a 10-minute walk from the hotel.  The online reviews of Suzy’s were fairly consistent: poor service, mediocre food, and great music.  Slacktone and other bands on Dusty Watson’s fiftieth birthday undoubtedly would qualify as great music!

The event did not disappoint.  It was truly electric.  Loud, often fast, and always melodic.  Glissandos and tremolo picking galore!

The night started with a drum circle – an exhibition of drumming and Dusty Watson’s amazing skill.

The Pyronauts then played.  They were energetic, entertaining, and talented.  I believe that they represent the future of surf music in Northern California – maybe all of California.  The Brett Cole wore a tiki mask for part of the set.  As big as he is, that conveyed an ominous feeling of the monster tiki coming to pillage the community – sort of a “Surfinstein” image.  Paul was on and off the stage – into the crowd – his energy exciting the patrons and his personality and banter engaging them.  Bob Bitchin’ pushed a driving rhythm while often looking like a metal head banger.  They played tight – the result of touring, back-to-back gigs, the core’s time together, and tremendous talent.  They also played a mix of their interpretations of older songs along with songs that they wrote.  They were well-received by the crowd.

Dusty Watson joined The Pyronauts to play “Wipe Out.”   He appeared to truly enjoy himself.  An easy-going onstage repartee existed between him and the band. 

Next came the Longboards, a trio from Spain.  The guitarist played a Mosrite.  The drum kit was moved to the front of the stage, and a tiki head with red light-up eyes graced the stage.  All three performers were in a line.  The bass player and guitar player moved back and forth anchored by the drums in the center.  They were like pistons.  Occasionally, the guitar player leaned into the drums.  The Longboards played fast and loud.  Their English left something to be desired.  But they could say clearly, “We have tee shirts for sale.  We have to get back to Spain.”

The Detonators followed.  They were a South Bay band – a local group with a local following.  Their groupies danced about as they played cover after cover.  Their repertoire was classic surf tunes.  Dusty Watson played with them too. 

Then . . . the headline act . . . Slacktone!  Dave Wronski played effortlessly and quickly.  His fingers glided up and down the fret board.  He was truly amazing – in modern terms, “awesome.”

Dusty Watson’s fiftieth birthday required some history – after all, it was 7/7/07.  In terms of South Bay surf music, what would put history into perspective?   Paul Johnson joined Slacktone on stage.  They played a Slacktone piece:  “Rosarito Three Day.”  He began by announcing that he plays rhythm which Slacktone does not need.  Then, “Squad Car” – Paul Johnson on the lead line of a classic which he wrote.  Interestingly, Eddie Bertrand, not the Belairs, is known for the tune.  As Paul Johnson was walking off stage, Dave Wronski said, “You know this one,” and started “Mr. Moto.”

Like Dave Wronski, Paul Johnson’s playing was effortless.  He demonstrated an economic style where his fingers did not move all over the fret board.  They finished “Mr. Moto,” and one of the founders of surf music left the stage.

Slacktone finished with “Tidal Wave.”  I almost can play it half speed.  Can I ever get to three quarters speed?  Dusty Watson knocked over his drum kit, and the band left the stage.  Dave Wronski’s amp was humming.

Encore!  Reassemble the drum kit.  “Surf Party.”  “Misirlou.”  The Detonators’ groupies danced, as did many of the guests.

The Spaniards videoed Dave Wronski’s hands on the guitar.  They had their pictures taken with Paul Johnson.  Maybe they recognized the historical proportions of the evening.

The night finished up at 1:30 a.m.  What a night!  I felt like I had watched the past, present, and future of surf music perform.  This was magical and exciting.  As with playing at school, my adrenaline was flowing as I walked back to the hotel.  I had to be up early to get on the road.  I moved my goal for leaving from 6:30 a.m. to 8:00.

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