Eddie Bertrand: A Founding Father Gone



Last week, Eddie Bertrand died.  He was one of the originators of surf music and one of best performers of the First Wave.

At one time in 1961, the Belairs’ “Mr. Moto” was on the charts in L.A.  It preceded “Let’s Go trippin’” into the L.A. radio market and was a local hit.  Two distinct styles of what was known as “surf music” existed then:  The South Bay sound of the Belairs and the sound of Dick Dale and the Deltones.  Surf music was instrumental.  The Pendletons -- later the Beach Boys -- played in the shadows of the Belairs and Dick Dale.

The Belairs were started by Paul Johnson and Eddie Bertrand.  They met on a school bus where they discovered their mutual love of guitar-based instrumental rock.  They became friends.  They were only in high school when Paul Johnson wrote “Mr. Moto.” 

Had their sound prevailed.  Eddie Bertrand may well have become the “King of the Surf Guitar.”  But Dick Dale received more media attention, was older, and was more experienced as a musician.  His raw, powerful -- and loud -- style overcame the sophisticated interplay of guitars which typified the South Bay sound developed by the Belairs. 

Leo Fender had not invented the separate reverb unit when what was known as “surf music” began.  Once reverb was added, “wet” or “dry” also distinguished the two strains of surf music.  Dick Dale was wet.  The South Bay sound was dry. 

Eventually, the difference in sounds became a point of disagreement -- artistic differences -- within the Belairs.  Desiring to incorporate the wet sound into his music, Eddie Bertrand left the Belairs in late 1962 to form a new band which became Eddie and the Showmen.  From there, the Belairs faded away and missed out on the height of the short surf music phenomenon.

His driving, powerful style made Eddie and the Showmen a force in surf music.  They consistently outdrew the “King of the Surf Guitar.”  But like the other great surf bands of the 1960s, Eddie and the Showmen were pushed under by the wave started by the Beatles and burgeoning folk rock and psychedelia.  By 1965, Eddie and the Showmen were history.

On October 27, 2012, Eddie Bertrand died after a long bout with cancer.  He and Paul Johnson, as teenagers, developed a style of music which became known as “surf music.”  He and Dick Dale competed as the best surf guitarists during the halcyon days of the First Wave.  Eddie Bertrand’s version of “Squad Car” became one of the staples of Second and Third Wave bands and an inspiration to Los Straitjackets.

When Eddie Bertrand died, we lost one of the pioneers of California‘s own folk music and a link to its history.

1 comment

  • Rodney Drouet

    Rodney Drouet Hemet, Ca.

    I grew up to 9th grade on Century Blvd and Hawthorne Blvd. in Lennox Eddie lived about 5 houses down from me. We were never friends but we knew each other well we were the same age and I wasn't unhappy when he moved about 1956. It wasn't till long after that I heard about his fame. I'm sorry to here he died. Ironically when when my parents moved to Costa Mesa when I was in 10th grade Dick Dale lived in a rented garage 3 houses down from me and played at the

    I grew up to 9th grade on Century Blvd and Hawthorne Blvd. in Lennox Eddie lived about 5 houses down
    from me. We were never friends but we knew each other well we were the same age and I wasn't unhappy
    when he moved about 1956. It wasn't till long after that I heard about his fame. I'm sorry to here he died.
    Ironically when when my parents moved to Costa Mesa when I was in 10th grade Dick Dale lived in a rented
    garage 3 houses down from me and played at the

Add comment