Moon Dawg 2014

Time to get back to rock ‘n roll!  This year marked the third annual Sierra Surf Music Camp.  That means it is here to stay for awhile.  After all, when you do something twice with a smart dog, it then is a habit.  Sierra Surf Music Camp passed habit in year two, and the dates for year four are out already.

Day job demands shortened my camp to a bit more than 24 hours -- arrive Saturday morning at 10:15 and leave Sunday morning at 10:45.  As you might expect, those 24 hours raced by.

I parked and pulled my guitar out of the trunk just in time for a lesson with Paul the Pyronaut.  In that half hour, we caught up on the past year and played a couple of Lava Pup originals.  Then came a lesson with Matt Quilter.  Ferenc Dobronyi was next, imparting his wisdom and hints on songwriting to the campers.  Sam Bolle, Dave Wronski, and Danny Snyder, among others, added their ideas.  Surf Band 101 rehearsal followed lunch.  Saturday night featured performances by the first ever Sierra Surf ukulele orchestra, student bands, and Frankie and the Pool Boys.  Sunday morning was pack up the car, breakfast, exchange goodbyes, and head home.

Even though the 24 hours were a blur, being surrounded by amazing surf musicians was an opportunity to learn while having fun.  Part of that opportunity was the lesson with Matt Quilter, who is a versatile and knowledgeable musician.  At each camp iteration, he has been the bass player for one or more of the featured bands: the Surf Camp All-Stars in year one; Jon and the Nightriders in year two; Frankie and the Pool Boys this year.  Not bad for a guitarist in the Reventlos and other surf bands.  He also plays with a Rolling Stones tribute band.

After catching up a bit on the last year, Matt asked, “What do you want to do?”  My response was, “I hear you’re the only guy in camp who knows ‘Moon Dawg.’”  I then stumbled through some double picking and said, “What’s the melody?”  And, without any hesitation, Matt started playing the melody.  “Here you go.  There are a bunch of different versions.  I like the Beach Boys’ best.  Some bands go up a step.  Some don’t.”  I watched his fingers move adroitly and quickly.  “Can you slow that down a bit?”  He did.  As our half hour ended, he said, “Now you have the basic riff to work on.”  I thought, “Good luck with that!”

“Moon Dawg” was a staple of several early surf bands.  It was recorded in 1960 by the Gamblers and included blazing guitars, a drum intro, and Bruce Johnston’s pounding piano.  It was a high energy instrumental that some consider to be the first surf rock song.  Matt was right about the different versions.  The song was covered by the Beach Boys, Challengers, Ventures, Tornadoes, Surfaris, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and Dave Allan and the Arrows.

After a couple of months of trying to get the riff under my fingers, I started “Moon Dawg” up for the Pups at practice one Wednesday evening.  Even though it lacked precision, within a few minutes, Robert and Glenn joined in.  Once we agreed to the basic chord structure, Sue was playing along.  After we fooled around with the song, Robert asked, “Does this sound anything like the original?”

Recalling what Matt said about a bunch of different versions, I responded, “Let’s not worry about that.  We’ll just call it ‘Moon Dawg 2014’!”


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