Sierra Surf Music Camp 2013 No. 4: Movie Stars Among Us

Editor's Note: Like last year, the lack of internet connectivity and the need for sleep prevented us from posting real time missives from the Sierra Surf Music Camp.  We are getting some out -- albeit belatedly -- now that the Mac has a signal.

Friday night was special.  The weather still was hot; the mosquitos potentially relentless.  That meant Downtown Browns and heavy-duty spray-on insect repellent as we gathered for Jon & the Nightriders and a special showing of Sound of the Surf.

On our way to the Donner Mine Camp amphitheater, Matt and I crossed paths.  I asked about how practice had gone with Jon & the Nightriders.  He responded with a note of caution, “The Steelheads are playing ‘Apache,’ and we’re doing that tonight.  And Dave Wronski just nails it!”  Oh, really.  Dave Wronski just nails everything that he plays.  I replied, “That’s not surprising.  ‘Apache’ was on one of Jon & the Nightriders’ albums.”  The good news was nobody in camp was going to compare the SteelHeads with Dave Wronski -- the gold standard of surf guitar.

After the campers, families, friends, and remaining instructors were comfortably seated and a gentle breeze was giving them some respite from the heat, Paul introduced Jon & the Nightriders.  We were primed to hear the band that started the Second Wave.  The Beatles and changing times brought the end of the First Wave of surf music.  In 1979, John Blair brought together a group of musicians to record a 4-song 45 of instrumental surf songs.  His recruiting spiel was, "Let's play fast and energetic instrumental music like the original bands -- not the lame sound associated with the Beach Boys."  Dusty Watson and Dave Wronski signed on.  Then they were asked to open a show at the Santa Monica Civic.  From there, Jon & the Nightriders went on to play of the same bills as some of the seminal LA punk bands of the time.  An instrumental band playing loud and fast fit right in. 

On night two of camp, Dusty and Dave joined up with John Blair for a Jon & the Nightriders reunion of sorts.  Matt Quilter filled in on bass.  They rocked the Donner Mine Camp with one energy-filled song after another.  Between songs, John wiped his head down with a towel as the breeze did not seem to reach the floor of the amphitheater.  The band slowed down for only one song -- “Apache.”  As Matt predicted, Dave Wronski knocked it out of the park!

Jon & the Nightriders closed out their set.  While John toweled off, Paul queued up and adjusted the video.  Dusk gave way to darkness.  John introduced Sound of the Surf -- a history of surf music on which Tom Duncan and he collaborated.  Tom Duncan was the cinematographer and director; John served as the music historian, protagonist, and star of the Second Wave.  After all, the movie's theme was his search to see if Jimi Hendrix was right -- "Then you'll never hear surf music again."  The movie was seven years in the making.  John advised us that it is not ready for prime time as it requires conversion into high definition, work on audio track, and licensing of music and archival footage. 

The content, however, was done.  As an artist -- musician and writer -- John knows where to stop - to say, “that’s it” -- to stop polishing.  We were treated to Sound of the Surf - the Rough cut.  We were wowed.  Interviews and classic film.  Icons.  Kathy Kohner -- Gidget.  Greg Noll -- Da Bull.  Dick Dale -- "I invented surf music."  Paul Johnson -- writer of Mr. Moto (the first surf song that I heard).  Eddie Bertrand -- maybe the best guitarist of the First Wave.  Richard Delvey -- the Belairs and then the longest lived First Wave Band, the Challengers.  Bob Spickard -- wrote Pipeline.  Kathy Marshall -- the unrecorded "Queen of the Surf Guitar."  General disdain for Beach Boys and beach party movies.  The focus of Second Wave was Jon & the Nightriders.  Dusty Watson appeared in multiple bands.  Meshugga Beach Party and Los Straitjackets were shown as costumed Third Wavers. 

As the movie ended, we all stood and applauded.  Wow!  Four from Sound of the Surf were among us -- John, Dusty, Dave and Dan Snyder of Meshugga Beach Party.  Movie stars!  The amphitheater was buzzing.  Becky looked over at Dusty and asked, “Just how many of those bands were you in?”  He laughed.  She turned to me and said, “It’s pretty amazing how many of the folks who represent the history of surf music that we have met.”  Reflecting on that good fortune, I smiled.

The buzz of the movie would carry over for the remainder of camp.  On the second night of camp, we had one wonderful history lesson!

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