“Our career was a skyrocket.” It’s Bob Berryhill, the last original member of the Surfaris, phoning the Reader from his home in Laguna Beach. “We started in December of 1962.” The band was Jim Fuller, Pat Connolly, Ron Wilson, and Berryhill. They were still in high school in Glendora, 27 miles east of Los Angeles. “By November of ‘63, we were number one.”
Fuller and Wilson have since died. Connolly left the music business. The Surfaris today are Berryhill, his wife Gene, and their sons Deven and Joel. “We’re getting ready to do a little road work,” he says. “We fly out, do three days, then fly back home. The Dick Dale approach?” Dale, a guitarist, was a Surfaris contemporary. “He gets in a motor home and he stays out on the road all the time.” Berryhill chuckles. “We don’t do that.”
The Surfaris in Las Vegas, 2017
What put the Surfaris near the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 chart in 1963 was their instrumental, “Wipe Out.” It starts with the mother of all drum solos, followed by a locked-in groove of heavily-reverbed guitars, bass, and drums. “Wipe Out” is two minutes and forty-six seconds of musical chaos from the West Coast of America: surf rock. Some were instrumentals, some were smothered in vocal harmony, and a bunch of it was anti-establishment. “We had a hundred songs in our repertoire at that time,” Berryhill says. “We played four-hour dances. Eight to twelve. And the songs were only two minutes long.”
The white-headed Berryhill is 71 now. “Our set list today is all songs that were iconic from the surf generation. We’ll do “Apache,” “Walk Don’t Run,” “Pipeline,” “Misirlou,” and “Point Panic,” the follow-up to “Wipe Out.” The people who come to our shows want to feel good, like they felt back then.” He asks if I’ve read the Ventures’ memoir. No. What I want is a Surfaris book. “I’m working on it,” he grins audibly. “I’ve got a couple of chapters done.”
The Surfaris appear May 17 at Tio Leo's in Bay Park, for a bill that includes Anthony "Fallbrook Kid" Cullins.