The Surfaris were a surf band from Southern California who came up with one of the most memorable instrumentals of the great era of rock-and-roll in the 1960's.
The original members of the band were Ron Wilson on drums and vocals, Jim Fuller on lead guitar, Pat Connolly on bass, and Bob Berryhill on rhythm guitar. They formed in Glendora, California in 1962 when high school students Fuller and Connelly went to Berryhill's house for a jam session. Later the same day they met drummer Ron Wilson, and suddenly they had a group.
They intended to record a song called Surfer Joe. The group needed a B side, and the four worked together to compose a song in the recording studio with the working title Switchblade. They made some adjustments and decided to rename the song with an expression used commonly by surfers, Wipe Out, meaning what happens when a surfer is knocked off his surfboard. Wipe Out was recorded as the B side of Surfer Joe at Pal Recording Studio in Cucamonga. A suggestion was made to begin the song with the sound of a surfboard splitting, and to achieve this effect Bob Berryhill's father held a piece of plywood close to a microphone and then split it. This is followed by a voice with a somewhat eerie, hysterical laugh saying "ha ha ha ha ha, wipe out;" it was done by Dave Smallin, the group's manager at the time. The balance of the record features some frenzied, infectious drumming Ron Wilson, accompanied by guitars. Wilson was inspired by the street beat of the marching band at Charter Oak High School. The resulting instrumental created a rock-and-roll classic.
So Wipe Out was not originally what the band set out to do, as they had wanted to record the novelty tune Surfer Joe. But it was the B side that took off. Released in the summer of 1963 on the Dot label, it spent four months on the chart rising to #2, and to #5 in the United Kingdom, then it spread across Europe on its way to becoming an international hit. Surfer Joe, with a vocal by Ron Wilson (who wrote it), also made the top 100, but only after the record buying public had given such a strong reception to Wipe Out. Across the globe, teenagers were tapping out the rhythmic drumming of Ron Wilson on their desks.
The Surfaris followed quickly with Point Panic, named for a popular surfing location in Hawaii. The song was another instrumental written by the members of the Surfaris and made the top 100, but it would be a few years before they reached the top forty for the second and final time. They kept recording, turning out six albums from 1963 to 1965. During this time the band toured and made some television appearances. Jim Pash joined the Surfaris and played saxophone. As the group was preparing for a string of appearances in Japan, Pat Connolly left the group and was replaced for the tour by Ken Forssi on bass. After they returned home, Ken Fuller left the group, and in early 1966 the Surfaris broke up. A re-release of Wipe Out, once again on Dot, resulted in the song returning to the top forty in 1966.
In later years Ron Wilson, who had performed the great drumming on the group's great hit, suffered from a brain aneurysm. The resulting medical bills drained his finances and he died in 1989. Jim Pash passed away in 2005 from heart failure. The Surfaris have reunited at times over the years. Eventually Bob Berryhill began performing with his wife and son, and Jim Fuller has a group that performs across the United States and Europe. The Surfaris' hit continues to show up in a number of movies and television programs, including The Sandlot, Dirty Dancing and Herbie Fully Loaded.
Wipe Out is regarded by many as one of the great instrumentals of the 60's.
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