Our Top 10 Songs From The Surfaris presents the best Surfaris songs like “Wipe Out,” “Point Panic,” “You Can’t Sit Down,” and many more. The early 1960s saw a wave of beach and surf style pop-rock that would dominate the airwaves and influence the young audience. The Sufaris was a band that served as one of those influences when they first formed in 1961, then gained national recognition in 1963 with “Surfer Joe” and “Wipe Out.”
At a talent show in Glendora, California, high school students Jim Fuller and Pat Connolly competed against Bob Berryhill in a talent show before calling him the next day if he wanted to practice with them. They, along with Ron Wilson, played their first dance at a catholic high school after a football game before the four men would take their act to the next level and go professional.
The first record the Safaris produced was recorded during the 1962 winter season. “Wipe Out” was a work of improv genius as a piece of plywood was snapped while over the microphone then followed by a laugh and the cry of “Wipe Out” by Dale Smallin. In order to complete the recording, a second song was needed so that it could be released. The result was Jim Fuller’s guitar riff that was used for a song he wrote called “Switchblade.” The riff was used for a sped-up version of “Wipe Out.” It didn’t take long for the record to sell over one million copies and become certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
The Surfaris were noted as brilliant instrumentalists who knew how to turn their drums and guitars into musical icons. Even long after the height of their popularity, the musical material that came from The Surfaris not only won over scores of music fans worldwide but a flurry of aspiring musicians. They wanted to hit the drums as ferociously as Wilson and the guitars as feverishly as Berryhill, Connolly, and Fuller. Even today, stories are shared on social media sites like Facebook and YouTube about the influential roles these four men had on such a huge audience.
After Wipe Out
After “Wipe Out,” the Safaris released two additional singles, “Surfer Joe” and “Point Panic.” While “Surfer Joe” featured Ron Wilson as the lead vocalist, “Point Panic” was another guitar-favoring instrumental. For the Hawaiian-based audience, the instrumental tune made reference to its surfing environment and has since become a cult classic.
Upon realizing another song needed to be recorded in order to release a record, the Safaris also produced “Surfer Joe.” After this recording was released, Jim Pash joined as the band’s saxophonist, increasing the roster to five members. However, Pat Connolly left the band to pursue other interests in 1965. Taking his place was Ken Forssi. He was the bass guitarist behind the 1965 recording of “It Ain’t Me, Babe” while the group was signed to Capital Records.
After the Safaris finished touring in 1966, Jim Fuller also left the band. As a result, Safaris officially disbanded. It wouldn’t be until 1981 that Jim Fuller, Bob Berryhill, and Jim Pash would reunite to form the band again. In 1983, Berryhill left as he disagreed with Fuller and Pash choosing not to include his wife, Gene Berryhill, to serve as the band’s bassist. Up until 2000, he worked as a teacher before forming a new band with his family and calling it The Surfaris. In 2003, he recorded his own version of “Wipe Out,” which was the one he wanted to use back in 1962. This was recorded and released with his wife, Gene, and their teenage sons, Deven and Joe.
In the meantime, Ron Wilson had embarked on a solo career that had an album, Lost In The Surf, that was released in 1987. He died two years later just shy of his forty-fifth birthday on March 12, 1989, due to a brain aneurysm. The legacy left behind by Ron Wilson was his drum riff on “Wipe Out” which inspired young drummers in the 1960s to find a yardstick and play their own drum solo to the cult classic. From Lost In The Surf, the love Wilson had for Scottish music was made evident in his cover version of “Louie Louie” as it was performed by the bagpipes.
There were lawsuits that ensued over who had the right to be called The Surfaris between Jim Fuller’s group and Bob Berryhill’s. This wouldn’t be the first time The Surfaris would fight for the right who gets to keep the name as this was also an issue that erupted in 1963 when another group called The Surfaris found themselves on the receiving end of a name exclusivity lawsuit. The judge ruling at that time allowed Fuller’s The Surfaris to keep its name but also allowed Fullerton’s band to carry on as The Original Surfaris. Fullerton’s group was still billed at several venues as “The Surfaris.” Just like Fuller’s group, Fullerton’s Surfaris performed as a surf band but were better noted for their vocal talent before they broke up as a group in 1965.
As for the lawsuit between Fuller and Berryhill, both men kept using The Surfaris until Fuller passed away on March 3, 2017. Two years prior to this, Berryhill and his family released the album, The Surfaris Hurley Sessions. Since Jim Pash had already passed away due to heart failure on April 29, 2005, this left Berryhill as the only surviving member of The Surfaris.
The identity crisis of The Surfaris wasn’t simply limited to the musicians directly involved. After Morton Downey Jr. died on March 12, 2001, he was mistakenly credited as the composer behind “Wipe Out,” as well as the Chantays’ “Pipeline.” Although he did play a major role in the production of surf-era pop rock songs he had nothing to do with the Safaris’ signature hit nor Chantays’.
When The Surfaris were inducted into the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2019 for “Wipe Out” it was made clear who really deserved the credit. Bob Berryhill, Pat Connolly, Jim Fuller, and Ron Wilson were it. Jim Pash did perform cover versions of the song but was not part of the original lineup when it was first released.
The Surfaris Legacy
As for The Surfaris’ discographic portfolio, there are a total of eleven albums to the band’s credit. This includes the 2015 release of The Surfaris Hurley Sessions. Between 1963 and 1967 there were fifteen recordings released as A-side, and B-side records that were known as 45s. In addition to this, there have been scores of compilation albums dedicated to beach and surf rock music that brought the entertainment industry an influential wave of material that continues to inspire the audience and upcoming artists to this day.
Top 10 Songs From The Surfaris
#10 – Hound Dog
The Surfaris performed its version of “Hound Dog” in 1964 which would later be released in the 1977 album, Gone With The Wave. The 1953 original from Willie Mae Thornton reached the height of its fame when Elvis Presley covered it in 1956 when he turned his version of “Hound Dog” into a number one hit on a number of official music charts, including the US Billboard Hot 100.
For The Surfaris, while their version may not have earned the same level of recognition, it was still a notable favorite worth listening to. What The Surfaris did was make their version of “Hound Dog” into the kind of tune that could be danced on a beach into the wee hours of the night. This is assuming you can keep up with its fast pace.
# 9 – It Ain’t Me Babe
Released as a single in 1965, “It Ain’t Me Babe” started off as a 1964 Bob Dylan original. The Surfaris covered this tune as the group was inspired by Dylan’s beautifully written song. The narrator urged the potential love interest to find someone that would be a better fit for what they were looking for in a romantic relationship. For The Surfaris, “It Ain’t Me Babe” was a delightful contrast to the otherwise fun-loving material that gave them international recognition.
#8 – Theme of The Battle Maiden
When using Google Search to look up “Theme of The Battle Maiden,” The Surfaris’ 1965 recording pops up the most often and for good reason. Arranged and produced by Gary Usher, The Surfaris turned this into a song with the kind of material surfing legends are made of. Versions of this song have been recorded and sampled many times over by several musicians. It was instrumental work at its best.
#7 – Waikiki Run
With “Point Panic” on the A-side, the B-side featured another instrumental gem, “Waikiki Run.” These two songs became popular favorites, especially among the Hawaiian audience who knew exactly what the music was about. While “Point Panic” made reference to a popular reef enjoyed by surfers, “Waikiki Run” is all about the infamous Hawaiian destination itself. There were not many musicians that could keep up with how feverishly The Surfaris played their instruments. When they were together, The Surfaris enjoyed a run that may not have been long but it was nothing short of entertaining.
# 6 – Scatter Shield
Released as a single in 1964, “Scatter Shield” failed to share the same chart success as the iconic “Wipe Out” and the modest hit, “Surfer Joe.” However, this was The Surfaris doing what they did best. They tested their might as talented musicians who knew how to make their instruments take center stage as performers.
Among Californians and Hawaiians, The Surfaris had a solid fan base, despite the name confusion it had with The Original Surfaris. Both bands had the same name and both bands were at their peak during this time. While Fullerton’s version of The Safaris made waves as vocal talent, Fuller’s version had Berryhill and Wilson take center stage as instrumental heroes of 1960s beach-themed rock music at its best.
#5 – Surfer Joe
Written by Ron Wilson, “Surfer Joe” was released at the same time as “Wipe Out.” It also became a hit for The Surfaris in 1963. Wilson performed the lyrics of the song, working closely with Bob Berryhill to complete its recorded production. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number sixty-two. At first, “Surfer Joe” was largely ignored until “Wipe Out” became such a big hit.
The song focused on a legendary surfer that seemed impossible to beat as a competitor who knew how to ride the waves better than anyone. By the end of the song, “Surfer Joe” became a military man who put what made him a legend behind him.
#4 – Surfing Drums
If there was such a thing as a drumming god, Ron Wilson from The Surfaris would be it. The instrumental ‘Surfing Drums” was all Wilson as he demonstrated in 1963 why he became such a huge influence on aspiring drummers who wanted to be just like him when they grew up. He was often mistaken for Dennis Wilson who performed with The Beach Boys. Aside from the name, there was no relation whatsoever. However, when it came to recognizing who was among the best drummers that ever lived, it is this Ron Wilson that wins the argument among the fans most of the time.
#3 – You Can’t Sit Down
“You Can’t Sit Down” was a 1959 recording by The Bim Bam Boos that would be covered by The Surfaris. In 1965, Dot Records released it as a single, which was backed by “Surfer Joe” on a record. Although it failed to make an impression on any official music charts, the song demonstrated the band’s remarkable talent pool as musicians who knew how to draw in an audience. The song itself made reference to having a great time while on “South Street” and that sitting it out was not an option.
#2 – Point Panic
1963’s “Point Panic” was another instrumental classic that was performed by The Surfaris. With the wave of guitars dictating the direction of the music, it shared the same characteristics as “Wipe Out” as a dramatic number that was loaded with speed and brilliantly pieced together music play.
In Hawaii, Point Panic is an exposed reef that is a major attraction for surfers, especially in the summer. Most of the surf there comes from the groundswells and the ideal swell direction comes from the south before breaking to the right. “Point Panic” was all about the popular reef. Among Hawaiians and surf enthusiasts who know about it, this song serves as a personal anthem-like favorite.
#1 – Wipe Out
During the winter of 1962, The Surfaris wrote and recorded “Wipe Out” which featured Ron Willson’s drum solo serving as a standout that would ultimately turn the song into an instrumental hit that would leave an everlasting impression. Before the music of the song began, Bob Berryhill’s father had a piece of plywood in the back of the recording studio. Pat Connolly broke the board over the microphone to mimic the sound of a surfboard. It was followed by a maniacal laugh, along with “Wipe Out” uttered by the band’s manager at the time, Dale Smallin.
The unmistakable guitar riff came from Jim Fuller’s “Switchblade.” This was a song he wrote before the band came up with “Wipe Out.” The popularity of this song didn’t take long for the record to sell over one million copies and become certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.
When “Wipe Out” was first released as a single in 1963, it peaked as high as number two on the US Billboard Hot 100. It couldn’t nudge Stevie Wonder’s “Fingertips” as the chart-topper but it did play a significant role in the surf rock culture that would dominate much of the 1960s. In 1966, “Wipe Out” returned to the US Billboard Hot 100, this time peaking as high as number sixteen. The performance by Ron Wilson was inspired by the high school drum cadence but was cranked up a few notches to make it speedier.
On an international level, “Wipe Out” became a number five hit in Canada and the UK. It also made an impression on the official music chart belonging to Germany. “Wipe Out” peaked at number forty-six there. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it even charted as high as number ten. Since its release, “Wipe Out” has been covered many times over, including by another popular surf group, The Beach Boys, as they collaborated with Fats Domino in 1987 to make this a number twelve hit on the US Billboard Hot 100. However, it was the iconic version by The Surfaris that would earn its place in the Musicians Hall of Fame and Museum in 2019.
Top 10 Songs From The Surfaris article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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