Moment In History: The Surf Beat
In the summer of 1960, a group called The Ventures exploded on the scene with a guitar-driven instrumental called “Walk Don’t Run.” The song climbed all the way to #2 on the charts, based in large part on the powerful groove that kicked it off.
This groove was similar to a standard rock and roll pattern, but it featured an extra snare hit on the & of 2, producing the memorable kick/snare pattern, “boom, duh-duh, boom, duh.” Below is the opening fill and main groove for The Ventures’ big hit.
The success of “Walk Don’t Run” kicked off a golden age of rock instrumentals that based their sound on The Ventures’ revolutionary use of two guitar players. The new sound found favor with the followers of surf culture, which was just beginning to emerge out of the West Coast as a hot new sport and lifestyle.
By 1963 the sounds of surf-rock could be heard throughout the land, and every one of the era’s biggest hits, from Dick Dale’s influential “Miserlou,” The Beach Boys’ “Surfin’ Safari,” The Surfaris’ “Wipeout,” and The Chantays’ “Pipeline,” utilized what we now call the surf beat. The roots of the surf beat can be traced to 1950s rhythm and blues. Bill Doggett’s 1956 crossover smash, “Slow Walk,” was a shuffle that featured a similar accent pattern on the snare.
Chuck Berry’s straight-eighth guitar style also hinted at the surf beat on hits like “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (1956) and “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958). Other late ’50s hits utilizing the signature accent pattern included “Summertime Blues” by Eddie Cochran (1958), “Poison Ivy” by The Coasters (1959) and “Roadrunner” by Bo Diddley (1959).
Today the groove is so deeply lodged in our collective consciousness that if you ask just about any drummer to play a surf beat, he or she will know exactly what you mean.