March 3, 2017 – Jim Fuller, co-founding member and lead guitarist of the Surfaris, was born on June 27, 1947. In 1962, Bob Berryhill (15), Jim Fuller (15), Pat Connolly (15) and Ron Wilson (17) from Glendora, California formed The Surfaris.
It was the year that the surf music craze was just emerging and “Wipe Out” was written that winter. Saxophonist, Jim Pash, joined the band after “Wipe Out” was recorded.
Initially catapulted by the California surf culture, The Surfaris transcended the local scene into international stardom with their hit song “Wipe Out.” On a cold December night that same year, these four young teenagers wrote Wipe Out in the studio after recording Surfer Joe. With the help of manager Dale Smallin (Wipe Out laugh intro) and recording engineer Paul Buff, The Surfaris recorded the 1963 hit version of Wipe Out and Surfer Joe.
Originally released on the small DFS label, it was then picked up by another indie label, Princess Records, before finally finding national distribution with the larger Dot Records. “Wipe Out” was originally intended to be the B-side of the single, with the vocal track “Surfer Joe,” credited to Wilson, as the A-side. But there was simply no way “Wipe Out” was going to be ignored. Cut at Powell Studios in Cucamonga, the record begins with a cracking sound, meant to be a surfboard breaking in half (Berryhill’s dad did the honors). It’s immediately followed by a crazed laugh (that was the band’s manager, Dale Smallin) and a falsetto voice: “ha ha ha ha ha, wipe out,” before Wilson’s trademark drum solo—imitated by countless drummers and, to the chagrin of many high school teachers, students banging it out on their desks—and Fuller’s guitar lead kick in.
That riff quickly became required learning for thousands of aspiring rock ’n’ roll guitarists—for many it was the first they learned—and remains quite likely the most famous surf guitar lead line ever. Both “Wipe Out” and “Surfer Joe” charted, but the latter only hit #62 and “Wipe Out” has gone down as one of the classic rock instrumentals of all time.
From there, the band went on to play teen centers and dance halls around Southern California. With the help of their fans, the new surf music craze, music publishers, radio DJ’s, and Dot Records, Wipe Out rose to #2 on the Billboard charts. Like the band “The Wonders” in Tom Hank’s classic film “That Thing You Do,” The Surfaris were catapulted into international stardom in about 6 months. Billboard posts the “Hottest 100 Songs of Summer in 1966.” Wipe Out went back up to #16 in ’66.
From that second run, The Surfaris were invited to perform on music tours of Hawaii, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and across the United States. They began sharing the stage with legendary acts like The Beach Boys, Roy Orbison, Jan and Dean, The Righteous Brothers, The Turtles, Dick Dale, and The Ventures among others. The Surfaris made numerous television appearances including performances on Shivaree and Ninth Street West. The original line-up of the band performed from 1962-1966.
The Surfaris charted once more in 1963, with a track called “Point Panic,” also in 1963, but “Wipe Out” was the one hit wonder. It’s been featured in dozens of movies and television programs as well as many compilation albums. The Surfaris also recorded several albums, including Wipe Out (Dot Records, #15 in 1963).
After they disbanded in 1966 Fuller briefly played with the Seeds, of “Pushin’ Too Hard” fame, then rejoined the Surfaris and did a lot of session and studio work. The group has come and gone with varying lineups since the ’60s. Bob Berryhill is currently the only original founding member of The Surfaris, as original members Jim Fuller (guitar), Ron Wilson (drums) and Jim Pash (sax) have passed away and original bass player Pat Connelly no longer performs.
In the years prior to his death Fuller played with a band of his own called Jim Fuller and the Beatnik.
Jim Fuller, the Godfather of the Surf Guitar, died March 3 at age 69 in Monrovia, Calif. The cause of death has not been reported, but Fuller’s passing was confirmed on Facebook by his former bandmate Bob Berryhill and by Fuller’s son, Jay.
It’s one thing to have been part of a one-hit wonder band, to have made your mark on the record charts and then quietly disappear into the music history books. But if that one hit was as ubiquitous as “Wipe Out,” the #2 surf music classic recorded by The Surfaris in 1963, and you played the lead guitar on that record, you’re probably more important than those history books let on.