That is the start to an unexpected summertime hit originally from 1962. I was a whopping one years old when it came out, so I doubt that I remember the song from 1962. What I do remember from a few years later was my brother learning to play the guitar part. To be honest, the guitar part is not what people remember about the song. What people remember are the three drum solos, each lasting about 16 seconds. My brother had a friend who owned a drumkit, but his mother wouldn’t let them practice at his house. So, the drums came to my house and they practiced there.
Let’s start with what a wipe out is. When someone on a surfboard is riding a wave, and they fall off, that is a wipe out. The sound that starts the song is supposed to be the sound of a surfboard cracking. I never realized that was what the sound was supposed to be. But, then again, I’ve never even been near a surfboard. Maybe if I’d surfed a few times, I would recognize the sound.
The group who wrote and originally recorded “Wipe Out” were called the Surfaris. The original band lineup was: Bob Berryhill, rhythm guitar; Pat Connolly, bass; Jim Fuller, lead guitar; and Ron Wilson, vocals and drums. They were all in high school when they agreed to form a band. Apparently, none of their parents were as willing to have the fledgling band practice at their home as my mother was, because it was while the boys were looking for a place to practice that they came across Dave Smallin, who would become their manager.
It was at Smallin’s tiny studio that the band recorded the A-side, “Surfer Joe.” (We’ve talked about 45s before. It’s a small record that only held two songs, one on each side. The A-side is the one they think will be a hit. The B-side is usually just filler.) It was when they were reminded that they needed a B-side that “Wipe Out”was born. The band was hesitant to record the song as they did not want to be thought of as an instrumental band.
Oddly enough, “Wipe Out” was almost called “Stiletto,” and would have given us the sound of a switchblade being opened as its starting sound. Instead, Berryhill’s dad broke a 2x4 near the microphone to supply the sound of the surfboard breaking and Smallin supplied the now-famous laugh followed by the words: Wipe Out.
The song was thrown together and the 45-rpm single was ready for the world. After going through several different record companies, “Wipe Out” hit the airwaves nation-wide in April 1965, which may be about the right time for my brother to have started work on it with his first band.
The drum solo is a sped-up version of what drummer Ron Wilson would play in the high school band as they would take the field for half-time. Much later, he would set a world record for continuous drum soloing at 104 ½ hours! That’s a lot of drumming.
Sadly, the group started breaking up in August of 1965. Various members would have their own bands touring as the Surfaris, but that original lineup would never get back together. Ron Wilson, for example, recorded an album which included a cover of “Louie Louie” that had Scottish bagpipes! I need to find that!
I could write a list of all the groups that have covered “Wipe Out,” but it would have to include every garage band on the planet to be complete. There is not a lot to the song. It repeats the same 12-bar blues pattern over and over. It is the variations that make it interesting, and this is where each band can really make it their own.
The song has also been featured in several movies, but my personal favorite is in the 1997 George of the Jungle movie. (The only version I could find was in French. The “Wipe Out” part is toward the end of the clip.) Brendan Fraser looked sooo good in that movie.
Anyway, I’ll be playing a few versions of “Wipe Out” this week on my Minnich Music Facebook page, so check them out.
Until next time!