Tag Archives: Surf ‘n’ Drag

Ronny and the Daytonas: The Complete Recordings

RonnyAndTheDaytonas_TheCompleteRecordingsThe surprisingly extensive catalog of Nashville’s first surf band

On the surface, Ronny and the Daytonas’ “Little G.T.O.” is a classic mid-60s California surf & drag hit. The song is super-stocked with a driving beat, period hot rod lingo and a falsetto hook worthy of Jan & Dean. But the song wasn’t produced in California, nor was it even the product of an actual group. The eponymous “Ronny” was actually John Wilkin, son of country songwriter Marijohn Wilkin (“Waterloo” “Long Black Veil”), the Daytonas were an ad hoc aggregation of Nashville studio hands, and the session’s producer was Sun Records alumni Bill Justis. Even more surprising, “Little G.T.O.” was Wilkin’s first foray as an artist, and it launched a recording career that lasted into the early 1970s and spanned multiple record labels.

The Pontiac G.T.O.’s 1964 debut proved to be a pivotal moment in automobile history, igniting a muscle car craze that engaged all four American car makers and spread quickly to popular culture. Wilkin was a high school student when his dual interests in music and cars were catalyzed by an article in Car and Driver. The result was the #4 hit, “Little G.T.O.,” with Wilkin’s nylon-stringed classical guitar providing the unusual solo. With a hit single on his hands, more originals were recorded, an album was put together, and a touring band was assembled to hit the road. The follow-on singles, “California Bound” and a cover of Jan & Dean’s “Bucket T,” charted, though without the nationwide impact of the debut, and “Little Scrambler” and “Beach Boy,” despite their teen effervescence, failed to gain any commercial traction.

The lack of follow-on hits didn’t deter Wilkin, and working with Buzz Cason, he released the bouncy single “Tiger-A-Go-Go” (b/w the instrumental “Bay City”) under the names of Buck & Buzzy. The duo had more success with the Daytonas’ second (and final) major chart hit, 1965’s “Sandy,” developing a softer sound with folk tones, lush backing vocals and strings. The corresponding album offered more introspective lyrics than the earlier surf songs, and reflected the sort of growing sophistication heard in the Beach Boys’ contemporaneous releases. Strangely, 1966 started up in reverse with the non-charting single “Antique ’32 Studebaker Dictator Coup,” a track lifted from the 1964 Little G.T.O. album.

The Daytonas’ finished their run on the Mala label with 1966’s “I’ll Think of Summer,” and debuted on RCA with “Dianne, Dianne.” The latter was co-written with Merle Kilgore, and carried on the soft sounds of Sandy. The flip, “All American Girl,” was a catchy Jan & Dean surf-rock pastiche that must have already sounded nostalgic upon its release in mid-1966. The background vocals and falsetto flourishes of “Young” quickly recall the Beach Boys, though the driving piano and drums give the song an original kick. The flip, “Winter Weather,” sounds as if it were drawn from an AIP teen film set in snow country. Wilkin also tried covers, turning Rex Griffin’s 1937 suicide themed, “The Last Letter” into a teenage tearjerker, venturing winningly into light psych with Mark Charron’s “The Girls and the Boys,” and crooning “Alfie” and Boyce & Hart’s “I Wanna Be Free.”

RCA issued singles by both the Daytonas and Bucky Wilkin, the latter including the war themed “Delta Day (No Time to Cry),” co-written by Wilkin, his mother and one of her Buckhorn Music staff writers, Kris Kristofferson. Wilkin’s last “Ronny” originals included the Brothers Four-styled folk harmony of “Walk with the Sun,” the harmony rocker “Brave New World” and the pop “Hold Onto Your Heart.” A few tracks that were left in the vault finish off disc two with the surf-styled “Daytona Beach” the organ rocker “Hey Little Girl,” a reverential cover of Barry & Greenwich’s “Chapel of Love,” and the tender “Angelina.” For a “group” that’s known primarily for their first single, Wilkin built a surprisingly extensive catalog, riding various musical trends between 1964 and 1968, and creating a solid body of original work. Missing are his later solo releases on Liberty and United Artists, but what’s here, remastered almost entirely from tape in original mono, with revealing liner notes by Mr. Wilkin himself, is a surprise and a delight. [©2015 Hyperbolium]

John Buck Wilkin’s Home Page

Dick Dale: At the Drags

Super-stocked anthology of Dick Dale’s car-related tunes

There are many anthologies, greatest hits collections and album reissues of Dick Dale’s material, but none have done the service of separately collecting his surf and hot-rod oriented tracks into parallel volumes. RockBeat’s issue of King of the Surf Guitar (not to be confused with his 1963 album of the same name) and At the Drags does just that, offering a generous twenty themed tracks each. The dragstrip volume documents Dale’s temporary turn from surf to cars, following in the trend of numerous Southern California acts of the time. The collection is drawn primarily from Dale’s two car-related albums, 1963’s Checkered Flag and 1964’s Mr. Eliminator, and adds the single “Wild Wild Mustang.” Musically this isn’t much different from Dale’s surf catalog, employing his trademark reverb-heavy staccato guitar picking, and backed by members of the Del-Tones, Superstocks and Los Angeles studio hotshots, including Bill Barber, Glen Campbell, Steve Douglas, Plas Johnson, and Hal Blaine. The single “Night Rider” could just as easily be a surf tune in both music and title. A few tracks add sound affects and Dale adds vocals to more than a half-dozen others, adding a Freddy Canon-styled energy to “Hot Rod Racer,” a Jan & Dean treatment of “Big Black Cad,” and rocking a Bo Diddley beat on “50 Miles to Go.” The masters are super-wide stereo, with only tracks 7 and 8 in mono or very narrow stereo. Rock Beat’s tri-fold slip case includes four full panels of liner notes and an eight-page booklet that adds four more pages of song notes (by Alan Taylor and Dave Burke of Pipeline magazine) and a page of musician and production credits. [©2012 Hyperbolium]

Dick Dale’s Home Page

Various Artists: Hot Rod City

Gary Usher and the Challengers tune up some car songs

Though the tracks are credited to the Customs, Quads and Grand Prix, this is apparently the work of the Challengers and legendary writer/producer Gary Usher. The twenty-one tracks (fourteen original and seven bonuses) include workmanlike cover versions of the Four Speeds’ “RPM,” Chuck Berry’s “Maybelline” and “Little Queenie,” and the Beach Boys’ “Little Deuce Coupe,” “Shutdown,” and “409.” The originals are laced with the car jargon the genre brought to mass culture, though little of this is as clever as the best that Wilson, Christian and Usher brought to the Top 40. The Everly’s-styled duet on the opening “Candy Apple Buggy” is about the most exciting vocal on an album that’s sung with surprising listlessness; there’s little evidence of the adolescent joy one expects from surf ‘n’ drag music. Collectors might like the cover of Brian Wilson’s “She Rides with Me,” though the Wilson-produced version by Paul Peterson is better and easily found here and here. [©2011 hyperbolium dot com]