The multicultural roots of surf rock

Surf culture was something I had an interest in since I was a little kid watching Rocket Power and wishing I lived in California rather than a small town in the Midwest. Even to this day I would love to move to California.

The first thing a lot of people think of when surf rock is mentioned is The Beach Boys, and for good reason. They were very successful and influential with over 20 Top 40 hits in the US charts. But they weren’t the first surf rock band, far from it. They shouldn’t be the only image we have of surf rock and The Beach Boys did more than just surf rock.

What is the real surf rock story? Where did surf culture come from? Let’s explore!

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Immigrants in Classic Rock

I’ve been busy with school, so busy I can’t write another post. Don’t worry, this blog is still in my thoughts. As you may know, I am an immigrant myself, going to school in a different country. I have no family in the country I live in. Being an immigrant is a challenge, especially when you don’t know anyone of the same background that you can relate to and talk about your culture with. As you can imagine, it’s all bottled up and if I do speak about Venezuelan things and events, no one understands. I especially miss the food: rice, beans, and fried plantains.

Why was I thinking about immigration? I have a lot of family who are immigrants. I have cousins who are immigrants. My mum was an immigrant. It’s an issue that is not only talked about in the US election, but in other elections around the world. The US election is always on my mind since I have family there. It’s a disaster: two unlikeable candidates that not even 10% of the US population have chosen. How did we get here? A combination of cheating, media bias, and people just not caring enough about elections, I’d say.

I can only speak in an informed way for US politics. On the one side, you have Republicans who are very xenophobic and anti-immigration. Donald Trump, whose mum was an immigrant, wants to build a wall, as one example. He’s said horrible things about Mexican immigrants and Middle Eastern immigrants, and many other groups beyond that. In short, he’s incredibly racist. He talks like a Nazi. He cannot be our president.

Democrats can be just as bad too. Rewind to the 90s and there was President Bill Clinton enacting laws that would deport people quickly (no due process) and separate them from their families, increase border control, and more. Here’s a video. 

Now I know that Hillary is a totally separate person from Bill, but I don’t think I can vote for her because of so many ethical reasons, which I’ll not go into now or this will just turn into me rambling about politics.

I don’t understand why people hate on immigrants so much. Immigrants are not lazy. They work hard and many immigrants start their own businesses. Many of them want to blend in and be a part of the culture of the country they moved to. Immigrants are less likely to break the law. Immigrants pay their taxes too. We earn the jobs just as much as native born citizens.

How does this all relate to classic rock? Many classic rockers are immigrants and they each have different stories. Some of them immigrated as children, some were escaping persecution, some immigrated before they got famous, and others immigrated after they got famous. Chances are, one of your favourite musicians is an immigrant. Besides, a lot of famous people own properties in more than one country. Let’s take a look at some rock stars and their immigration stories. This is not an exhaustive list, but if you have other examples, feel free to share in the comments section.

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Black Classic Rock Musicians

Rock and Roll is a black American invention. The first rock stars were black. Rock and Roll started picking up in popularity in the 50s with musicians such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Chuck Berry, Larry Williams, Little Richard, Bo Diddley, James Brown, Goree Carter (some say he made the first rock song: “Rock Awhile”), Jimmy Preston, The Isley Brothers, Wes Montgomery, and Fats Domino. Every rock musician you can think of from the 60s and 70s and beyond took inspirations from these musicians from this era. Songs by these musicians have been covered by many rock bands. For example, The Beach Boys’ “Surfin USA” borrowed from Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen”. The Beatles have covered Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music”. They have even covered both “Shout” and “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers (although “Twist and Shout” was originally recorded by The Top Notes). They covered “Long Tall Sally” by Little Richard (that was a blues song that Little Richard covered). The Beatles also covered Larry Williams’ “Dizzy Miss Lizzy”. The list goes on. Let’s explore the history of black rock musicians from the 60s and 70s!

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Before they were old enough to vote: young musicians in classic rock and oldies

Rock and Roll was a very youth oriented genre. Young people loved it and many songs were about rebellion and standing up for what is right. The slogan of the 60s generation was “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Many rock stars got their start in their early 20s and were topping the charts. Some of these musicians when they made it were not even adults, and in some cases were not even teenagers or were barely in their teenage years. They were making hits before they were able to vote in an election or rent a car. Many musicians today were young when they made it such as Taylor Swift, Lorde, and Rihanna, but they were far from the first teenagers to make it in music. Here are some classic rock musicians who started their careers at a very young age.

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LGBT Musicians from the 1960s-1980s

There have been many musicians who have openly identified as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender in classic rock. Many of them were in the closet for years or even decades before coming out. Many of these musicians are people you’ve heard of.

Classic rock is for all to enjoy, no matter your sexual orientation. I am writing this post from Ireland, where people voted on a referendum for marriage equality. This is a huge step in the right direction. Thank you to all of the people who voted yes. In honour of that I want to talk about my favourite LGBT musicians from the 60s and 70s.

Note: I have since updated this post to include LGBT musicians from the 80s. There has been quite a bit of demand for it, so I will deliver. This is the most popular post on the blog and I am very proud of this post! Thank you for reading! Enjoy! 

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Native Americans in Classic Rock and Oldies

Here are some Native American musicians who have made contributions to music in the 60s and 70s. As well as rock and roll, Native American musicians in the 60s and 70s have made contributions to folk music, disco, blues music, and country music. Even before the invention of rock and roll, Native American musicians were very important in blues music and there were influences from Native American music in the blues. Here’s an interesting article from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian about it. Many of your favourite musicians are also of partial Native ancestry such as James Brown, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Cher.

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Black Owned Record Labels


Black Swan Records was founded by Harry Pace in 1921 in Harlem, New York City and was the first black owned record label whose target market were black Americans. The label released recordings of blues and jazz music. Blues and jazz music had a big impact on rock musicians. Black Swan Records was bought out in 1924 by Paramount Records (nothing to do with the movie studio). The record label was defunct by the late 20s and was resurrected in the 90s with rereleases of blues and jazz music on compact disc.

Vee Jay Records was founded in 1953 by Vivian Carter and James C Bracken, husband and wife. Before Motown was founded, it was the largest black owned record label according to Chicago Soul by Robert Pruter. It was started in Chicago, same city where Soul Train started. Like Stax (came from the names of the founders Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton – brother and sister), their record label came from the two names of the founders. Like Stax, Motown, and Philadelphia International Records, they had their own house band with a guitarist, a bassist, a piano player, drummers, and a brass section. The music released on that label were from the following genres: blues, R&B (which was rising in popularity in the 50s), jazz, and rock and roll. The Impressions (Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler were a member of this band) were signed to this label before they released music on Curtom Records. Their best known song from this very early era was “For Your Precious Love” from 1958. Some of The Beatles’ music was released on Vee Jay in the United States. Sadly, the record label went bankrupt for the first time in 1966. Musicians who were signed to this record label include John Lee Hooker, Dee Clark, Memphis Slim, The Dells, The Four Seasons, and The Standells. Here are some songs by these musicians:

There were many other famous record labels that have had much success amongst black Americans and people from all ethnic groups from around the world. For example, music from the Motown/Tamla Motown label was popular in the English Northern Soul subculture. Music from the Motown and Philadelphia International record labels was featured on the popular American TV programme, Soul Train, which was created by Don Cornelius. Soul Train was known as one of the first youth oriented shows that was geared toward a black American audience. It was known as “The hippest trip in America.” Soul Train was also a hit amongst white Americans, and quite a few non-black musicians appeared on the show such as David Bowie, Elton John, Average White Band, and Frankie Valli.

Let’s explore!

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Latinos/Latinas/Spaniards/Spanish-Americans and their influence in Classic Rock and Oldies

Latino/as and Spaniards have had a big role in rock and popular music from the late 50s to today. From Ritchie Valens and Tito Puente to Julian Casablancas and Dhani Harrison. Classic rock also has a huge following in Latin America. I am Hispanic and I love classic rock! My mum and my aunt especially love listening to classic rock and when they were teenagers in Venezuela they liked going to nightclubs and dancing to the music there. The acoustic guitar as we know it is a Spanish invention.

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