Surf Music exhibit at SFO has its own soundtrack

Fender Jazzmaster – 1965, played by Bob Demmon of The Astronauts

The SFO Museum at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) has a fun new exhibit celebrating the instrumental surf music popular in the United States in the early 1960s.

SFO Museum General Exhibition 2020

Surf’s Up! Instrumental Rock ‘n’ Roll

So much fun stuff comes from Southern California.

One example: surf music,

“Energetic and melodic with little or no vocal accompaniment, instrumental surf music originated in Southern California along with a booming interest in surfing and the subsequent pop-cultural craze,” the exhibit notes tell us.

“The most authentic surf music reflected a youthful lifestyle and started at the grassroots, often by teenagers who formed bands to play dances and other functions.”

Here are some of our favorite photos from the exhibit.

DoubleJunk” Fender Jazzmaster/Jaguar 1992 & Weather King bass drumhead  1989

Howard custom double-neck guitar 1960
played by Duane Eddy, “The King of Twangy Guitar”

More surf tidbits from the exhibit notes:

“Surf music was influenced by the rock ‘n’ roll instrumentals of the late 1950s when many bands replaced vocal melodies with leads played by the saxophone, piano, organ, and guitar.

Duane Eddy and The Rebels scored a major guitar hit with “Rebel Rouser” in 1958, the same year that “Rumble” by Link Wray & The Wraymen was banned by radio stations for its “suggestive” title.

The Ventures refined instrumentals with brilliantly simple lead-guitar lines layered over rhythm- and bass-guitar melodies. In 1960 their arrangement of “Walk—Don’t Run” landed at #2, the first in a string of instrumental hits by the group.”

“By 1963, surf music was a full-fledged phenomenon that received national attention. A revival of instrumental surf music occurred during the early 1980s and spread worldwide in the 1990s. The music is now more diverse than ever, and there are active surf and instrumental scenes throughout the United States and in Mexico, Brazil, Australia, Japan, and across Europe.”


Surf’s Up! Instrumental Rock ‘n’ Roll is located post-security in Terminal 2 of the San Francisco International Airport through July 18, 2021.

You can see many of the exhibit items in the online exhibition and, even better, listen to a Spotify surf music playlist here.

All photos courtesy SFO Museum.

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