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 disappeared 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.
Jim Fuller, that guitarist, 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.
Jim Fuller, born on June 27, 1947, is often called “The Godfather of Surf Guitar.” He was an original member of the Surfaris along with Ron Wilson (drums, vocals), Berryhill (rhythm guitar) and Pat Connolly (bass). The band formed in Glendora, Calif., in 1962 as the surf music craze was just emerging and “Wipe Out” was written that winter. A saxophonist, Jim Pash, joined the band after “Wipe Out” was recorded.
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.