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Most of this blog is related in some way to the music, books and films produced by Gonzo Multimedia, but the editor has a grasshopper mind and so also writes about all sorts of cultural issues which interest him, and which he hopes will interest you as well.

Monday, 16 April 2012

MERRELL FANKHAUSER: The Wipe Out Saga

Yesterday I posted a link to an article about one of my favourite pieces of music, which – coincidentally (or maybe not) – was composed by one of my favourite Gonzo recording artists – the incomparable Merrell Fankhauser. Anyone whose music, in a career that has spanned six decades, has run the gamut between surf rock and cosmic psychedelia has got to be OK with me, and when it turns out that this is the fellow who wrote ‘Wipe Out’ then Mr. Fankhauser is someone who will always be welcome to visit Downes Mansions in our obscure corner of rural North Devon, where he will be an honoured guest and fêted with tea, homemade cake, and the affectionate attentions of my soppy, old bulldog Prudence.

For Wipe Out is one of those iconic tunes, in fact, apart from the Peter Gunn theme I can’t think of an equally iconic tune that has inveigled itself into the collective consciousness of the Western World to such an all-pervading extent. It has been covered by all musicians great and small; even by an unjustifiably obscure ensemble named Jon Downes and the Amphibians from Outer Space who – as this clip from a pub in Seaton back in the autumn of 1995 will show – not only played it rather well, but were notable for the boyish good looks of their sauve and talented frontman.



However, it turns out that the story to which I had linked got it ever-so-slightly wrong. I had an email from Merrell himself which points this out. He tells me that the entire Wipe Out saga had been correctly written up in a book called Surfin’ Guitars: Instrumental Surf Bands of the 60s by Robert J. Dalley which was first published in 1988. It looks a fascinating tome, and I would go out and buy one if it wasn’t for the fact that on Amazon.co.uk the prices start at £72. Golly. I will have to wait until the end of the year, when a fat bloke with a beard decides whether I have been naughty or nice.

However, according to Merrell (and I see no reason to doubt him), “For some reason every journalist has gotten it wrong since, or put their own spin on it!”

To set the record completely straight, the main points are:





  1. Merrell wrote Wipe Out in 1961


  2. His band, The Impacts, was discovered in 1962 at their weekly gig in The
    Rose Garden Ballroom at Pismo Beach, in the central coast area of California, which is – incidentally – home to a species of large, edible, salt-water clam called the Pismo clam. The producers took them into the studio in Los Angeles and they recorded the entire Wipe Out album in one session. It was released some six weeks later, nearly a year before The Surfaris released the song as a single. The song was never released as a single by The Impacts.


  3. According to Merrell: “The producers called us back into the studio in
    January 1963 and we re-recorded Wipe Out with drum solos all the way through.” The version on the album only had one solo. Unfortunately, no single was released from this session either.

So there, straight from the horse’s mouth we have the story as it happened, and Merrell Fankhauser is vindicated…..

I don’t know how my own humble musical career would have survived without him!

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