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Rock instrumentals--as opposed to pop instrumentals such as Percy Faith's number one hit, "A Summer Place," Bert Kaempfert's "Wonderland By Night," Mr. Acker Bilk's "Stranger on the Shore," and Bent Fabric's "Alley Cat"--employ rock-based styles built around one or more of the following features: a simple riff, a catchy melody, some form of electronic gimmickry. (The Surfaris' 1963 surf classic, "Wipe Out," utilized all of the above; i.e., the driving rhythmic motif on the tom-toms, the lead guitar line, and manic song title announcement at the outset of the record.) While instrumentals have generally been viewed by rock critics as a category of novelty material which has had little impact on rock history, the genre did enjoy a brief run as a seminal style in the early 1960s. Rock instrumentals were originally performed by r & b dance outfits in vogue throughout the 1950s. Usually featuring either organists (e.g., Dave "Baby" Cortez), honky-tonk pianists (e.g., Bill Doggett), or saxophonists (e.g., Lee Allen, King Curtis), these bands enjoyed a regional reputation, trying out new dances and musical ideas in front of intensely loyal audiences. The lack of a vocalizing frontman arose out of the desire of most bands to engage in uninhibited jams combined with their audiences' preoccupation with drinking and dancing.

By the late 1950s instrumental combos were entering the national singles chart with increasing regularity. The Champs' five-week stay at number one with "Tequila" in the spring of 1958 was particularly hard to ignore. And while that group was unable to sustain a run of hit recordings, Duane Eddy, who pioneered a twangy, bass-heavy guitar style, and Elvis Presley's original bassist, Bill Black, were able to achieve a measure of chart longetivity. Other rock instrumentalists scoring high on the charts included Link Wray, easily the most technically proficient guitarist of that era; Johnny and the Hurricanes, known for rock arrangements of old standards (e.g., "Red River Rock" was an adaptation of "Red River Valley"); Cozy Cole, a veteran drummer possessing a swing style; Sandy Nelson, a young percussionist who employ a straightforward rock 'n' roll style; Santo and Johnny, a Canadian duo whose sound was built around an Hawaiian steel guitar; and Lonnie Mack, most famous for his reinterpretation of Chuck Berry's "Memphis" sans lyrics.

These--and other--instrumentalists found success because they offered an exciting alternative to the watered down material provided by teen idols and middle-of-the-road pop stylists. Due to the preponderance of local bands playing instrumental music devoid of any impulse to imitate national fads, record companies could tap an unlimited reservoir of fresh talent in their efforts to market this genre. Demand was further enhanced by the radio deejays' practice of using instrumentals to lead into news segments; this meant that at least two of these songs were likely to be played each hour.

The release of the Ventures' "Walk--Don't Run" in the summer of 1960 proved to be a watershed event in rock instrumental annals. The Seattle-based quartet became the most successful instrumental act during the rock era. Featuring polished arrangements and technically precise playing, the band inspired an entire generation of young guitarists. The Ventures' albums outsold their singles, finding a market in Europe and Japan as well. The group even released songbooks with play-along discs to assist budding musicians.

The surfing craze infused new energy into the genre during the 1962-1964 period, supplying a succession of classic songs (e.g., "Pipeline," "Penetration," "Let's Go Trippin'") and new groups, including Dick Dale and the Deltones, The Chantays, the Pyramids, and the Marketts. However, by this time the glory days of rock instrumentals were already numbered due to competition from newly emerging styles such as soul music, the girl groups, and the dance crazes. The British Invasion provided the final blow in largely displacing American recordings on radio playlists.


Top Artists and Their Recordings

Bill Black's Combo--"Smokie--Part 2," (1959/60); "White Silver Sands" (1960); "Josephine" (1960); "Don't Be Cruel" (1960); "Blue Tango" (1960); "Hearts of Stone" (1961); "Ole Buttermilk Sky" (1961); "Movin'"/"Honky Train" (1961); "Twist-Her" (1961/2); "Twistin'-White Silver Sands" (1962); "So What" (1962; 1965); "Do It--Rat Now" (1963); "Monkey-Shine" (1963); "Comin' On" (1964); "Tequila" (1964); "Little Queenie" (1964); "Turn on Your Love Light" (1968)

Booker T. and the M.G.'s--"Green Onions" (1962); "Jellybread" (1962/3); "Chinese Checkers" (1963); "Mo-Onions" (1964); "Soul Dressing" (1964); "Boot-Leg" (1965); "My Sweet Potato" (1966); "Hip Hug-Her" (1967); "Groovin'"/"Slim Jenkin's Place" (1967); "Soul-Limbo" (1968); "Hang 'Em High" (1968/9); "Time Is Tight" (1969); "Mrs. Robinson" (1969); "Slum Baby" (1969); "Something" (1970); "Melting Pot" (1971)

James Brown (and the JBs)--"Night Train" (1962); "Every Beat of My Heart" (1963); "Try Me" (1965)

Ace Cannon--"Tuff" (1961/2); "Blues (Stay Away From Me)" (1962); "Sugar Blues" (1962); "Cottonfields" (1963); "Searchin'" (1963)

The Champs--"Tequila" (1958); "El Rancho Rock"/"Midnighter" (1958); "Chariot Rock" (1958); "Too Much Tequila" (1960); "Tequila Twist"/"Limbo Rock" (1962); "Limbo Dance" (1962)

Cozy Cole--"Topsy, Part II" (1958); "Topsy, Part I" (1958); "Turvy, Part II" (1958)

Duane Eddy--"Movin' N' Groovin' (1958); "Rebel-'Rouser" (1958); "Ramrod" (1958); "Cannonball" (1958); "The Lonely One" (1959); "Yep!" (1959); "Forty Miles of Bad Road" (1959); "The Quiet Three" (1959); "Some Kind-A Earthquake" (1959); "First Love, First Tears" (1959); Bonnie Came Back" (1959/60); "Shazam!" (1960); "Because They're Young" (1960); "Kommotion" (1960); "Peter Gunn" (1960); "Pepe" (1960/1); "Theme From Dixie" (1961); "Ring of Fire" (1961); "Drivin' Home" (1961); "My Blue Heaven" (1961); "Deep in the Heart of Texas" (1962); "The Ballad of Paladin" (1962); "(Dance With the) Guitar Man" (1962); "Boss Guitar" (1963); "Lonely Boy, Lonely Guitar" (1963); "Your Baby's Gone Surfin'" (1963); "The Son of Rebel Rouser" (1964)

Jorgen Ingmann--"Apache" (1961); "Anna" (1961)

Johnny and the Hurricanes--"Crossfire" (1959); "Red River Rock" (1959); "Reveille Rock" (1959); "Beatnik Fly" (1960); "Down Yonder" (1960); "Rocking Goose" (1960); "Revival" (1960); "You Are My Sunshine" (1960); "Ja-Da" (1961)

Lonnie Mack--"Memphis" (1963); "Wham!" (1963); "Honky Tonky '65" (1965)

The Marketts--"Out of Limits" (1963/4); "Vanishing Point" (1964); "Batman Theme" (1966)

The Mar-Keys--"Last Night" (1961); "Morning After" (1961); "Pop-Eye Stroll" (1962); "Philly Dog" (1966)

Sandy Nelson--"Teen Beat" (1959); "Let There Be Drums" (1961); "Drums Are My Beat"/"The Birth of the Beat" (1962); "Drummin' Up a Storm"/"Drum Stomp" (1962); "All Night Long" (1962); "And Then There Were Drums" (1962); "Teen Beat '65" (1964)

Rock-A-Teens--"Woo-Hoo" (1959)

Santo and Johnny--"Sleep Walk" (1959); "Tear Drop" (1959); "Caravan" (1960); "Twistin' Bells" (1960); "Hop Scotch" (1961); "Iíll Remember (In the Still of the Night)" (1964)

The Ventures--"Walk--Don't Run" (1960); "Perfidia" (1960); "Ram-Bunk-Shush (1961); "Lullaby of the Leaves" (1961); "(Theme From) Silver City" (1961); "Blue Moon" (1961); "Lolita Ya-Ya" (1962); "The 2,000 Pound Bee, Part 2" (1962/3); "Walk--Don't Run '64" (1964); "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" (1964); "Diamond Head" (1965); "Secret Agent Man" (1966); "Hawaii Five-O" (1969); "Theme From "A Summer Place" (1969)

The Village Stompers--"Washington Square" (1963); "From Russia With Love" (1964); "Fiddler on the Roof" (1964)

The Virtues--"Guitar Boogie Shuffle" (1959); Guitar Boogie Shuffle Twist" (1962)

The Viscounts--"Harlem Nocturne" (1959/60; 1965); "Night Train" (1960); "Wabash Blues" (1960/1)

Link Wray, and His Ray Men--"Rumble" (1958); "Raw-Hide" (1959); "Jack the Ripper" (1963)