A Secret History of Surf
Photo by Jeanne RiceThere are a number of singular highlights in Will Glover's musical career. His early '60s surf band the Pyramids had perhaps the most salaciously titled hit record ever with their No. 18-charting 1964 surf instrumental "Penetration." (If it referred to a board slicing into a wave, that wasn't the sort of slicing many listeners inferred from it.)
The Long Beach-based band consistently upstaged headliners like the Beach Boys: if the Wilson clan showed up for a gig in a limo, the Pyramids would arrive via helicopter or, once, riding elephants. They were never invited back to Newport's fabled Rendezvous Ballroom after one show where they doffed their trench coats and fake pants legs and performed in their shorts.
While other surf acts sank quietly into the depths after Beatlemania hit, the Pyramids fought back: performing in Beatle wigs, which they'd shake off in mid-song to reveal they'd shaved their heads in protest. Unlike most surf bands, their shows would average 30 percent instrumentals and 70 percent R&B vocals, most of them Glover's. His sweet, sad composition "Here Comes Marsha" is so evocative of that innocent pre-Beatles era that to hear it is to be hit square in the face by a lemon meringue pie-full of yearning.
Glover was one of the few left-handed surf guitarists, and one of its few real vocalists. He was also remarkably more tan than his contemporaries, being virtually the only black person in the whole of surf music. As if he didn't stand out enough there, when he launched into a music career for a second time in the late 1980s, it was in country music. What's next, Will, polka?
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Glover is covering the range of his musical pursuits in his Crazy Horse show Sunday, opening with a country-rock set, returning with a reunited Pyramids playing their first gig in more than three decades, and then closing with a horn-driven R&B set. All this from a guy who was so shy as a kid that he said he regarded his first guitar more as a security blanket than a path to fame.
The son of a career Navy man, Glover was born in North Carolina. The family moved several times before settling in Long Beach. His father wanted him to pursue a life in the military, "but when I was 12, I told him flat out, no, I wasn't going to do that. I'd started singing at Boy Scout activities when I was 9 years old, and I knew I wanted to be a musician," he recalls.
In the meantime, he'd carry his six-string security blanket around Long Beach Polytechnic High with him and dream of becoming a solo artist, "someone between Johnny Mathis and Chuck Berry." Instead, another kid, Skip Mercier, noticed his guitar and asked Glover to give him lessons. Within a few months they'd helped each other learn a few Ventures tunes, formed the Pyramids and started playing school dances in early 1962.
While his dad still didn't approve, Glover's mom was supportive of his musical interest and bought him a custom-made left-handed burnt-orange Stratocaster. Despite the cool axe, Mercier surpassed him as a guitarist, and Glover became the Pyramids' rhythm player. When the group recorded "Penetration," he wasn't even in the studio.
"I'd gone across the street to get my typical meal, which back then was a pack of Hostess cupcakes and a 7-Up. Then I ran into Brian Wilson and Mike Love—the Beach Boys recorded in the same studio—and started talking with them. By the time I remembered we were making a record, they had it all recorded, with Skip doing my guitar part."
Glover made up for his absence by writing and singing the flip side, "Here Comes Marsha." Since B-sides of records earned as much as the A-sides (the song also was a regional hit in Texas), Glover would have had a pretty good payday, except for the fact that musicians hardly ever got paid back then. The Pyramids' manager had a flair for dreaming up publicity stunts—he'd even hired girls to scream and faint at the band's head-shaving ceremony—but he was even more adept at pocketing their money, Glover claims.
While the constant gigging and chump pay eventually wore on the band, they managed to have a lot of fun on the road. Glover says his race was rarely an issue.
"There were a couple of restaurants in New Mexico that didn't want to serve me, and at a Denver hotel a guy mistook me for a porter, so I carried his bags upstairs while the band guys cracked up," he says. "We just made a joke of that stuff. We mostly had a great time. The only thing that really surprised me was the movie."
He's referring to the 1964 Frankie and Annette movie BikiniBeach, in which Glover and his band mates were shown onstage aplenty, but in the scenes where they mingled with all the bikini-clad flesh on the beach, the director had him sit it out.
"California's beaches were supposedly integrated then, but I guess they were thinking about theaters in parts of the country where people didn't want to see that," he says.
The following year, fed up with their meager incomes, the band broke up. Glover joined the Army Reserves and then, in the late '60s, formed an OC club band called the Family Cat that lasted until 1973. He'd married and decided he needed steady income, so he worked at a gas station and other jobs before starting a small construction and demolition business.
He hadn't performed in years when a friend took him to see Jann Browne in the late '80s, which got him interested in singing again. Browne soon was inviting Glover to sit in (as she'll be doing in return on some duets at Glover's Crazy Horse show), he entered some talent contests, "and the next thing I knew, I had a following, and it was in country music."
He kept the music as a secondary career for years, but now he's moving it to the front burner. He's releasing two CDs this summer, a country disc titled WillGlover'sHotStuffand a surf album called WetSandsandHotSummerNights."I can't knock doing construction. It's been great for me," he says. "But I feel I'm back on the track I always belonged on now. I'm ready to get out there and tour the world."
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