A History of NESMA – 10 year Anniversary,
By Sandy Smith Rosado, MM, MLS
NESMA is a network of surf bands. It has become the largest network of surf bands in the world. It started as the vision of Mike Rosado, leader of the surf band 9th Wave in 2002 - that makes NESMA 10 years old!
NESMA began as an idea in Mike Rosado’s head – an idea to get surf bands on the east coast working together, to grow the genre of surf music, and to eliminate “turf wars”, where bands claimed a city or area as their own and didn’t want other surf bands to play there. Mike’s belief was that the world and the genre were big enough for everyone to take part, and that by working together, the genre would spread, become more recognized, and offer more opportunities to all surf bands – as opposed to locking bands out to allow one band to dominate all the gigs in a city, or having certain megalomaniacs trying to force other surf bands out of existence.
These ideas were forming as early as 2001. The “third wave” of surf music is commonly regarded as ramping up in 1994, after the release of the very popular movie “Pulp Fiction”, whose soundtrack was heavy with reverb-laden instrumental rock and surf music, including Dick Dale’s version of “Miserlou” as the title track. (For more on the history of surf music, see A Brief History of Instrumental Surf Music at http://www.nesmasurf.org/surf%20music%20history.htm .) By 2000, Mike was already seeing alarming rates of attrition for surf rock bands in the Boston, New York City and Providence (RI) areas. In order to stem this tide, he began thinking about how musicians could work together to encourage bands to continue on to senior status, and create an atmosphere where new surf bands could flourish. His idea of a network grew, and he began talking to his band members about it. Initially, there was reluctance. Band members recognized that time spent on setting up such an organization would most likely be detrimental to short-term goals for 9th Wave, such as booking and promoting shows. Some members were more interested in just playing than in taking a long-view of where the genre was headed. Mike had the foresight to see that while the band might suffer in the short-term, the growth of the genre would be beneficial to 9th Wave and ALL surf bands, current and forthcoming, in the future. So he forged ahead.
In the NESMA archives are the hand-written notes Mike wrote in the summer of 2002 on yellow lined paper, laying out the goals and vision of the organization to be called the North East Surf Music Alliance. Also included were the steps for involving bands, a draft letter to be sent to bands that would be solicited to join, and future ideas for expansion once the organization was established. These “blueprints” turned out to be quite prescient, and were used almost unaltered as the plan moved forward. The original Goals and Vision of NESMA, dated October 11, 2002, continue to guide NESMA 10 years later, with only slight modifications (http://www.nesmasurf.org/what_is_nesma.htm ).
The first meeting of a group of NESMA-oriented bands happened on August 1, 2002 in Baltimore, MD. 9th Wave was making their annual trip to play at Sleazefest, a garage/rock band festival in Chapel Hill, NC. On the way down, they picked up a gig at the Café Tattoo in Baltimore with fellow surf band The Atomic Mosquitos. Also in attendance at the gig were members of two other area surf bands, The Diamondheads and The Swiv-o-matics. (While some bands were engaging in turf wars, other bands were already working together in what would become the NESMA model – helping each other with shows while traveling, having multi-band surf shows, supporting the shows of other surf bands when their own band wasn’t playing, etc.) At this gig, Mike talked to each band about his ideas for an Alliance. They were all in – and thus the first 4 NESMA bands joined forces and the Alliance was born.
Back row: Negative Ed (9th Wave)
Second row: Paul Carson (Atomic Mosquitos), Sean Rush (Atomic Mosquitos), Sandy Brooks (9th Wave), George Jaro (Atomic Mosquitos), Brian Lavalle (Diamondheads)
Front row: Craig Stand (Atomic Mosquitos), Mike Rosado (9th Wave), Dan Pickett (9th Wave), Dave Wood of Zptduda Music
The next step was a web presence. Sandy Rosado, another member of 9th Wave, started a rudimentary website (one of those old, free Geocities pages) with a very basic logo, and also created a Yahoo discussion group called Nesmasurf. Although discussion didn’t really get going on the Yahoo group until August 2003, the first test message was sent by Sandy in October 2002, including the tag line “The Power of East Coast Surf”, which is still proudly displayed on the current NESMA website. (Mike was the only other person signed on to the Yahoo group at the time!) The idea behind the list was stated in August 2003 as “We envision this as a regional counterpart to the Cowabunga list. … This will be a positive group, for the promotion of surf music in the NESMA region – we will not tolerate unduly negative attitudes, rudeness, or insensitivity.” The Yahoo group is still in existence, with over 10,000 messages over the past 10 years.
(despite what the second logo says, NESMA was never going to be the New England Surf Music Alliance!)
Early logo – never used Another unused idea First basic NESMA logo
Artwork by lrdesigns
Things really picked up in 2003. Mike & Sandy contacted many surf bands they knew about, and drove many miles to many shows to meet with, hear, and talk to bands they thought were good candidates to join the Alliance. A letter in the NESMA archives dated August 2003 states the intention that “To start, the area encompassing the Alliance will include north from Nova Scotia, south to the Carolinas, and west to Chicago and back up into Canada.” This letter also requested member bands to send in contact information to form the first directory, both online and in paper format that was sent to all the bands later that year. There were 18 members in August 2003: 9th Wave (CT), Acoustic Surf Tones (CT – a side project of 9th Wave), Atomic Mosquitos (MD), Balboas (no geographic designation – they were the 5th member, joining up after discussions at Sleazefest immediately following that first NESMA meeting in August 2002), Cadillac Hitmen (MA), Clams (CT), Cocktail Preachers (Chicago), Coffin Daggers (NYC), Diamondheads (MD), Fisherman (NYC), Howlin’ Thurstons (NYC), Retroliners (NJ), Serfs (NY), Sharkskins (PA), Sump Pump Monkeys (Cleveland), Surf Squad (CT), Swiv-o-matics (MD), and Urban Surf Kings (Nova Scotia, Canada).
Surf nights and surf summits with all-NESMA bands have always been encouraged. One of the first happened at Station 58 in New London CT as early as July 26, 2003 – with 9th Wave, The Swiv-o-matics, and Fisherman. In December in New York City, Frank Wood put on a show in conjunction with NESMA, including 9th Wave, The Howlin’ Thurstons, The Mofos, The Sharkskins, and The Retroliners. In 2004 surf summits continued in CT and NYC, and progressed to Boston, where the Kirkland Café in Somerville often sponsored surf music under the auspices of Mickey Bliss – now there were all-NESMA surf nights there as well. Unsteady Freddie, an important promoter in the NYC/NJ area and early supporter and ambassador for NESMA, was putting on as many surf shows as he could, trying out a variety of clubs in the New York City area. On June 5, 2004, the first surf night at Otto’s Shrunken Head Tiki Bar took place with NESMA bands 9th Wave, The Supertones, and The Sharkskins. It was a great success, and owner Steve Pang was interested in continuing surf nights. NESMA has never claimed to be a booking agency, and Mike was not keen to try to book surf nights in NYC from his home location in northeast CT, while still booking surf summits in Boston and CT. Unsteady Freddie was willing and able to take on this task, and starting in November 2005 the monthly (first Saturday of every month) “Surf Rock Shindig“ at Otto’s began, which has become a staple of the east coast surf music scene for the past 7 years.
A NESMA Surf Night at the Kirkland Café in Somerville MA, October 2006 - including members of 9th Wave,
SPF-4, The Fathoms, and Mister Neutron (this line-up was dubbed “The Fantastic Four”)
Poster for the first Otto's Surf Summit sponsored by NESMA
By the end of 2003 NESMA had 32 members! A big boon to NESMA (although not so good personally) was when Sandy found herself out of a job in July 2003 due to the bad economy in CT. That summer she had many free hours to spend designing the current NESMA website from scratch, creating the directory and listing of all the bands, typing letters and emails to potential new members, and helping Mike with the next step in solidifying the Alliance – the first directory compilation CD. This came out by the end of 2003, and included tracks by 28 of the 32 NESMA member bands. It was “produced and intended for inter-band networking and exposure” (letter from July 2004). The CD was provided free of charge to all NESMA bands, and also shared with selected DJs and promoters to provide exposure for Alliance members. (It should be noted that there never has been any charge associated with NESMA membership – it is a free, voluntary networking organization, with membership determined by Mike Rosado based on the criteria stated in the Goals and Vision.)
Artwork by Phred
Another innovation in 2003 was Mike’s idea to feature one NESMA band each month on the website. Using a standard set of interview questions, bands were queried by email and their responses posted, along with a band photo. The first “spotlite” band was The Sharkskins in October 2003, and this has continued monthly since then. Some months have also been dedicated to promoters or other personalities or groups important to the surf scene as well, like Unsteady Freddie and the Big Tiki Dude (from California). Recently, bands interviewed in the early days have been re-visited with a different set of questions, to see how they’ve grown over the years.
A new logo was designed and adopted in August 2004, and business cards and stickers were produced. These were provided to NESMA bands at no cost to encourage them to promote the Alliance and the surf music genre while promoting themselves.
New logo – August 2004
NESMA has always been free to members, but of course it costs money to keep up a website and mail CDs and directories all over the east coast. Dan Surkis of The Clams wanted to help, both to garner some financial support for NESMA and to promote NESMA bands. His idea was a compilation CD that could be sold for profit, and this manifested itself as the “NESMAlive” or “North East Surf Music Alive” CD in 2005. This included 17 live tracks, donated by 17 NESMA bands. Each band got a copy of the CD and could purchase additional copies for half-price to sell at their gigs. CDs were sold at full price ($10) on the NESMA website. This was a short-run CD which is no longer available for sale, but it provided some financial support for the NESMA infrastructure, and more importantly, it promoted NESMA bands, surf music, and the ideology behind the Alliance that any NESMA member can do something for the benefit of the genre – thanks Dano Clam!
By July of 2004 NESMA had 50 members. In 2005, the NESMA geographic range was extended when Ronnie Lake from Minnesota and The Surge from Georgia were added to the ranks. By 2006, new members wanted to know when they could get on a compilation CD; the second NESMA inter-band networking compilation CD was distributed to all 63 NESMA band members in 2007, including tracks from 48 of those bands (this was a double CD set.)
“Honorary” members were added early on – this was a way for prestigious members of the surf music community to show their support for the idea of an Alliance that promotes the genre, to the benefit of all. These are all people that Mike talks to personally, to explain what NESMA is (and is NOT – for example, is it NOT a union), and to get their support. Honorary members include the likes of Dick Dale, Laika and the Cosmonauts (now disbanded), Los Straitjackets, the Surfaris, the Rip Chords, and Paul Johnson. Very early on, “Big Wave” Dave Becker of the west coast surf band The Aquamarines voluntarily took on the role and title of NESMA’s West Coast Ambassador, and is listed as such on the “Honorary Members” page.
Did you know April is International Jazz Month? Sandy did, and she wondered why there couldn’t be a month dedicated to surf music as well. Now there is – since 2009, June is officially International Surf Music Month! This was accomplished by filling out paperwork with Chase’s Calendar of Events (http://www.mhprofessional.com/templates/chases/special-months.php#june ). An official organization has to “sponsor” a month in order for it to be designated for a topic or cause. In 2009, NESMA was already 7 years old, with an established web presence and 76 members, and this was enough clout to get June designated for surf music. (The month of June was chosen for three reasons: 1) it wasn’t Jazz month, 2) June 20th was already designated as International Surfing Day - a nice connection, and 3) Mike’s birthday is in June.)
The Alliance passed the 100 member mark sometime in 2011, and continues to grow. It is no longer the North East Surf Music Alliance, but now just “NESMA” – a household word (at least, in certain households!) A new direction for the future will be to create additional directory pages linked to the NESMA website for listing surf bands from the central and western United States. A third inter-band networking CD is in the making, and a long-term goal will be to create a number of commercial compilations of NESMA band music for sale. There is a lot more for NESMA to do in the next 10 years!
Sandy Smith Rosado is a librarian and musician from Mansfield CT. She holds Masters degrees in Music and Library Science. She has been a member of the surf hot-rod band 9th Wave since 2000, playing vintage Farfisa organ, rhythm guitar, flute, alto saxophone, and more, as well as go-go dancing. She is a founding member and webmaster for NESMA.