What is hot rod music?
In the Southern California scene of the early Sixties, “ho-dads,” or car enthusiasts, were the other big subset of teen life. Although hot rodders and surfers didn’t mix much, it was still a viable market, and so L.A. disc jockey and songwriter Roger Christian (of KFWB) led the push to get surf bands to record songs about cars. The Beach Boys’ “Shut Down” started this trend back in 1962, and other bands — including surf instrumental bands — soon picked up on it. Frankly, there isn’t much difference between surf and hot rod music, except that “hot rod” songs are essentially surf songs that happen to be about cars.
On the surface, it doesn’t appear that there’s any difference between hot rod music and surf music, except that surf music enjoyed far more popularity in the heyday of both styles – the early to mid-Sixties. Surf music actually enjoys more popularity even today, although that has a lot to do with the fact that the Beach Boys gew out of the genre to become one of the most influential and enduring bands in American rock and roll history.
Still, there are slight differences, even though many surf and hot-rod bands shared the same audiences and played to the demands of both. Hot rod songs tended to be a little more manic, and – surprise – their subject matter was about tearing up the pavement rather than catching a wave. Fairly or not, all of hot rod culture was often tagged as the domain of flunkies, dropouts, and juvenile delinquents, whereas surfing (especially in the Sixties) was enjoyed by a more conservative and “wholesome” group. This as much as anything accounts for hot-rod music’s descent into near-oblivion, but no genre of music ever really dies. Especially since a number of recent bands are helping to keep the torch lit for an entire new generation of enthusiasts.