Born December 23, 1943 in Louisville, KY; son of Reuben Fankhauser (a race car driver); married Josie c. 1965, separated c. 1976, childern: one son, Tim. Addresses: Ocean Records, P. O. Box 1504, Arroyo Grande, CA 93421.
Guitarist Merrell Fankhauser's career began in the early 1960s with the surf instrumental band, The Impacts. To the present day he has adapted to many of the trends in popular music along the way, each band making music of exemplary quality. Although Fankhauser has not enjoyed chart hits, he claimed that authorship of the rock standard "Wipe Out" was stolen from him and he finally won the publishing rights to it in the 1990s.
Fankhauser was born on December 23, 1943 in Louisville, Kentucky. His father played guitar and listened to country blues music. Merrell acquired a ukelele early in his teens. Around this time, his family moved to California, where young Fankhauser was intrigued by the rhythm and blues music he heard on the radio. He recalls, "I used to try to figure this stuff out on my ukelele and it was kind of interesting because there was no way you could get the same sound out of an electric or even acoustic 6-string guitar."
Soon Merrell acquired an acoustic, then an electric guitar. He and his school friend, Bill Dodd, won a local talent contest in 1960 and were invited to join the band The Impacts. After months of rehearsals, the band began playing around Pismo Beach, California. The band was one of the first bands to play upbeat, guitar-based instrumental music which would eventually become well known as "surf music."
The Impacts attracted the attention of a recording scout from Del-Fi Records in 1962. The band recorded its repertoire for the talent scout and was later surprised to see an Impacts album appear in stores. In early 1963, the band returned to the studio to record more songs, including a new arrangement of a song called "Wipe Out." After unknowingly signing away their royalties, the band members heard "Wipe Out" on the radio. Fankhauser recalled to Goldmine, though, "But when the announcer said it was The Surfaris, we all went, `Shit, they ripped us off!'"
Merrell left The Impacts in 1963 and got a job as an airport gas boy. While strumming guitar during a break, another employee introduced Fankhauser to his son, Jeff Cotton. Jeff was another young guitarist. The two got along well and formed a band, Merrell and The Exiles, with musicians who answered a newspaper ad. The Exiles were inspired by the recent British Invasion bands. The group attracted the attention of a local record producer who released an Exiles single on his own label. The record reached the top ten at a Palmdale, California radio station alongside records by The Beatles and Jan and Dean. The band recorded more singles and were becoming popular around Los Angeles. Fankhauser left The Exiles, however, when their agent sent them on tour near a logging camp in Oregon.
Through 1966, Fankhauser was recording with local musicians in southern California while looking for a record deal. The producer who released many of the Exiles' singles released an album of current Fankhauser tracks mixed with Exiles sides under the name Fapardokly, a name coined from the first syllables of Merrell's band members' names. Few copies were pressed, and it eventually became one of the most collectible rock albums.
Merrell Fankhauser's next band was closest to bringing him commercial success. H.M.S. Bounty formed in 1968 featuring dual lead guitars and three part vocal harmonies. Many of the songs incorporated mystical, psychedelic ideas but Fankhauser was also capable of writing more commercial material. The band was signed to Uni Records after Merrell auditioned for the label's president.
Opening with two straightforward pop songs, Things twists and turns through a survey of the hip sounds of 1968, from a mystical, sitar driven ballad to heavier rock numbers. Fankhauser's producers also released a solo single, a version of "Everybody's Talkin'," which alienated his bandmates. Later, Merrell found out that he'd signed away his songwriting royalties as well.
Upon the demise of H.M.S. Bounty, Fankhauser reunited with Cotton, who had been playing with Captain Beefheart, and two former members of the Exiles. The band played under different names until Fankhauser named it Mu, from a book he found called The Lost Continent of Mu , about an island that sank into the Pacific Ocean centuries ago. Fankhauser became fascinated with the mythology of this lost land and has been researching it extensively since. The influence of the book permeates Mu's lyrics, with many references to mysticism, soul searching, and an island paradise.
Mu is the maturation of Fankhauser's songwriting and bandleading talents. Mu developed an otherworldly avant-blues-rock sound, but with Fankhauser's keen command of melody and surf guitarist's penchant for pithiness, it is the most hummable progressive rock ever recorded. After releasing its first album in 1971, the bandmembers relocated to Maui, Hawaii. Mu settled into the island's laid back lifestyle, but Cotton and Wimer grew wary of the islands mythology which permeated the band's existence and quit.
Without a band, Fankhauser remained on the island throughout the seventies, recording with violinist Mary Lee as a duo. His 1976 solo album was too folky for the mainland music scene and he remained in Maui for the rest of the decade. In 1983, he met former Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cipollina; they collaborated on Doctor Fankhauser . Merrell was getting back into recording and touring when, during a 1987 concert he felt a sharp pain in his chest. He had a heart attack on stage and was rushed to the hospital just in time. As his chances of recovery became slimmer, he repeated a Tibetan chant which improved his health.
During the 90s, Fankhauser has recorded with drummer Ed Cassidy from Spirit as well as three forthcoming albums continuing his fascination with the mythology of The Lost Continent of Mu , and an autobiographical disc, Psychedelic Dreams . Merrell Fankhauser has remained very resilient and optimistic despite the many obstacles he has encountered throughout his career. His albums, many of which have been reissued, are classic lost treasures of American rock.
by Jim Powers
Merrell Fankhauser's Career
Formed The Impacts c. 1962; recorded for Del-Fi Records c. 1963; left The Impacts c. 1963; formed Merrell and The Exiles c. 1964; recorded for Glenn Records c. 1964-5; disbanded c. 1965; formed Fapardokly c. 1966; recorded for U.I.P. Records c. 1966; disbanded c. 1967; formed H.M.S. Bounty c. 1968; recorded solo and with H.M.S. Bounty for Shamley Records c. 1968; disbanded c. 1969; formed Mu c. 1970; relocated to Maui c. 1971; disbanded Mu c. 1975; recorded solo c. 1976-99; formed Fankhauser-Cassidy Blues Band c. 1990s; reunited The Impacts c. 1995; recorded Return To Mu c. 1990s.
- Selected discography
- with the Impacts
- Wipe Out! , Del-Fi, 1963, reissued, 1994.
- "Blue Surf" and "Impact" (rec. 1963) on Wild Surf , Del-Fi, 1995.
- "Torchula" on KFWB's Battle Of The Surfing Bands! Del-Fi, 1963.
- "Wipe Out," (rec. 1963) on The Del-Fi Rarities , Del-Fi, 1994.
- "Steel Pier," (rec. 1963) on The Del-Fi Rarities , Del-Fi, 1994.
- "Blue Surf," (rec. 1963) on Big Surf Hits , Del-Fi, 1994.
- "Wipe Out" (rec. 1963) on Big Surf Hits , Del-Fi, 1994.
- "Fort Lauderdale" (rec. 1963) on Pulp Surfin' , Del-Fi, 1995.
- (With The Impacts and The Exiles), Desert Island Treasures (rec. 1963-5), Bacchus Archives/Dionysus, 1996.
- The Impacts, Surfin 101 , Gee Dee, 1996.
- The Impacts, Eternal Surf , Gee Dee, 1997.
- with Others
- (With the Exiles), The Early Years 1964-1967 , American Sound, 1994.
- Fapardokly , U.I.P., 1967, reissued Sundazed, 1995.
- (With H.M.S. Bounty), Things , Shamley, 1968, reissued Sundazed, 1997.
- "Everybody's Talkin'," Shamley, 1969, reissued on Things , Sundazed, 1997.
- "Tampa Run," Shamley, 1969, reissued on Things , Sundazed, 1997.
- Mu , Era/RTV, 1971, reissued Sundazed, 1997.
- Merrell Fankhauser , Maui Music, 1976, reissued as The Maui Album , Reckless, 1988.
- "Sail It Over The Ocean," Free Spirit, 1979.
- "Calling From A Star," Free Spirit, 1979.
- "Some Of Them Escaped," D-Town, 1986.
- Doctor Fankhauser , D-Town, 1986, reissued Legend, 1994.
- Message To The Universe , One Big Guitar, 1986.
- Flying To Macchu Picchu , Legend, 1992.
- California Live , Legend, 1994.
- The Fankhauser Cassidy Blues Band, On The Blue Road , D-Town, 1995.
- Psychedelic Dreams , Ocean, 1998.
- Return To Mu , Aspen, 1999.
- Joynson, Vernon, Fuzz, Acid, and Flowers: A Comprehensive Guide to American Garage Psychedelic, and Hippie Rock 1964-1976 , Borderline Productions, 1996.
- Unterberger, Ritchie, Unknown Legends of Rock n' Roll , Miller-Freeman, 1998.
- Woodstra, Chris, editor, The All Music Guide To Rock , Miller-Freeman, 1995.
- Goldmine , April 26, 1996; August 1, 1997.
- http://www.terrascope.org, (September 28, 1998).
- Additional information was obtained from an interview with Merrell Fankhauser.