I have to admit that the only Bel Air I remember from the early 1960s was the Chevrolet model carrying the name — although I might have been vaguely aware of the affluent section of Los Angeles that the auto was presumably named for. But it turns out that one of the songs that was often playing on the radio in those days was the work of a very good — if short-lived — instrumental group that went by the same name.
The Bel Airs came to life during the days when the California surf sound — complete with reverb and funky sax — was beginning to gain some traction. Most of the guys who formed the group would go on to other things, but their music from those days would influence many others.
The Bel Airs’ biggest hit was 1961′s “Mr. Moto,” but other songs generated by the guys had some staying power too — like “Volcanic Action,” the title track from a reissued album of the group’s music. To me, it rivals Dick Dale’s “Miserlou,” a piece made famous by its use on the soundtrack of Pulp Fiction.
As for the Bel Airs, guitarists Paul Johnson and Eddie Bertrand probably became best known, but saxophonist Chas Stuart, keyboardist Jim Roberts, and drummer Dick Dodd (later replaced by Dick Delvy) would all show up in later groups from time to time. In recent years Johnson appears to be the most active, and even has his own website.