Swimming Through History

Get Wet's Les Fradkin made history with one simple guitar riff. Now he's making waves as an Internet innovator and surf-rock guru.

Les Fradkin's band, Get Wet, plays a brand of instrumental music that mixes old-school surf and classical touches, with the guitar parts played on new-tech gear. So far, the group isn't familiar to Front Range listeners. But that's not the case when it comes to Fradkin's back catalogue. He was a vocalist and session guitar player on numerous '60s and '70s pop hits, everything from Tony Orlando and Dawn's "Candida" to bubblegum hits such as the Flying Machine's "Smile a Little Smile for Me" and Edison Lighthouse's "Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)." But there's another song that should make Fradkin's playing more familiar to locals, including sports fans.

"I was the guitarist on Gary Glitter's 'Rock & Roll, Pt. 2,'" Fradkin reveals.

"Rock & Roll, Pt. 2" (a hit for Glitter in 1971) is America's sports anthem. The song's jungle-drums intro and fuzzed-out guitar riff -- Na na nuh/da na na na-- split by the song's sole lyric ("Hey!") are as much a part of the popular sporting life as emotive pre-game renderings of "The Star-Spangled Banner." It's become the official post-score soundtrack for the Denver Broncos, the Colorado Avalanche and teams in the NHL, the NFL and the college and high school ranks.

The song was first paired with sports in Colorado after the late Colorado Rockies hockey team began using it when the team scored during home games. And while Fradkin is proud of the lasting appeal and economic payoffs of his past material (he pays his bills through royalties and his appearances on various oldies tours), today he's pushing his new stuff. Get Wet plays "a mix of neo-classic and surf styles blended together in as seamless a fashion as possible," Fradkin says. "I mix the melodies of Mozart and Paganini -- or my own melodies written in the same spirit as their work -- with Ventures- or Dick Dale-oriented backing."

Fradkin plays his licks on a Roland VG-8 synth guitar (not a dusty old Fender or moldy Mosrite), a practice sure to make surf geeks scream. "What's the point of doing what everybody else does?" he asks. "If you want to hear it that way, go get a Ventures album." For his part, Fradkin feels those old records don't offer much in the way of virtuoso guitar playing. He's also outspoken about the shortcomings of his contemporaries, most of whom are "either Ventures or Safaris imitators or spaghetti-Western players. And I don't say that in any derogatory way, but Get Wet has definitely done something different as far as style goes."

Fradkin's current preoccupation with making waves as a surf artist follows a career that has bobbed and weaved through a variety of endeavors. While still a teenager in New York City, he signed a publishing deal with Tony Orlando (then a publisher for CBS), with whom he recorded "Candida" and other songs. In 1969 he was inked to Columbia records by the legendary John Hammond, whose signees included Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. After the label declined to release his solo recording, Fradkin began a career as a studio musician that stretched across two decades.

After a brief stint as a member of the Godz, Fradkin secured the role of George Harrison in the original Broadway cast of Beatlemania. He held that slot for over two years before becoming a producer for Laurie Records, overseeing recordings by Gerry and the Pacemakers, Dion and the Belmonts and others. From the mid-'80s to the early '90s, he made his living composing soap-opera scores and jingles as well as touring with numerous oldies acts, a practice he continues today with Edison Lighthouse and others.

In the mid-'90s, Fradkin wound up in Arizona, where he began composing and recording instrumental surf tunes on home recording gear, playing all the parts himself. When the finished recording failed to generate label interest, he turned to the then-burgeoning Internet and MP3.com and released it under the Get Wet handle. He touted his music on Web bulletin boards and sites dealing with surf music, vintage gear, oldies collectors and guitar heroes.

This campaign paid off in thousands of downloads of his material, with each sale putting three cents in Fradkin's pocket. ("As Morris Levy once said," Fradkin notes, "'Music is a pennies business.'") The disc became a smash on MP3.com, with more than 50,000 logged downloads; the feat led the editors of MP3 for Dummies to feature Fradkin as one of the format's biggest success stories.

"I come from a business family," Fradkin says. "Fortunately, I had a father who took the time to explain business to me, and I had the sense to listen. Nowadays, what matters is numbers, not art." Fradkin paired his impressive MP3.com numbers with airplay on a number of independent radio stations. To support the CD, he hustled together the first incarnation of Get Wet, which included surf pioneer Eddie Bertrand of the Bel-Airs and Eddie & the Showmen.

Last year Fradkin relocated to Parker to marry Loretta Pieper, whom he met while performing a Beatlemania gig in Colorado Springs. Before they were wed, Pieper learned of her fiancé's contribution to sporting lore during an Avalanche game: Following a score by the home team, "Rock & Roll, Pt. 2" came over the loudspeaker, and the crowd stood and applauded. Fradkin stayed in his seat. "She asked me, 'Why aren't you clapping?' I told her, 'I never clap for myself.'"

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