So long, King of the Surf Guitar
If there’s a Heaven, it’s about to get louder and better. The world lost a giant, a king, and a special artist in Dick Dale upon his death yesterday.
Although I grew up in California, it was actually my husband, Greg, who introduced me to Dick Dale.
Sure, I logged some time on SoCal beaches anytime I visited my grandparents in Dana Point as well as watched the hokey Annette Funacello and Frankie Avalon beach movies that sometimes featured Dick Dale and his Del-tones, but I was too young to be impacted by those surf cultures enough to recognize the legend he already had become.
Dale is credited with inventing surf music in the 1950s. An avid surfer, his surfmates gave him the title “King of the Surf Guitar” and it stuck. Another claim to fame? Leo Fender gave Dale a Stratocaster and amp to play, asking him to “beat it to death” and tell him what he thought of it. Dale proceeded to blow up 49 amps and speakers because he plays so hard and loud, and some even caught on fire! In the end, it was Dale who helped Fender create rugged apparatus musicians would enjoy (and beat up) for generations.
Over the years, I have delved into my husband’s vast collection of music. He enjoys a large variety of genres, but surf music is one of his favorites. I was familiar with the Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and the Surfaris’ killer song “Wipe Out” (you’d have to be living under a rock not to know that one!), but Greg turned me on to surf music giants The Mermen, The Ventures and Dick Dale. And his vast Beach Boys collection offers a lot more than the “Barbara Ann” played on the radio—you should really check them out more closely.
My personal Dick Dale moment? When Greg and I, along with our son, Travis, saw him at The Birchmere in Virginia back in 2003. The venue is terrific—an intimate, supper club-style performance hall. We sat right in front, about a foot from Dale much of the time. He happened to like us and gave Trav his first guitar pick of the evening, winked at me a few times and told Greg during one of his songs, “It’s alright for her to look at me. She sees you all the time!” He was very conversational, offering up numerous opinions ranging in various topics between numbers. He also kept his drummer and bassist on their toes, as they never knew what song he was going to play next and sometimes, they just “made the shit up” right then and there. One highlight of the show was when Dale abandoned his guitar and grabbed a couple of drumsticks and played in tandem with the drummer. He was good at that, too. Then he took the sticks and played the bass while the bassist held the frets with his fingers. Dale and his band were clearly having a good time and I found it refreshing, a far cry from some of the shows I’d seen in my youth. I’ve attended at least a hundred concerts, and I can tell you Dick Dale plays the guitar louder than anyone—and that includes some of the biggest rock bands in the world. I admit, my ears hurt that night and into the next day, but I would be hard pressed to say it wasn’t worth it anyway!
I knew that evening we were witnessing greatness, a phenom really. Dale is an incredible powerhouse of talent and energy, but also witty and personable, likable on every front.
Dale, 81, reportedly kept touring to help pay for his medical bills, which is a pretty sad state of affairs. I noticed he was set to play on May 25 in San Juan Capistrano, the California town where my mother went to high school (and later got married), which just illustrates how true he was to his roots.
I’ll be celebrating him by playing his wonderful music today—and for the rest of my life. And if there is a Heaven, I imagine he is shredding it there as he did here, only maybe not in pain or feeling his age. Rock on, DD!
Visit www.dickdale.com to learn more about him—it’s worth the read.
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