by Tim McMahan
Dick Dale was cranky. He’d been on the road, and sick since April 10 with dizzy spells, and just the night before we talked via phone from the Woodbridge, N.J., Budget Motor Lodge, Dick had six liters of saline pumped into a body that “looked like a damn dry-cleaning rack.” It’s what’s known as “suffering from exhaustion.” He’d had very little sleep, if any. He wasn’t in a good mood.
“Where are you calling from? Omaha. Well, no wonder you don’t know what’s going on,” Dale said, later adding, “You shouldn’t even be writing this story if you haven’t heard me play live. You can’t write with the passion you receive until you see a Dick Dale concert.” I didn’t know if I was stung more by his arrogance or because he was right.
Dick Dale talks in the undulating non-stop crescendo rhythms that are a metaphor for his in-your-face guitar-playing style. He’s the kind of guy who slips in and out of third-person singular. He’s called the “King of Surf Guitar,” a title he says he never paid attention to. “I really hated that fucking thing,” Dale quickly added. “It drove me crazy all these years. I became stereotyped.”
He’s best known these days as the guy who plays the trembling, violent, middle-eastern-flavored epoch “Misirlou,” the crash-and-burn guitar roar that is launched at the beginning of Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction,” right after “Honey Bunny” Amanda Plummer yells, “This is a robbery.” Oh yeah, now you remember.
Few of us know-nothing Omahans know that Dale had a huge career before meeting Tarantino, making the Southern California scene in 1960 with Dick Dale and the Del-tones.
(The Tarantino story, incidently, as told by Dale, talking at 100 miles an hour: “Quentin makes movies from the energy of songs. He said, ‘I’m one of your biggest fans.’ He said, ‘Misirlou is a masterpiece. I would love to have your permission to make a movie that will be a masterpiece that will complement the masterpiece of Misirlou.’ I knew when he did Reservoir Dogs and the shit he had to go through that he was no bullshitter. I’m a very good judge of character.”)
Dale received the “surf king” tag after the release of the single, “Let’s Go Trippin’” in 1961, a song that is considered by critics to be the seedling of the surf music genre, later cultivated by the Beach Boys (who Dale says he used to give $50 to open his shows), Jan and Dean and all the others who sang pop-candy about bikinis and souped up cars. Surf music was faddish, and ultimately, vacuous and boring — just the opposite of Dick Dale’s music.
Anyone who’s heard “Misirlou” (released originally in 1961) or any of Dale’s recent releases (notably, “Tribal Thunder” or “Unknown Territory,”) know that his music is all about power and speed, rhythm and noise.
“I don’t play pyrotechnic scales,” Dale says. “I play about frustration, patience, anger. Music is an extension of my soul. If you go to a Dick Dale concert you’ll see skinheads, tatoos, androgenous people, tribes of all the lands, college professors… That’s where typical musicians fail — they try to show off and play more technical to impress other musicians. But I’m playing for the people who are working for $3.50 an hour, the carpenters, the ditch diggers, the grass-roots people.”
Dale says his shows are more than rock concerts, they’re transcendental experiences. “I’m constantly being influenced by the soul that’s directly in front of me,” he says. “One guy said, ‘You’re a living Shaman.’ He had steel pins through his nose and cheek and tongue, and he came up to me and just held me and trembled. I said, ‘It’s okay, I know what you’re trying to say.’”
Perhaps Dale misread the signs. Maybe pincushion man was merely overcome by the intense noise level. If all reports are accurate, you would be well-advised to bring a pair of industrial-strength earplugs to the Royal Grove May 4. The common thread that runs through reviews of Dick Dale shows is the overpowering sound levels, something that Dale prides himself on.
“I met Leo Fender, who is the guru of all amplifiers, and he gave me a Stratocaster,” Dale said. A left-hander, Dale plays with the strings upside down. “When Leo saw that, he fell down laughing. He became a second father to me.”
Through the course of his early relationship with Fender, Dale says he blew up more than 50 amplifiers, acting as sort of a walking test lab for Fender.
“Leo said, ‘How come you have to be so loud?’ In that era, no one played with their amps above 5,” Dale said. Finally he took Fender to see one of his ballroom shows, where more than 4,000 listened. As a result, Fender created the “Showman” amp for Dale, with more than 100 watts of power. “Dick Dale became the father of Heavy metal,” Dale says. “Dick Dale became the man who made ears bleed.”
Copyright © 1998 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.
|Dick Dale at one of his many gigs enters into a trance-like state while fronting his band.|
“You shouldn’t even be writing this story if you haven’t heard me play live. You can’t write with the passion you receive until you see a Dick Dale concert
Classic 1963 performance by Dick Dale on Ed Sullivan show featuring Dick singing before breaking into ‘Miserlou’
DICK DALE , THE LEGEND, RETURNS TO STAGE AFTER SERIOUS CANCER BOUT
Dick Dale, the King (and originator) of the Surf Guitar, PLAYS on following a very serious series of cancer operations and treatment. Against doctors orders, Dale is performing again on a limited basis. We were fortunate to see him in his usual rare form Jan 22, 2015 at the City Winery , Napa, CA. Dale is more than a virtuoso guitarist . He is the consumate entertainer as well as philosopher and he expounded on the medical industrial complex he has been dealing with as well as ‘Love’ and other topics between performing his greatest hits and lesser known songs. A most entertaining fellow and good guy we are happy to share with you here.Catch Dale and/or his music.SEE DICKDALE.COM
DICK DALE Comes out on stage to ovation at City Winery, 1-22-15, Napa, CA
Dale catches fans up on his medical issues and ‘medical industrial complex’ before launching into ‘Rumble,’ Ghostriders’ and other songs he’s become known for even if they weren’t his originals.
‘LET’S GO TRIPPIN’ was one of Dales two big hits in the early 60s
Dale talks about seeing Johnny Cash in 1956 and becoming a fan, performs Cash songs
Spanish ballad Dale wrote for his wife Lana. Dale talks about ‘Love’ that finally came to him late in life when he met Lana, who has seen him through his medical issues.
Dale’s signature song, ‘Miserlou,’ which took on a new life in the movie ‘Pulp Fiction’ a couple decades ago.
Dale closes show, telling fans ‘You Are My Medicine!”
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