Taking credit/blame for creating the beast that is heavy metal, Dick Dale has been “making ear drums bleed” since he first blowing up amps over 50 years ago. The purveyor of some of the twangiest, grooviest, fret-hammering instrumentals ever known to man was born today in 1937.
Surf guitarist Richard Anthony Monsour aka Dick Dale was born in South Boston, Massachusetts, USA. Brought up in Quincy, the young Dale was drawn to music from an early age and sought to emulate his heroes Harry James and Gene Krupa by learning how to play the trumpet and the drums respectively.
Selling jars of skin cream in order to received a ukulele (which promptly broke), Dick then raised the money to buy another one by collecting empty Pepsi bottles. Struggling to play chords as depicted in demonstration manuals because he was holding the instrument upside down as a left hander, Dale then traded up to an acoustic guitar and began playing country music.
Moving to California with his family, Dale plugged in his guitar and began to play at talent contests and after a chance meeting with guitar maker Leo Fender, would become known for playing a Stratocaster within increasingly heavier gauge strings and beefier amps in order to convey his trademark “machine gun picking style”.
Spending his days surfing and nights playing at the Rendevous Ballroom in Balboa to a rapidly multiplying audience with a band who became known as the Deltones, Dale began releasing singles in 1959 beginning with “Ooh-Whee-Marie”. However it took two years before the surf music craze reached a level that saw his release, “Let’s Go Trippin’” become a big seller and jukebox staple.
Further singles including “Miserlou” were equally successful and Dick joined Capitol Records in 1962, the LA-based label initially distributing his album “Surfers Choice” before putting him back in the studio to record the “King of The Surf Guitar” record. Movie roles followed and Dick kept cranking out high octane instrumental originals and cover versions that encompassed both the surf movement and related drag/street racing scene.
Although remaining popular live act, Dale’s record sales tailed off later in the 1960s and his career stalled, not helped by a bout of cancer that almost proved fatal. News of his condition reached Jimi Hendrix while recording “Third Stone From The Stone”, and he added in the line, “You will never hear surf music again” in tribute.
Fast forward to 1986 and Dale’s belated return to recording, which saw him join Stevie Ray Vaughan two years later on a Grammy-nominated version of The Chantay’s 1963 single, “Pipeline.” However it was Director Quentin Tarantino’s decision to include “Miserlou” on the soundtrack to his 1994 film “Pulp Fiction”. Since then Dale has acquired living legend status and continues to record and tour, successfully overcoming a further incidence of cancer in 2008. He’ll celebrate his 75th birthday with a live show in Memphis, Tennessee.
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And here’s some footage of Dick in action: