Dick Dale: King of Surf Guitar

After being rediscovered in 1994 for a new generation thanks to the soundtrack of "Pulp Fiction", the American guitarist has died at the age of 81

By Marc Zisman | Video of the Day | March 19, 2019

In the fall of 1994, the life of Richard Anthony Monsour aka Dick Dale takes an unexpected turn. With the release of Pulp Fiction, this great guru of forgotten surf music, then 57, suddenly found himself in the public eye. The director Quentin Tarantino had the judicious idea to slip into the soundtrack of his cult film an instrumental hand-brake turn named Misirlou. An epileptic track of 1962 piloted by this furious guitarist and his no less fired-up Del-Tones. Originally, Misirlou (meaning Egyptian) is a popular song of Greek origin that Dick Dale arranged in a supersonic guitar solo for a fan who wanted to hear it on a single string!

But the career of Dale, who died on March 17, 2019 at the age of 81, is not limited to this single feat. For many, Dick Dale remains THE undisputed king of surf guitar. The beaches of California, the sun, girls in bikinis, surfing: when the rock'n'roll of the end of the fifties and the start of the sixties takes a dip into the carelessness of this musical style, the guitars go crazy, the bodies ignite and hedonism speeds along at full speed. With the likes of The Beach Boys, The Ventures, The Lively Ones, The Surfaris, The Rumblers, The Marketts and guitarists Link Wray, Duane Eddy and Al Casey, the genre breeds many stars.

His paternal Lebanese origins pushed Dale to become very interested in Arabic music. From his uncle, he discovers instruments like the darabouka and the oud. Some even think he was one of the first electric guitarists to use non-Western scales in his music. It’s a style based on a staccato picking, full of reverb and which also incorporates many rhythmic elements, notably inherited from his favorite drummer, Gene Krupa.

The Dick Dale revolution was not only aesthetic. With a little help from Leo Fender whose guitars and amps have revolutionized electric instruments, Dale has paved the way for new sounds. Fender lent him the prototypes of his amps that the author of Misirlou tested in his own way. "Leo used to say, ‘When it can withstand the barrage of punishment from Dick Dale, then it is fit for the human consumption.’ So I blew up over 50 amplifiers. And that’s why they call me the Father of Heavy Metal. Because I use 60-gauge strings and I make people’s ears bleed.Dick Dale will also be associated with the story of Fender's Stratocaster guitar with his own model, the Dick Dale Custom Shop Stratocaster.

With regard to his discography, Dick Dale shone on six albums during his golden years (Surfers' Choice at Deltone Records in 1962, then at Capitol Records, King of the Surf Guitar and Checkered Flag in 1963, Mr. Eliminator and Summer Surf in 1964, and Rock Out With Dick Dale and His Del-Tones Live at Ciro's in 1965), before falling under the radar and making his Tarantinesque comeback. It was the comeback that pushed him to return to the studio thanks to the Hightone Records label, especially with the albums Tribal Thunder in 1993 and Unknown Territory in 1994.

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