Dick Dale… the King of Surf Guitar

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Dick Dale… the King of Surf Guitar

Dick Dale passed away recently. If you have ever developed an interest in hard and fast surf guitar music then thank Dick Dale. he popularised this form of music back in the sixties. With his custom Fender amps, upside down guitar (he was left handed) and sublime surfing skills, Dale introduced the world to surf music inspiring hundreds of bands and guitarists.

Dick Dale didn’t invent surf music… but he was the glue that connected fast guitars with the sounds of the ocean. He was one of a kind and now he is gone.

I was lucky enough to interview Dick Dale in Melbourne a few years ago at the Prince of Wales Hotel. I wrote about him in Forte three years ago and thought now was a good time to revisit some words from the King of Surf Guitar.

Dick Dale, St Kilda, 11 August 1995: “I went to a place at the beach called Newport Beach Boardwalk because I was in South-West L.A. and I went surfing with a bloke called Bill Barber who has passed on now and he was a keyboard player for Dick Dale and my buddy Ray Samra. Ray and I were bike riders and we rode down to Newport Beach to go and look at the girls and got kicked out and came back in the next day in a car and brought our guitars and played in this ballroom.

We went in there and I said: “Hey, I’m Dick Dale and I’m supposed to be playing during your intermission,” and they said “Dick who?” and they didn’t know we were bullshitting them. So we got up on stage and I just started playing this rukukuk beat that I developed and they were all dancing in their big petticoats and dancing ‘Lyndi’ and the ‘Gitterbug’ and it was cool that night.

My music used to resemble the sound of the ocean, the roar, the feeling of the rumbling when you’re sucked up from the bottom and smashed through your board. The feeling when you’re on top of the wave as it screams and lips over your head. It reminds me of my mountain lions screaming. My music is a mixture of both spiritual forces from my animals, my lions who at 2200 pounds per square inch can bite through stainless steel to the ocean. Both of these make you realise what you are not, you are just an earthling, you cannot lick and control these wonders, you can only live with them. We came into this planet, the planet didn’t come into us.”

The last word on Dick Dale goes to another legendary guitarist, the late Jim Hendrix. Hendrix was recording in a studio when word came to him that Dale was really sick and could be dying. Hendrix turned to others in the studio and quietly said: “You’ll never hear surf music again.”

Dick Dale lived for another 50 years but the sentiment in Hendrix’s quote rings true. Dick Dale… he surfed with the Duke and played guitar with Elvis.

One of a kind.

Written by John Foss