Surfbeat: Dick Dale, the king of surf guitars

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Surfbeat: Dick Dale, the king of surf guitars

A couple of weeks ago Dick Dale played the Canyon Club in California. Dick has another busy year of touring playing his brand of high energy surf guitar music that has entertained audiences around the world. Dick Dale turns 79 this year.

At a time when most folks are thinking nursing homes he is planning tours and performing live shows in front of adoring fans. Dick Dale didn’t invent surf music… but he was the glue that connected fast guitars with the sounds of the ocean. I was lucky enough to interview Dick Dale in Melbourne a few years ago.

He still loves the ocean, surfing and the energy of the waves. “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.”

Dick continues to tour the USA on a regular basis and perform with a prototype Fender amp built for him by Leo Fender in the early sixties to handle the demands of his guitar playing (Leo Fender also built for Dale the first 15 inch JBL speaker so that Dale could fill the large Los Angeles ballrooms with his guitar sound).

Dale didn’t just popularise the ‘surf sound’ we know and love. His demand for a louder guitar sound that resembled the sound of crashing waves changed live music forever.

Written by John Foss