I suppose I owe Quentin Tarantino for exposing me to Dick Dale. Sure, I’d catch an earful of his swanky surf guitar playing as a kid sitting in my room listening to oldies 97.7 out of Elkhart, Indiana. But my first slap in the face from Dick Dale was “Miserlou” in Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. Hearing that track blaring out of the theater hi-fi speakers at full blast was what truly hipped me to the master that was and is Dick Dale.
As a guitarist growing up in the mid-to-late 80s surf music was the last thing that was blasting from my boom box in my bedroom. It was all those spandex-wearing cats with pointy guitars and White Rain-held hair styles. The faster and gnarlier the better. Of course, hardly any of those Sunset Strip wanks could even come remotely close to that staccato speed picking that Dick Dale made his style in the late-50s and early-60s, and pretty much throughout his entire career as a genre-defining artist. His playing influenced other guys I’d hear on that oldies station, like Jimi Hendrix and Jimmy Page, and even later on Eddie Van Halen(his speed picking is very similar to Dale’s as well.)
Not only was Dick Dale a forward-thinking player, he also worked closely with Leo Fender to design some of the loudest amps to have ever been built. Fender built an amp that could withstand the sonic abuse Dale’s bell-like sound and style would put an amp thru. They created at 100 watt amp that would distort while still retaining a sonic clarity to where every note was clear as a bell.
Surf music may not have stayed a popular genre, but Dick Dale kept it alive and well throughout his entire career. He performed clear up thru 2019, earning money to help pay for medical bills. He passed away on March 16th, 2019 at the age of 81 from heart failure.
Dick Dale’s playing is one-of-a-kind, his sound was one-of-a-kind, and very few guitarists could do what he did on strings that he played(16-58 would make mortal mens fingers bleed.) Dick Dale was a true innovator. RIP.