Personalities | Dick Dale | Surf’s Superstar | Guitar Heroes

‘King of the Surf Guitar’ Dick Dale was born Richard Monsour in Boston, Massachusetts in 1937. Dale learned to play drums, ukulele and trumpet before taking up the guitar, inspired by country music. His first break in music was winning an Elvis Presley soundalike contest.

Dale began playing guitar in clubs, solo at first, but later backed by The Del-Tones. He was an early enthusiast of the surfing scene that arose on the beaches of southern California in the early 1960s, his family having moved there in 1954.

His recording career began in 1961 with the single ‘Let’s Go Trippin’, regarded as the first surf-rock song, and he achieved national popularity in the States with Surfers’ Choice (1962). Diagnosed with cancer in 1966, he was forced to retire, although he made a full recovery. After almost losing a leg to a surfing injury sustained in polluted water, he became an environmental activist. He is best known for ‘Misirlou’ (1962), which brought him to a new audience when used in the movie Pulp Fiction (1994) and led to his comeback.

Dale is left-handed but learned to play on a right-handed guitar without re-stringing it, effectively playing the instrument upside down. He was notorious for using strings of the heaviest gauge possible but still regularly breaking them and wearing out plectrums because of his forceful playing. This rhythmic, percussive attack was influenced by jazz drummer Gene Krupa.

Dale aimed to recreate the experiences of surfing in his music; his trademark twang was intended to simulate the sound of breaking waves. He is credited with inventing surf music and has been hailed as ‘the father of heavy metal’ due to his work with Leo Fender in increasing the power of amplifiers. He uses a signature-model Stratocaster, given to him by Fender. Dale used the first 100-watt amp. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan were among the admirers of his unique style.

In 2008, he was once more diagnosed with cancer and underwent surgery, but by 2009, he was on tour again. His backing band is anchored by son Jimmy Dale on drums.

Essential Recordings

with his Del-Tones: Surfers’ Choice

with his Del-Tones: King Of The Surf Guitar

with his Del-Tones: Mr. Eliminator

Solo: Tribal Thunder

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