It is probably
one of the most important records in the history of modern music. One Dick Dale biography proclaims him the
father of heavy metal, as his
unmistakable guitar technique would serve as inspiration for many renowned rock
'aces', including Jimi Hendrix
(left-handed, as was he) and Eddie Van
Halen. That might at first seem a little far-fetched, but a quick listen to
this musical jewel recorded in 1963 will show you such a claim is in fact not
far from the truth. The undisputed king of the surf guitar was also a close
collaborator with Leo Fender and
between the two of them they forged some of the foundations that make the great
instrument that we know today. This alone is enough to enter rock legend. The
surfboard was just a means of getting there.
King Of The Surf Guitar was his first record with Capitol Records, who signed him after his hit with Surf Beat (from the LP Surfers’ Choice), his first real hit as Dick Dale and His Del-Tones on a label that sold tens of thousands of copies back in 1963 and was the Dale's first taste of the big time. This was the machine-gun sound of an upcoming guitarist dressed in swimwear who had invented a musical style that a year later the youngsters would go wild to throughout the USA, with or without a beach to jive on.
Dale was obsessed with his guitar's volume, basically wanting to be the loudest on the scene. These were pioneer years in electric guitar land and he the first man to arm himself with a 100 watt amp – quite an outrage back in the 60s. Naturally, his bag of effects, with his famous reverb taking centre stage, was also thanks to his friends at Fender, who he put to the test with his staccato sound and his breath-taking speed running up and down the scales on his Stratocaster's neck – something he was also the first to master.
The secret of Dick Dale, born Richard Anthony Monsour (Boston, 1937), is to be found in his Lebanese roots, learning to play the tarabaki drum with his uncles – a rhythm that would never leave him. It is this Arabic beat that gave him the idea of using the plectrum in such a unique way. Also influential was the ukulele , which he learnt to play with the idea of emulating the Country music he would listen to as a boy. His Polish mother added her Central European melodies to the sounds he used to hear. Later, generous helpings of Coca Cola put the final touches to his musical upbringing when the family moved to California in search of the American Dream when he was seventeen years old.
Illness, bad luck and the Beach Boys drew the curtains on his act all too soon, but not his passion for playing. Capitol sacked him in 1965 and he changed his way of life after nearly losing it to cancer - but never left the guitar. Two decades later he would make a majestic reappearance alongside Stevie Ray Vaughan, but it was thanks to Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction that he would at last win the world recognition that he so deserved.
Miserlou, one of the best tracks on that first album (Surfer’s Choice), was once again to be heard on the dance floor, and is still today an obligatory part of every surf-goer's musical diet.
Listen to Surfers' Choice now on Spotify!