What makes Dick Dale ‘King of the Surf Guitar’?

News: Dick Dale talks blowouts, wipeouts and animal screams (Miami New Times)
Dick Dale Still Riding The Wild Surf At 74 (Houston Press)
Related: Historic Dick Dale tour was 7 years in the making

Dick Dale and Laramie Dean

After more than 50 years of guitar shredding, Dick Dale has certainly achieved legendary status. His iconic style and sound have influenced countless musicians and bands and some of his songs, such as Miserlou, are pop culture classics.

To get warmed up for his two South Florida concerts next week (Sunday at The Vagabond in Miami, Monday at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach), we present a litany of reasons why Dick Dale deserves to go down as one of the all-time greats (along with some just-plain-fun facts). We’ve also culled video clips from the 1960s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to showcase his incredible longevity (the 1970s were not his best decade).

  • Before playing electric guitar, Dale learned the drums, ukulele and trumpet. He has also mastered the banjo, piano, organ, harpsichord, trombone, xaxophone, harmonica, xylophone and accordion.

  • Dale is often credited as one of the first electric guitarists to employ non-Western scales in his playing. This can be traced back to one of his early musical influences: His uncle, an oud player who performed belly dance music. Much of his early music shows a Middle Eastern influence.

  • Dale invented surf music in the 1950s, not the ’60’s as is commonly believed.


    Dick Dale & The Del Tones, Misirlou (1963) (from the film A Swingin Affair)

  • He was given the title “King of the Surf Guitar” by his fellow surfers with whom he surfed with from sun-up to sundown.

  • During six months that began July 1, 1961, Dale’s electric performances at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, Calif., are credited with popularizing surf music. Said Paul Johnson, guitarist for fellow surf band The Bel-Airs: “It was a powerful experience. … The tone of Dale’s guitar was bigger than any I had ever heard, and his blazing technique was something to behold.”

  • His first full-length album was Surfers’ Choice (1962), which was picked up by Capitol Records and distributed nationally. Dale soon began appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in films where he played his signature single Misirlou. He was the first rock guitarist to perform on the Sullivan show.


    Dick Dale with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Pipeline (1987) (from the film Back to the Beach)

  • Dale was a surfer himself and wanted his music to reflect the sounds he heard in his head while surfing.

  • While he is primarily known for introducing the use of guitar reverb, which has since become a staple of surf music, Dale’s staccato picking is his trademark.

  • Since Dale was left-handed, he was initially forced to play a right-handed guitar, like Jimi Hendrix. However, he did so without re-stringing the guitar, leading him to effectively play the guitar upside-down (while Hendrix would re-string his guitar), and he often played by reaching over the fretboard rather than wrapping his fingers up from underneath. His technique influenced future guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. Even after he acquired a proper left-handed guitar, Dale continued to use his reverse stringing.


    Dick Dale, Misirlou (January 1996)

  • Dale has battled cancer several times throughout his career. According to legend, Jimi Hendrix is referring to Dale in the song Third Stone from the Sun when he says, “You’ll never hear surf music again.” It was allegedly Hendrix’s reaction upon hearing that Dale was battling a possibly terminal case of colon cancer, intended to encourage his comrade to recuperate.

  • In gratitude to his late friend, Dale later covered Third Stone from the Sun as a tribute to Hendrix. Though he recovered, Dale retired from music for several years. In 1979, he almost lost a leg after being injured while swimming and a pollution-related infection made the mild injury much worse. As a result, Dale became an environmental activist and soon began performing again.

  • Dale continues to play his original early ’60s reverb unit and Showman amps, which were designed especially for him by Leo Fender. His custom amp was the first-ever 100-watt guitar amplifier.


    Dick Dale, Pipeline/Surf Beat medley (2006)

    Let’s Go Trippin’   (1961) is often regarded as the first surf rock song. It was followed by more locally released songs, including Surf Beat, on Dale’s own Deltone label.

  • In 1995, he recorded a surf-rock version of Camille Saint-Saëns’ Aquarium from the musical suite The Carnival of the Animals for the musical score of Space Mountain at Disneyland. It was used on the roller coaster from 1996 to 2003. On May 21, 1998, Dale appeared during the grand reopening of Tomorrowland on top of Space Mountain (without a safety harness) with his gold Fender Stratocaster and played Ghost Riders and Miserlou.

  • In 1997, Dale appeared in the campy cult film An American Vampire Story, performing a rousing guitar solo on the beach with his son Jimmy on drums.

  • Dale is an accomplished horseman, exotic animal trainer, martial arts expert, archer and pilot.

    Sources: Wikipedia, DickDale.com

    South Florida dates

  • Sunday, June 12 – Dick Dale and Laramie Dean with To Be Hated at The Vagabond, 30 N.E. 14th St., Miami. (305) 379-0508. Ages 18 and older welcome. Tickets $20 in advance online at Vagabond.Wantickets.com, $25 at the door, 9 p.m. Facebook event
    TheVagabondMiami.com
  • Monday, June 13 – Dick Dale and Laramie Dean with Gutter Queens at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. (561) 832-9999. Ages 18 and older welcome. Tickets $20 in advance online at RespectableStreet.MusicToday.com and by phone at (800) 594-TIXX, $25 at the door, 8 p.m. Advance tickets also available at Top Five Records, 10 S. J St., Lake Worth. (561) 357-7474. Facebook event
    RespectableStreet.com
  • Related links

  • LaramieDean.com
  • Dick Dale.com
  • The Dick Dale virtual museum
  • Guitar Legend: The Very Best Of Dick Dale (Amazon)
  • Dick Dale: Surf guitar king riding the wave back from cancer
  • Dick Dale on overcoming cancer, raising tigers and indie’s surf-rock revival


  • About Hurricane Hayward

    A professional journalist and Florida resident for more than 30 years, Jim "Hurricane" Hayward shares his obsession with Polynesian Pop and other retro styles on his blog, The Atomic Grog. Jim's roots in mid-century and reto culture go back to his childhood in the 1960s, when he tagged along with his parents to Tiki restaurants and his father's custom car shows. His experience in journalism, mixology, and more than 20 years as an independent concert promoter make him a jack-of-all-trades in the South Florida scene. A graduate of the University of Florida's College of Journalism and Communications, Jim is a longtime web producer for The Palm Beach Post. In his spare time, he has promoted hundreds of rock, punk, and indie concerts under the Slammie Productions name since the early 1990s. In 2011, he launched The Atomic Grog to extensively cover events, music, art, cocktails, and culture with a retro slant. Jim earned his nickname by virtue of both his dangerous exotic drinks and his longtime position producing The Post's tropical weather website.
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    One Response to What makes Dick Dale ‘King of the Surf Guitar’?

    1. saw last night in concert for the first time he kicks ass!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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