Gone but not forgotten: Surf guitar pioneer Dick Dale, 1937-2019

Gone but not forgotten: Surf guitar pioneer Dick Dale, 1937-2019

We knew him as the “King of the Surf Guitar,” the 1960s rocker whose version of Miserlou in the film Pulp Fiction revived both his career and the entire instrumental surf genre in the 1990s. But he was so much more than that.

He was an American music icon, the originator of a style and sound that has endured for more than a half-century, and a true hero for fighting medical hardships that kept him on stage and performing into his eighth decade on Earth. Dick Dale left this world on March 16, 2019, at age 81.
More below: Dick Dale in South Florida
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Dick Dale, Skinny Jimmy Stingray at Churchill's in Miami in 2012
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Dick was still performing right up until his death, though the circumstances were less than ideal due to extensive medical bills. His website still lists the dates he would have played had he not succumbed to the diseases that wrecked his seemingly indestructible body. The final show that was posted would have been just this month (Nov. 9), ironically in one of the world’s surfing capitals: Malibu, Calif.

Dick Dale at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, June 13, 2011.
Dick Dale at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, June 13, 2011. (Atomic Grog photo)

He had survived several bouts with cancer and related diseases, including a near-fatal incident in the 1960s that inspired Jimi Hendrix to pen the lyric “we’ll never hear surf music again” in Third Stone from the Sun (1968). But Dick’s final battle was not one he could win.

Heart and kidney failure finally did him in after a lifetime of battling – and overcoming – every physical obstacle that came before him.

Born Richard Monsour in Boston on May 4, 1937, he first learned the ukulele and absorbed the traditions of his Lebanese father and Eastern European mother. He has said that he also learned the trumpet, banjo, piano, organ, harpsichord, trombone, saxophone, harmonica, xylophone and accordion. But once he heard big-band drummer Gene Krupa, it was all over and his course was set. Not on drums, an instrument he also mastered, but as a guitar pioneer.

When his family moved to Los Angeles in the 1954, he dove head-first into Hollywood. His first on-screen role was an uncredited bit as an Elvis Presley impersonator in the Marilyn Monroe movie Let’s Make Love. He started in the music biz in 1955 as a DJ, then played alongside Johnny Cash, Ernest Tubb and Gene Autry on a country music TV show. The stage name Dick Dale was reportedly given to him by radio/TV host Texas Tiny Cherry.

Dick Dale performs at Grand Central in Miami on April 25, 2013
Dick Dale performs at Grand Central in Miami on April 25, 2013. (Atomic Grog photo)

But surf music became Dick Dale’s claim to fame, a sound he invented to emulate the surge of the ocean. He developed a guitar style featuring melodies that crisscrossed the beat like a surfer on a wave. His intense staccato picking style, combined with Eastern scales from his childhood influences, made for a sonic experience like no other.

“I don’t call myself a guitar player,” Dick told The Atomic Grog in a 2013 interview. “I’m a manipulator of an instrument. I just make a guitar scream with pain or pleasure.”

To match his sonic fury, he needed equipment that didn’t even exist at the time. Electric guitar pioneer Leo Fender joined forces with Dick to build a new instrument – dubbed “the Beast” – that could withstand the onslaught. To complete the package, they developed the first 100-watt amplifier, loud enough to fill any venue Dick Dale played.

In the late ’50s and early ’60s, Dick Dale and the Del-Tones rode the wave of instrumental rock to the top of the charts. In 1963, he performed Misirlou, an adaptation of a traditional Arabic song, on The Ed Sullivan Show, one of the most influential TV variety shows of the day. He was the first rock guitarist invited to perform on that national stage, though he was later eclipsed by The Beatles, who famously made their U.S. debut on that same show.

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Photos: Laramie Dean and Jimmy Dale in South Florida

The summer tour featuring surf guitarist Laramie Dean and drummer Jimmy Dale made three stops in South Florida last weekend. The Southern California-based band made the cross-country trek to Dean’s former stomping grounds for two full shows plus a special acoutistic set.

Dean & Dale
Laramie Dean (left) and Jimmy Dale play a rare acoustic set in The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar on Saturday, July 20.

On Friday, they hit Churchill’s Pub in Miami for a “surf-punk party” with local favorites Pool Party, Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays, and Sandrats. Also performing was touring opener Hardship Anchors, the rockin’ SoCal punk band featuring bassist Trevor Lucca, who also plays with Dean & Dale. Laramie looked and sounded great, obviously fully recovered from recent health problems that kept him off the road for the past few years.

Before Saturday night’s concert in Pompano Beach, Dean and Dale donned acoustic guitars and played their first unplugged set ever, along with the band’s sax player Alex Lewis. Opening with the classic Miserlou (popularized by Jimmy’s dad, the legendary Dick Dale), they rocked the packed Molokai bar in the famous Fort Lauderdale Polynesian restaurant.

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Laramie Dean returns to South Florida for surf-punk party, three area events

Updated July 25, 2013
Photos: Laramie Dean and Jimmy Dale in South Florida
Interview: Laramie Dean, inspired by mentor Dick Dale, overcomes similar hurdles

*** Friday, July 19 – Laramie Dean with Pool Party, Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays, Hardship Anchors, Sandrats and D.J. Skidmark at Churchill’s Pub, 5501 N.E. Second Ave., Miami. (305) 757-1807. Ages 18 and older welcome. Tickets $10 at the door, 8 p.m. [Facebook event]

*** Saturday, July 20 – Laramie Dean and Jimmy Dale perform an acoustic set during happy hour at The Mai-Kai, 3599 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale. (954) 563-3272. Free, 5 to 7 p.m. All ages welcome. [Facebook event]

*** Saturday, July 20 – Laramie Dean with Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays, Hardship Anchors, and Morgan La Rue and The Shimmy Shake Revue at Mickey’s Bar, 350 S.W. 12th Ave., Pompano Beach. (954) 941-1611. Ages 18 and older welcome. Tickets $10 at the door, 8 p.m. [Facebook event]

Laramie Dean at The Vagabond in Miami, June 12, 2011.
Laramie Dean with drummer Jimmy Dale and bassist Trevor Lucca at The Vagabond in Miami, opening for Dick Dale on June 12, 2011.

Guitarist Laramie Dean, who kick-started the South Florida surf rock scene before moving to Los Angeles in 2009, returns for his first area gigs since touring with the legendary Dick Dale in 2011.

Joining him on drums is Dick’s son, Jimmy Dale, on this special “Dean & Dale Tour” that will cross the country this summer. The Miami date will be an old-school “surf-punk party” featuring bands representing both genres. They’ll also be playing Pompano Beach and a special acoustic set at The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale.

Touring with Dean and Dale is California punk band Hardship Anchors, featuring bassist Trevor Lucca, who does double-duty in both bands.

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Concert review: Dick Dale’s comeback revs into overdrive

Dick Dale: April 21 at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, April 22 at Churchill’s Pub in Miami. See below: Video, photos from both shows

Concert reviews by Jim Hayward

Just two years ago, it was unclear if legendary guitarist Dick Dale would ever tour again. Now in his 70s, the man who invented surf music more than 50 years ago was battling complications in 2010 after a bout with cancer in 2008.

Dick Dale at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, April 21, 2012.
Dick Dale at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, April 21, 2012.

Then, miraculously, his health improved. He and his son Jimmy began playing acoustic sets, and by early 2011 plans were moving rapidly toward a limited touring schedule. Soon, the concept of “limited” flew out the window and Dale’s tour last spring and summer included six dates in Florida. The South Florida shows last June were nothing short of incredible [See review].

But rather than tire and grow weary on the road, Dale got stronger. “You’re my medicine,” he would tell the audience after his concerts, showing no signs of his frail health. Dale also clearly benefited from his clean-living lifestyle and years of physical fitness. His wife, Lana, also keeps him on track as his physical and spiritual caretaker.

More touring followed, and when 2012 rolled around he announced a rigorous 50-date jaunt across the country with not much down time. This time, there were nine Florida dates, including back-to-back nights in West Palm Beach and Miami on April 21-22. Would Dale and his band be showing any signs of rust or weariness? We would soon find out.

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South Florida welcomes Dick Dale this weekend, but when will the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

Dick Dale in South Florida

*** Saturday, April 21 – Dick Dale with Cutback and Skinny Jimmy and the Stingrays at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. (561) 832-9999. Ages 18 and older welcome. Tickets $20 in advance online at Slammie.MusicToday.com and by phone at (800) 594-TIXX, $25 at the door, 8 p.m. Facebook event

*** Sunday, April 22 – Dick Dale with Charlie Pickett, Skinny Jimmy and the Stingrays, Enough, Heartline Fits and Turboretardo at Churchill’s Pub, 5501 N.E. Second Ave., Miami. (305) 757-1807. Tickets $20 in advance online at Slammie.MusicToday.com and by phone at (800) 594-TIXX, $25 at the door, 8 p.m. Facebook event

Previous posts: Nothing can stop surf guitar king Dick Dale
The Atomic Grog celebrates first anniversary with the return of Dick Dale

By Jim “Hurricane” Hayward

Every year when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announces its latest inductees, I immediately look to see if some of the great, influential legends are finally getting their due. Tops on this list of the criminally unrecognized is the King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale.

Unfortunately, the Hall is typically relegated to honoring the popular favorites, platinum selling bands with egos as big as their paychecks and entourage. Rarely is someone recognized for true musical achievement, especially if they buck the rock establishment.

Dick Dale is the undisputed master of the surf guitar
Dick Dale is the undisputed master of the surf guitar.

So as 74-year-old Dick Dale rolls into town this weekend – perhaps driving the van himself and accompanied by wife Lana, son Jimmy, bassist Sam Bolle and small crew – we need to treasure his legendary status. Catch his shows Saturday and Sunday and witness a marvel on stage. Then line up at the merch table, where he still greets every fan who’s interested in meeting him after every show.

No, they don’t make ’em like Dick Dale anymore. Here then are seven reasons why he needs to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Continue reading “South Florida welcomes Dick Dale this weekend, but when will the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?”

Nothing can stop surf guitar king Dick Dale

Previous post: The Atomic Grog celebrates first anniversary with the return of Dick Dale

Not only is Dick Dale considered “King of the Surf Guitar” and one of the most influential musicians to ever pick up the instrument, he’s also a living testament to perseverance in the face of adversity.

Dick Dale in South Florida

The 74-year-old legend has carved out a long and storied career on his own terms, never bowing to the whims of the music industry. This might be the only reason the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame has not yet come knocking. But Dale has not only fought for his independence, he’s fought for his life. And won.

Fending off cancer more than once, Dale gives us many reasons to admire his relentless tenacity. And to pay homage when he comes to South Florida next month for two area concerts: Saturday, April 21, at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach; and Sunday, April 22, at Churchill’s Pub in Miami. [See all the show info below]

Consider the obstacles Dale has had to overcome in his more than 50-year career:

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The Atomic Grog celebrates it’s first anniversary in April with the return of Dick Dale

Updated April 2

This is the 100th posting on The Atomic Grog. It’s been nearly 10 months since the blog launched in late April 2011 with high hopes for bringing the coolest retro classic music to South Florida, along with intensive coverage of events, music, art, cocktails and culture.

Dick Dale at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, June 13, 2011.
Dick Dale at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, June 13, 2011.

It was a whirlwind of activity right from the start. We competed against some of the world’s top mixologists in the Miami Rum Renaissance Festival, helped organize the 10th annual Hukilau for hundreds of the world’s most devoted Tiki aficionados, then presented two concerts by surf guitar king Dick Dale.

With our first anniversary (along with another Rum Renaissance and Hukilau) fast approaching, we’re thrilled to also announce the return of Dick Dale, the 74-year-old legend who has shrugged off cancer and diabetes to continue to amaze fans worldwide with his groundbreaking guitar playing and impeccable live shows.

Dale will again be performing back-to-back nights in South Florida, this time on Saturday-Sunday, April 21-22. You can catch him at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach on April 21, and at Churchill’s Pub in Miami on April 22. Advance tickets are $20 plus service fees. They will be $25 the day of the show.

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