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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.

Playing with vigor and enthusiasm not often seen in musicians half his age, Dale roared through his shows at Respectable Street and Churchill’s Pub. His backing band of Jimmy Dale on drums and Sam Bolle on bass kept up the pace, and the band showed a great camaraderie and tightness on stage.

Modern Caribbean Rum
Dick Dale with son Jimmy Dale on drums at Churchill's Pub in Miami, April 22, 2012
Dick Dale with son Jimmy Dale on drums at Churchill's Pub in Miami, April 22, 2012.

The highlight of both shows – besides the rousing, show-closing rave-up of Dale’s signature song, Miserlou – was the interplay between the three musicians. Dale joined his son behind the kit, doubling the beat and showing off an affinity for the instrument that goes all the way back to his youth as an admirer of Gene Krupa, the influential jazz and big band drummer. He then took his sticks to center stage and bounced them off Bolle’s bass, creating a rhythmic cacophony that had the audience enthralled.

Dale then slung on his guitar and seamlessly jumped back into the groove. The sets followed the same basic pattern each night, just as in 2011, but they didn’t seem to be the least bit scripted. You could see Dick giving direction to Jimmy and Sam with constant eye contact, and they were able to adjust according to his whim. It must also be noted the incredible sound Dale achieves via his high-powered Fender Showman amps (a model he helped develop in the early 1960s). Dale and his band are so loud, they can pretty much overpower the PA, thus ensuring a great room sound in small clubs.

Dick Dale with bassist Sam Bolle at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, April 21, 2012
Dick Dale with bassist Sam Bolle at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach, April 21, 2012.

It’s a sound that totally envelopes the club. Fuddy-duddies are advised to bring ear plugs. But it’s not shrill, harsh or even twangy. The guitar master is able to conjure up soulful and bluesy sounds from his signature Stratocaster that would make one of his old admirers, Jimi Hendrix, proud. It’s a complex, almost psychedelic, sound that should dispel all notions about Dale being just a surf guitarist. His influence should rightfully extended to guitar legend of a much greater magnitude, as Dale himself often insists.

All the classic instrumentals (Miserlou, Hava Nagila, Shake ‘n’ Stomp, Let’s Go Trippin’, etc.), were broken up by improvised segments that segued into a few songs featuring Dale on vocals, such as House of the Rising Sun. Both nights reached their peak with a solemn yet raging version of Amazing Grace, which Dale dedicated to the military, firefighters and anyone who puts his or her life on the line.

After Miserlou brought down the house, Dale left the stage but returned to meet fans and sign autographs for hours. The several hundred faithful at each show left happy, albeit with ringing ears. Credit should also go to the opening bands at both dates who all performed admirably: Cutback and Skinny Jimmy and the Stingrays at Respectable Street; and Skinny Jimmy with Charlie Pickett, Enough, and Turboretardo at Churchill’s.

Even Pickett, a 30-plus-year veteran of the South Florida scene who has seen pretty much everything, was awe struck by Dale and made it a point to attend another date on the tour. “He was inspiring,” Pickett said.

Exclusive Atomic Grog photos
(click on thumbnails to see larger images or to view as slideshow)

Respectable Street photos by Jim Hayward
Churchill’s photos by Eduardo Ford, INTI Photography


Previous posts on 2012 tour
* South Florida welcomes Dick Dale, but when will the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?
* Nothing can stop surf guitar king Dick Dale
* The Atomic Grog celebrates first anniversary with the return of Dick Dale

Past coverage of 2011 tour
* Dale shreds all doubts with sizzling shows
* Dick Dale playing the tour of his life | What makes Dick Dale the ‘King’?
* Tour was 7 years in the making

Official sites
* | The Dick Dale virtual museum

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