Dick Dale: The most interesting man in rock ‘n’ roll

Most people know him as the “King of the Surf Guitar,” and for his enduring hit song Miserlou, popularized in the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction. But there’s a lot more to Dick Dale, the seemingly indestructible rock ‘n’ roll legend who will be making his SunFest debut this year at age 77 on Wednesday, April 30.

Dick Dale
Legendary guitarist Dick Dale performs live on his 2013 tour at Grand Central in Miami on April 25, 2013.

March 2013 interview: Cancer survivor, rock legend Dick Dale: ‘I had both feet in the grave’

Dale is still battling the ravages of cancer that sidelined him for several years. But he’s made an amazing comeback, touring relentlessly and hitting South Florida clubs for the past three years. Now he finds himself on the main SunFest stage opening for Kid Rock.
[See the April 30 schedule].

But if you know anything about Dick Dale, his resilience should come as no surprise. Over the course of nearly 60 years in the music business, he has established himself as a renaissance man determined to live life to the fullest, without drugs and alcohol. You probably know that Dale invented surf music and helped Fender develop the modern guitar amp, but here are a few more fascinating facts about a fascinating man:

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Minimalist Tiki

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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Surf guitarst Laramie Dean, inspired by mentor Dick Dale, overcomes similar hurdles

Updated July 25, 2013
Photos: Laramie Dean and Jimmy Dale in South Florida

Laramie Dean with Jimmy Dale: Friday, July 19, at Churchill’s Pub; and Saturday, July 20, at The Mai-Kai and Mickey’s Bar. Click here for full info
Previous story: Laramie Dean returns to South Florida for surf-punk party

Laramie Dean, who cut his teeth as a surf guitarist in the South Florida music scene for five years before settling in Los Angeles, returns this weekend for his first area shows in more than two years. When we last saw him, he was opening for his idol, the legendary Dick Dale, in June 2011. Why the extended absence?

Laramie Dean at Churchill's

Like Dale, who has battled cancer for the past five years, Dean has had his own health issues. Luckily, both are back on the road this summer. While Dale tours the Northeast, Dean has hooked up with Dick’s son, Jimmy, for a July jaunt from California to Florida and back.

While Dean likes to emulate the 75-year-old “king of the surf guitar,” his illness was an eerie and unintended direction. “I had a staph infection, not cancer,” Dean said by phone just before hitting the road. “It’s like a blood infection. It just kills your body.” And it put a serious crimp in his musical ambitions for the better part of the past two years.

Dean, 32, first came down with an infection in Europe while on tour with Agent Orange in 2009. He thought it was gone when he embarked on his lifelong dream, a summer tour with Dick Dale in 2011. [Story | Review/photos] But the infection came back, and it got worse during a subsequent two-week stint opening for roots-rock guitarist Deke Dickerson.

“I was in the hospital for 42 days, and it was pretty bad,” Dean said. “I was paralyzed on the right side of my body. I had seven surgeries just to clean up the infection. But it’s been about eight months with no infection now.” Dean’s last operation was one year ago, in July 2012, and he recently got an MRI that gave him a clean bill of health. “Everything looks good now,” he said.

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Cancer survivor and rock legend Dick Dale: ‘I had both feet in the grave’

Dick Dale: performed April 25 at Grand Central in Miami with Gold Dust Lounge and Skinny Jimmy & the Stingrays. See below: Photos from the show

Rock ‘n’ roll icon Dick Dale is in the midst of a career resurgence at age 76, despite battling cancer and other serious health issues that would have derailed musicians half his age. He’s graced South Florida with three tours in the past three years, proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he’s in no mood to let anything slow him down.

Dick Dale
Legendary guitarist Dick Dale performs live on his 2013 tour at Grand Central in Miami on April 25.

Dale rarely does interviews anymore, preferring to let his music and legacy of a staggering 58-year career do the talking. But I was privileged to catch up with him via phone from his ranch in California before he set out on his latest tour in March. I promised to limit my questions and keep it brief, but Dale took the conversation in a dozen different directions, as he is known to do, and our talk lasted nearly 45 minutes. It was a fascinating glimpse into the world of not only one of the great guitarists of all time, but one of the most independent and strong-willed musicians to ever take the stage.

His Miami appearance in April showed once again how expertly Dale channels his talent and strength (with impeccable assistance from bassist Sam Bolle and drummer Dusty Watson) into his live shows. The band blasted through all of Dale’s instrumental hits, from Nitro to Miserlou. And when he grabbed the mic to sing a few songs, such as House of the Rising Sun, he quickly had the audience enthralled and singing along. Check out the photos below.

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A Dick Dale concert is always the best way to celebrate another year of The Atomic Grog

Dick Dale: April 25 at Grand Central in Miami. Click here to buy tickets online.

Dick Dale  at Grand Central on April 25

When last year’s South Florida dates of the triumphant comeback tour featuring the King of the Surf Guitar, Dick Dale, coincided with the one-year anniversary of The Atomic Grog in April, it was certainly cause for celebration. But it also created a dilemma: What to do for an encore?

Well, the legendary ax slinger has made it easy. He’s coming back to Florida, and The Atomic Grog is happy to be promoting his April 25 date at Grand Central in Miami. As a result, we’ll celebrate our second anniversary in surfin’ style.

The 75-year-old Dale is not only a living legend of rock ‘n’ roll but he’s also a hero for cancer survivors and a shining example of persevering in the face of adversity. In 2008, he battled cancer that attacked his intestinal tract. Then in 2009, he faced complications that put him back in the hospital and kept him off the road indefinitely. But an inspiring comeback in 2010 with his son and bandmate Jimmy Dale led to a full-blown tour that blew the doors off of The Vagabond in Miami and Respectable Street in West Palm Beach that June.

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‘Mai-Kai Mixer’ shakes up South Florida with rockin’ retro cocktail party

Updated June 16, 2012
See below: See exclusive photos from the bash

Related: Cocktail flights soar at Mai-Kai Mixer, reveal revolutionary use of rums
Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide | Rums of The Mai-Kai

The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar was jumping on Saturday night, June 9, as an eclectic mix of cocktailians, Tiki enthusiasts, retro hipsters, and surf music fans gathered for The Atomic Grog’s first Mai-Kai Mixer.

Atomic Grog Mai-Kai Mixer

Doors opened at 4:30 for Saturday’s early happy hour, and dozens of Mai-Kai faithful queued up early for exclusive flights of the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace’s legendary cocktails. DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones got the festivities in high gear with his wide-ranging playlist of retro party music, and up-and-coming surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays nearly blew the doors off the place. The party went full-throttle until the midnight hour.

The event was held to celebrate the The Atomic Grog’s 52 weeks of Mai-Kai cocktail reviews and the recent reintroduction of a classic rum to the 55-year-old restaurant’s acclaimed drink menu.

The rum cocktail flights sold out quickly as more than 30 signed up to taste sample versions of three vintage drinks featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Several hundred filtered through the bar throughout the evening for happy hour – which ran until 7 p.m. – and two high-octane sets from Deerfield Beach’s Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays.

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Florida at forefront of surf rock’s contemporary renaissance

Since its birth in the early 1960s, surf music seems to arrive in waves roughly every 15 years. And just as Florida surfers have played second fiddle to California, so have the Sunshine State’s surf bands. But it’s surely not due to lack of talent or effort.

Dr. James E. Cunningham talks surf rock
Dr. James E. Cunningham talks surf rock. (Photo by Hurricane Hayward)

As a fourth wave washes over us, music scholars are beginning to examine the history of this phenomenon that never seems to die. During the climax of an exhibit of surf culture at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton this month, an ethnomusicologist put Florida’s role into perspective during an hour-long lecture, “Surf Rock and the Music of the ‘Right’ Coast.”

“Surf rock isn’t just some fad that appeared and has lasted through the years,” said Dr. James E. Cunningham, an associate professor in FAU’s Department of Music. “It’s followed trends in technology throughout its existence.”

Cunningham floated his theory that surf rock’s peaks in popularity, and its so-called revivals, also coincided with breakthroughs in technology. He points to advances in surfboard technology, guitar and guitar amp technology, and even the media (radio, television, the Internet) that paralleled the music’s booms.

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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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Bands provide an eclectic, exotic soundtrack to Hukilau 2011

Related: ‘Rum Rat Pack’ starts a revolution at Hukilau 2011
The Hukilau crowns a Rum Barrel Master Mixologist | Full Hukilau coverage
2011 Hukilau photos and video: Facebook | Flickr | Go11Media

A compilation of video highlights

There’s a lot to like about the The Hukilau, the gathering of the worldwide Tiki community that takes place every June in Fort Lauderdale: The cool art and collectibles, the cocktails and camaraderie, the history and majesty of The Mai-Kai restaurant.

The Hukilau

One overlooked and under-appreciated aspect of the four-day event, however, is the live music provided by bands who travel from around the country to perform for the brightly-attired masses at a variety of venues. This year’s event was no exception. The Intoxicators from Tallahassee, Tikiyaki Orchestra from Southern California, The Exotics from Milwaukee, Grinder Nova from Atlanta, The Fisherman from New York City and The Disasternauts from Cocoa Beach all brought their own distinctive retro sound and style to the event.

Following are some video highlights and our recollections of the potent musical Mai Tai that we call The Hukilau …

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Dick Dale and Laramie Dean shred all doubts on recent tour

Dick Dale and Laramie Dean: Sunday, June 12, at The Vagabond in Miami
Monday, June 13, at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach.
See below: Photos from both shows

Laramie Dean at Respectable Street.
Laramie Dean at Respectable Street.

Concert reviews by Jim Hayward

The much-anticipated return to South Florida by surf guitar god Dick Dale was fraught with question marks.

Could guitarist Laramie Dean, a 30-something-year-old Dale disciple with big dreams but not a lot of experience on a national level, pull off a three-week coast-to-coast tour with no booking agent or tour manager?

Would all the young musicians joining forces for the tour – most notably Dale’s 19-year-old son Jimmy, drumming for both his dad and Laramie – be able to quickly come together as a unit and rise to the standards expected of them?

And, most critically, would the 74-year-old Dale be able to withstand the rigors of the road after years of health issues (he’s battling both diabetes and cancer)?

Jimmy Dale, drummer for both Dick Dale and Laramie Dean, at The Vagabond.
Jimmy Dale, drummer for both Dick Dale and Laramie Dean, at The Vagabond.

All of these concerns proved to be unfounded in the wake of the recent tour that sold out clubs across the country and undoubtedly left many eardrums still ringing. If the two South Florida dates are any indication, touring is the best medicine for the ailing guitar legend. Dale’s performances left no doubt about his abilities. He appeared spry and gregarious on stage and off, signing autographs and meeting fans late into the night.

As for Laramie and his surrounding cast, these guys performed like a well-oiled machine. And Jimmy Dale? The sky’s the limit for this kid. On the road for just a week, the bands blew into South Florida for a two night stand:

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