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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
* Check out our tribute featuring South Florida remembrances and photos

Related story on The Atomic Grog
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.

Continue reading “Gone but not forgotten: Surf guitar pioneer Dick Dale, 1937-2019”

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.

Continue reading “Photos: Laramie Dean and Jimmy Dale in South Florida”

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.

Continue reading “Surf guitarst Laramie Dean, inspired by mentor Dick Dale, overcomes similar hurdles”

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.

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

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.

Continue reading “Concert review: Dick Dale’s comeback revs into overdrive”

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?”

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.

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

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:

Continue reading “Dick Dale and Laramie Dean shred all doubts on recent tour”

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.
  • Continue reading “What makes Dick Dale ‘King of the Surf Guitar’?”

    Historic Dick Dale tour was 7 years in the making

    Video: See what makes Dick Dale ‘King of the Surf Guitar’

    Don’t call Laramie Dean obsessed. He’s just a guy who knows what he wants and knows how to get there, even if it takes seven years of slogging it out on the surf and punk touring circuits, several cross-country moves and a lot of luck.

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

    In 2004, when the budding surf-rock guitarist heard that his icon, Dick Dale, was in the market for a guitar tech, he dropped everything and drove from New Hampshire to Los Angeles. As fate would have it, Laramie got the gig. But not before the “King of the Surf Guitar,” known for his no-nonsense approach to life, gave him some blunt advice: “You better know your shit!”

    Time has proven that, indeed, Laramie Dean knows his shit. He also knows instrumental surf music and the concert touring industry. He has not only carved out his own niche as a solo artist, he’s spent years on the road as a guitar tech, roadie, bandmate and tour manager with icons and friends such as Dale, Agent Orange and The Queers. Now, he’s added tour promoter and booking agent to his repertoire.

    Continue reading “Historic Dick Dale tour was 7 years in the making”