Guitar legend Dick Dale dies at age 81

A look back at the career of the influential creator of Surf music that wrote and performed the memorable “Pulp Fiction” theme “Misirlou”

Guitar legend Dick Dale dies at age 81

Known by his stage name Dick Dale, Richard Anthony Monsour was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on May 4, 1937 from Lebanese and Polish-Belarusian descent. The legendary guitarist credited for creating the Surf music style, influenced generations of guitarists with his pioneering and innovative technique. But Dale’s first instrument was actually not the guitar, and it was through another instrument that he developed his signature guitar playing. Dick Dale started by playing the piano and trumpet as a child. As he grew older, influenced by Country and Folk music his goal was to become a cowboy singer and he first picked the ukulele and taught himself to play by reading an instruction book. However, it was another instrument, the tarabaki drum, taught by his uncle, that influenced his guitar playing, particularly his rapid alternate picking technique. While living in Southern California at age 17, Dale learned how to surf, and that’s where he perfect his playing of the guitar, drums and the trumpet. While playing at local country bars, he came across Texas Tiny, the host of “Town Hall Party” a show broadcast on the Pacific Coast, who gave him the stage name Dick Dale, because he thought it was a good name for a country singer. In 1961 Dale’s performances at the Rendezvous Ballroom on Balboa Peninsula in Balboa, California, are credited with the creation of the surf music phenomenon. His song “Let’s Go Trippin'” is often regarded as the first surf rock song. During that period Dale started to get fast popularity and the Surf music phenomenon spread worldwide. Dick Dale created and developed the genre drawing on Middle-Eastern music scales and experimenting with reverberation. He pushed the limits of electric amplification technology, helping to develop new equipment that was capable of producing distorted, “thick, clearly defined tones” at “previously undreamed-of volumes.” For this he worked mainly with Fender. Dale was also pivotal in the Heavy Metal music development, with the “breakneck speed of his single-note staccato picking technique” and showmanship with the guitar, influencing guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. His debut album, “Surfer’s Choice” was released in 1962 by Capitol Records, his fast popularity made him appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show, and in films where he played his signature single “Misirlou”.
During the mid to late 1960’s the Surf music genre began to slowly fade, with the British Invasion bands taking it’s place in popularity, and also during that period, Dale’s career was set back by rectal cancer. Dedicated fan Jimi Hendrix said upon hearing that Dale had a possibly terminal case of colon cancer, “Then you’ll never hear surf music again,” intended to encourage his comrade to recuperate. Dale, in gratitude to his late friend, later covered “Third Stone from the Sun” in tribute to Hendrix. During the 1970’s Dale made a pause in his career, as the 1980’s decade advance, Surf music started to regain popularity, but it was the memorable use of “Misirlou” as the theme song for Quentin Tarantino’s popular movie “Pulp Fiction” in 1994, that brought back the genre to new audiences. Ever since, new bands and artists have emerged influenced by Dick Dale’s guitar playing and technique. Dale released several albums throughout his career, he also continued touring worldwide until as late as 2016. On March 16, 2019, the legendary Dick Dale passed away from heart failure at age 81.

Watch Dick Dale and his Del-Tones performing his signature song “Misirlou” in 1963

Also look back at the famous 1994 Quentin Tarantino movie “Pulp Fiction” opening credits featuring “Misirlou”

Listen to the compilation “Guitar Legend: The Very Best of Dick Dale” on Spotify

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