CD Reviews: Dick Dale – King of the Surf Guitar / At the Drags (RockBeat, 2012)
Super-stoked anthologies of Dick Dale’s surf and car-related tunes
There are many anthologies, greatest hits collections and album reissues of Dick Dale’s material, but none have done the service of separately collecting his surf and hot-rod oriented tracks into parallel volumes. RockBeat’s issue of King of the Surf Guitar (not to be confused with his 1963 album of the same name) and At the Drags does just that, offering a generous twenty themed tracks each.
The surf volume includes Dale’s signature rendition of the folk song “Miserlou,” alongside popular singles and album tracks such as “Let’s Go Trippin’,” “Surf Beat,” “The Wedge” and the Bo Diddley-styled “Surfin’ Drums.” The latter even features Dale himself playing out the drum break to close the track. Though Dale’s reverb-heavy staccato guitar picking is the collection’s big ticket, there are also a few vocal tracks, including the B-side “Secret Surfin’ Spot,” as featured in the film Beach Party (and covered by Annette Funicello), and the R&B-flavored single “Mr. Peppermint Man.” Backing Dale were both his Del-Tones and a number of Los Angeles studio hotshots, including Barney Kessell, James Burton, Neil Levang, Leon Russell, Steve Douglas, Plas Johnson, Hal Blaine and the Blossoms. The twenty tracks collect sides from Dale’s tenures on both Deltone and Capitol, and offer stereo (2, 5, 7-8, 10-11, 14-15, 19-20) together with AM radio-ready mono.
The dragstrip volume documents Dale’s temporary turn from surf to cars, following in the trend of numerous Southern California acts of the time. The collection is drawn primarily from Dale’s two car-related albums, 1963’s Checkered Flag and 1964’s Mr. Eliminator, and adds the single “Wild Wild Mustang.” Musically this isn’t much different from Dale’s surf catalog, employing his trademark reverb-heavy staccato guitar picking, and backed by members of the Del-Tones, Superstocks and Los Angeles studio hotshots, including Bill Barber, Glen Campbell, Steve Douglas, Plas Johnson, and Hal Blaine. The single “Night Rider” could just as easily be a surf tune in both music and title. A few tracks add sound affects and Dale adds vocals to more than a half-dozen others, adding a Freddy Canon-styled energy to “Hot Rod Racer,” a Jan & Dean treatment of “Big Black Cad,” and rocking a Bo Diddley beat on “50 Miles to Go.” The masters are super-wide stereo, with only tracks 7 and 8 in mono or very narrow stereo.
Rock Beat’s tri-fold slip cases include four full panels of liner notes and eight-page booklets that add four more pages of song notes (by Alan Taylor and Dave Burke of Pipeline magazine) and a page of musician and production credits.