Surf Guitar King Dick Dale Dies
Photo by C. Elliott
Dick Dale, the undisputed King of the Surf Guitar, died Saturday at the age of 81 after years of illness.
He was born Richard Monsour in Boston to a mother with Eastern European roots and a Lebanese father who exposed his son to sounds that would later embed themselves in his one-of-a-kind music. While still a child, Dale moved to California with his family, soaking up inspiration from the ocean that added his signature kick to the mix.
Loved by surfers who packed clubs to see him with the Del-Tones in the early ’60s, Dale found wider fame when he performed his song “Misirlou” (sometimes spelled “Miserlou”) adapted from a traditional Arabic song, on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1963 — and again, for a whole new generation, when it was used to open the 1994 film Pulp Fiction.
The ocean was key in forming Dale’s signature sound. He described it in interviews as mimicking the sound of curling, breaking waves, from the perspective of a surfer riding them. There was a country flavor to Dale’s sound as well: He first picked up the guitar (after testing the waters on trumpet and ukulele) to try to be like one of his heroes, Hank Williams, according to the Los Angeles Times. A friend had suggested he call himself “Dick Dale” because it sounded like a name for a country singer, the LA Times reported.
Once Dale found his own sound, he kept the folks at Fender busy trying to build an electric guitar that could withstand the heat and fury of his playing and an amp that would go as loud as he desired to fill the room with his giant sound.
That sound inspired countless guitarists from multiple generations, including Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, and the Beach Boys.
RIP, Dick Dale.