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Dick Dale

+ {Dick Dale & The Del-tones}

Long before film-maker Quentin Tarantino subjugated a whole new audience with his inspired opening-theme selection of DICK DALE’s `Miserlou’ for his 1994 cult epic, Pulp Fiction, the shout-y, guitar-pickin’ instrumental of 1962 was the craze of trendy teenagers about to take to the waves. DALE was “King of the Surf Guitar”, a man inspired equally by DUANE EDDY and LINK WRAY, but who would indirectly convince JEFF BECK, HENDRIX, VAN HALEN and hundreds of 80s surf-a-billy acts to assume a similar blueprint.
Born Richard Anthony Monsour, May 4, 1937, Boston, Massachusetts (his father a Lebanese emigrant; his mother Polish), DALE was raised on Middle East and European folk music and was adept at also playing country music on the ukulele. Influenced by superstar GENE KRUPA (a big band drummer!). The family’s relocation to southern California in 1954 and the advent of rock’n’roll and rockabilly began to shape the way DALE approached his distinctive sound. On the whim of a C&W DJ, and egged on by his father at the Del-Tone imprint, Dick – a keen sportsman and surfer) released his first record, `Ooh-Whee Marie’, in summer ’59.
`Stop Teasing’, `You’ll Never Hear The End Of It’ (licensed to Cupid Records) and `St. Louis Blues’ all attracted regular spots at the once-defunct venue at the Rendezvous Ballroom in nearby Newport Beach. His audience now from the surfing community.
As time passed and crowds grew, DICK DALE & THE DEL-TONES sprung up in 1961, and attempted to replicate in sound the visceral thrill of riding whitewater surf. While acts such as Seattle’s VENTURES had precipitated the craze for tremolo-soaked instrumental music, it was in these sunny climes that the surf guitar sound would be pioneered. Chiefly by DALE, who was duly christened “The Pied Piper of Balboa Beach”. Although he had competition in the likes of The Belairs, DALE’s demon staccato runs electrified audiences, while his association with the Fender guitar company allowed him to road-test new equipment.
Following the success of his Top 60-piercing debut single, `Let’s Go Trippin’ (widely acknowledged as the first bona fide surf track), and the not-so-exotic `Jungle Fever’ (very DIDDLEY daddy), DALE introduced Fender’s new reverb unit on the landmark `Miserlou’. If one didn’t already know, one’d never guess that the dynamic dirge had been adapted from a 1940s Greek pop song, such was DALE’s break-neck, finger-blurring ferocity on his Stratocaster (amplified, of course, all the way to 11). Backed up by pummelling drums and bleating sax, the overall effect was intoxicating, inspiring countless imitators; The BEACH BOYS of course, putting their own slant on the surf craze.
Drawing on his Middle Eastern heritage, DALE would subsequently incorporate various strands of world music into his studio experiments, making him an unlikely ambassador of the global musical unity long before the likes of PAUL SIMON and PETER GABRIEL. A debut album, SURFERS’ CHOICE {*7}, also emerged in 1962 and spawned a further reverb-crazed single, `Surf Beat’ (the flip to vocal twist, `Peppermint Man’), towards the end of the year.
Subsequently snapped up by Capitol Records, DALE released a string of albums including KING OF THE SURF GUITAR (1963) {*6}, CHECKERED FLAG (1963) {*6} – featuring second minor hit `The Scavenger’ – and MR. ELIMINATOR (1964) {*6}; the latter two concentrating on the subsequent hot-rod/dragster craze (alongside the likes of The Scramblers and Ronnie & The Daytonas.
Although DALE preferred his L.A. beach stronghold to touring, a young JIMI HENDRIX – who was stationed at the local San Pedro airbase – was apparently lucky enough to catch his live show on a regular basis. It’s fair to say that America went surf mad in the early 60s, the craze becoming so all-pervasive that even JAMES BROWN and ALBERT KING got in on the action! Needless to say, it also burned out just as fast and following SUMMER SURF (1964) {*6} and ROCK OUT WITH DICK DALE AND HIS DEL-TONES – LIVE AT CIRO’S (1965) {*6}, DALE bowed out of the spotlight, only to re-emerge a few years on with the dated and clean-cut COAST TO COAST (1967) {*2}.
DALE next surfaced on vinyl in 1983 with the “live” covers set, THE TIGERS LOOSE – `KING OF THE SURF GUITAR’ {*4} and then in ’87 – alongside the ill-fated STEVIE RAY VAUGHAN – on a collaborative cover of The CHANTAY’s classic `Pipeline’ for the soundtrack to retro-surf film, Back To The Beach. Fast forward several years and a whole new generation of landlocked kids were treated to the joys of aural surfing when DALE’s `Misirlou’ was used over the opening sequence of the aforesaid Pulp Fiction flick. The resulting resurgence in interest saw DALE back in the studio (having just laid down tracks for TRIBAL THUNDER (1993) {*7}) for a run of sets that comprised UNKNOWN TERRITORY (1994) {*6}, CALLING UP SPIRITS (1996) {*5} – incorporating at long last, UK tour! – and SPACIAL DISORIENTATION (2002) {*6}.
© MC Strong 2000-2002/GRD // rev-up MCS Jan2016

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