Live at The Hood Bar: Saturday, December 29th @ 8pm.
By Lisa Morgan
I was given the rare and wonderful opportunity to interview one of the most fascinating people I have ever met: The innovator of surf music, the “King of Surf Guitar”, “The Godfather of Heavy Metal”, “The Father of Loud”, the infamous, dynamic, spiritual and highly intelligent, Dick Dale. Here, handicapped by the limits of print space, I will do my best to articulate to you all that is Dick Dale yesterday and today based on a conversation that has left me forever changed.
Dick Dale’s 50 year career, in which he fused the worlds of surfing and rock and roll, has influenced practically every area of music and live performance. At 75 years old, he shows no desire to slow down even in the face of colon cancer. “I’m in renal failure as we speak,” shared Dale. “We just finished 33 concerts in 5 weeks. I’m not going to listen to what THEY (the doctors) say. I’m not supposed to be on stage. They want to go in and take what’s left of my bladder that’s already down to the size of a pear. I said NO! I’ll drink less water and I keep the company of Depends in business,” he laughs.
Born Richard Anthony Monsour in1937, it was the California surfers with whom he surfed from sun up to sun down who crowned Dick Dale “King of the Surf Guitar”. The breakneck speed of his single-note staccato picking technique and showmanship with the guitar influenced artists the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. Paul Johnson, guitarist for The Bel-Airs said, “I remember making the trek to the Rendezvous in the summer of ’61 to see what all the fuss was about over Dick Dale. It was a powerful experience; his music was incredibly dynamic, louder and more sophisticated than The Bel-Airs. The tone of Dale’s guitar was bigger than any I had ever heard, and his blazing technique was something to behold.”
Dick Dale met Leo Fender, the guitar and amplifier guru, who asked Dale to play his new creation, the Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Dale picked up the guitar as Leo watched in laughter and disbelief. Left handed Dale played the right handed guitar upside down and backwards, transposing the chords in his head to create a sound never heard before. Their partnership and efforts were responsible for the evolution of performance volume growing from a mere 15 watts to over 180 watts, as well as the signature “wet” sound of the Fender Tank Reverb.
“Let’s Go Trippin” is considered by many as the first surf rock song and launched the surf music craze in the early 1960s. In 1962, Dale released his first full-length album “Surfer’s Choice”, eventually picked up by Capitol Records. The album sold over 88,000 albums, which in today’s industry is the equivalent of about 4 million. Dale performed the song “Miserlou” from that album on the Ed Sullivan Show. “I still remember the first night we played it. I changed the tempo, and just started cranking on that mother. And it was eerie. The people came rising up off the floor, and they were chanting and stomping,” recalls Dale. Today, “Miserlou” is the title song for Quentin Tarantino’s “Pulp Fiction”.
Dale continued to play in the mid-60s despite rectal cancer. When Jimi Hendrix heard of Dale’s diagnosis he responded with “Then you’ll never hear surf music again” and encouraged his friend to survive. Upon remission, Dale, in gratitude, covered Third Stone from the Sun as a tribute to Hendrix. In 1987, he performed his single Pipeline with Stevie Ray Vaughn and was nominated for a Grammy. You can hear Dale’s music today in Disney’s Space Mountain, as well as on several video games and in many other movies and arenas. He has been inducted into the White House Congressional Hall of Records, The Surfing Walk of Fame in Huntington Beach (Surf Culture category) and the Musician’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum in Nashville. This is a short list of his many honors and accolades.
Dick Dale has NEVER put any illegal drugs or alcohol in his body. “In a nutshell, your body powers your mind. Don’t allow your mind to be so weak that it punishes your body so that it will kill you in the end.” Even now as he battles cancer he says, “I’m riding the pain train.” A student of martial arts for 30 years, part of Dale’s philosophy is based on the mantra, “Be careful. Good or bad, your thoughts become words, your words become actions, and your actions become habits. Habits become character. Your character becomes your destiny.” A self-taught musician, Dale is a master at the acoustic, electronic, bass and Spanish guitars as well as the ukulele, banjo, drums, piano, organ, electronic keyboard, harpsichord, trumpet, trombone, saxophone, harmonica, xylophone and even the accordion. The list of Dale’s projects, albums, singles and compilations is long and accomplished. More on Dick Dale’s music and accolades can be found on The Official Dick Dale Website, dickdale.com.
I asked him, “Out of everything, out of all you have done, what has been your favorite part?” He responded with one of the most magical and heartwarming true love stories I have ever personally been told; a love story that is a movie in the making. “My favorite part in my whole career is when my wife, Lana, came into my life and saved it three times. Her part in my career in the last ten years is an incredible story.”
Lana had proven to those around her from the very beginning of her life that she was gifted with special insights and intuitions. When she was two years old, Lana was given an album on which was a picture of Dick Dale with his rescued pet tiger. She looked into the eyes of the tiger and of Dale and told her mother she was going to be with that man for the rest of her life. Lana, a trained dancer as well as a nurse, never contacted Dale until much later in life as he had married another. When Dick was “on the way out the door” as he puts it, due to his cancer, Lana’s prayers to her angel, Bernadette, revealed to her that he was on his death bed and prompted her to contact the recently divorced Dale. “She kept me going,” he recalls. Lana, on three different occasions was able to see what doctors had missed in his lab work, ultimately saving his life. Lana, who lives with Multiple Sclerosis, deals with her own pain while assisting her husband. They both do so without the use of narcotics. “Lana is with me and helps me.” As his voice reveals his emotion he says, “She’s the most wonderful thing that ever happened to me, and she says I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to her. We’re two sickies taking care of each other. We’re a pair that was always supposed to find each other. We look at each other and say, ‘I wish we’d found each other when we were younger.’”
“Music to me is a door opener to people who love what I play. That’s why I play all types of music. I never play the same thing the same way twice. I don’t follow a music list. I make it up every single night. I’ll play a song within a song, within a song, within a song. Half of the time I do it because I forgot how to play the old song! Then when I am done, I sit at the table with Lana and we hang and talk with everyone until they all leave.” We help people and children who have these diseases. They see me in concert, and they see me doing it without drugs. We talk to them, we laugh about it and we look at it in a different light. Then they don’t lie around and feel sorry for themselves. We just keep going and take natural things and this is how we’re able to keep doing what we’re doing.”
“People ask, ‘What is love?’ You’ll know when love comes; love is when someone does something for you undemanding every day and they dedicate themselves to you unsolicited. Lana and I give back and forth. Lana tells people, ‘He is the breath of my life’ and she is mine. We do things together. Both of you should love the same things together. Lana loves boxing so we watch boxing together. She’s an artist, she sings, we love the same things. We could listen to Patsy Cline all day together. We love Vince Gill because of the harmony and the softness in his voice. We’re romantics. As we drove home together from Florida back to Wonder Valley, (he chuckles with a smile in his voice) we played the same song over and over and over together and we’d sing together. If someone was riding with us they’d have gone insane. That’s what it’s all about.”
Dick Dale looks forward to his show at The Hood in Palm Desert, Saturday December 29th. “I’ve never played there before, I don’t even know what to expect. I have people asking me why I’d play there after they just saw me play for thousands. But the guy who called me (Brandon Henderson, The Hood’s Live Entertainment Manager) was so humble and so nice. And I do that. I play just as hard for an audience of one as I do for thousands.”
He left me with this: “When you walk, walk your own path. Do not be a follower. You be the leader of your own beliefs. Get rid of your ego. The only use for an ego is so you’ll care enough about yourself to take a bath and not stink. People like to say, ‘I’ve gotta take care of myself first.’ What you’ve got to do is empty yourself out and help others like the elderly and the children who are ill. When you reach out to them you’re not thinking of your own misgivings.”
The life experiences and words of wisdom that poured out from this man cannot be contained in one article. I strongly urge you to make it to this epic event at The Hood Bar on December 29th at 8pm. Hear and meet this man and his bride in person. Dick Dale is an experience, a gift and an American treasure; one which should not be taken for granted.
Comments are closed.