Dick Dale, King Of Surf Guitar, Dies At 81 | WGLT

Dick Dale, King Of Surf Guitar, Dies At 81

Mar 18, 2019
Originally published on March 18, 2019 7:07 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Fans and fellow musicians today are remembering the king of the surf guitar. Dick Dale died Saturday at the age of 81. He and his band, the Del-Tones, are credited with recording the first surf instrumental to hit the charts, "Let's Go Trippin'." It's about cars, not drugs.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GO TRIPPIN'")

DICK DALE AND THE DEL-TONES: Let's go trippin'.

CHANG: Dick Dale's sound inspired legions of musicians from the 1960s to today. NPR's Tom Cole has this appreciation.

TOM COLE, BYLINE: The king of the surf guitar was born inland in Massachusetts to a family of immigrants, as he told WHYY's Fresh Air in 1993.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DICK DALE: My father's side of the family - his mother and father were born in Beirut, Lebanon. So I had that influence of that Arabic music.

COLE: He was born Richard Anthony Monsour. And it turns out his best-known anthem to Southern California surfing, "Misirlou," was inspired by an old Mediterranean melody.

(SOUNDBITE OF DICK DALE AND THE DEL-TONES SONG, "MISIRLOU")

COLE: Dale told the public radio program Rock 'N' Roll America (ph) in 1998 that he heard his uncle play the tune.

(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW, "ROCK 'N' ROLL AMERICA")

DALE: "Misirlou" was played slow - (vocalizing). I took it, and I said, God, I can't play that slow because it isn't full. It wasn't a fat, full sound. So I went, (vocalizing), like that. I went (vocalizing).

(SOUNDBITE OF DICK DALE AND THE DEL-TONES SONG, "MISIRLOU")

COLE: The sound Dick Dale was after did not have its roots in stringed instruments at all but in the swing-era big-band drummers he heard as a kid.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DALE: The first person that I really listened to was Gene Krupa on drums. And I wanted to get a thick, deep sound sounding like a big floor tom-tom.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLE: So it was drums and the old melodies he heard at home and the thunder of the waves he surfed after his family moved to Southern California when he was 16. The guitarist eventually became known as much for the volume of his shows as for his fast staccato picking that - legend has it - melted guitar picks. But he told NPR in 1994 that wasn't quite right.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

DALE: They grind down completely in half.

COLE: Dick Dale was an early guitar god, but the British Invasion helped silence the surf music craze. Dale played Vegas, sold real estate, opened a few nightclubs. But he made a comeback in 1994 when "Misirlou" opened the hit movie "Pulp Fiction." He recorded new albums and reached new fans - surf punks and skate punks. And in a final twist, Dick Dale abandoned the beach.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DALE: I wanted peace. So I went up to the high desert. And if I don't speak, I can hear my ears ring. And it's just peaceful - so peaceful.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLE: Tom Cole, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.