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Dick Dale, pioneer of the surf guitar, dies at 81

Nearly 60 years ago, surfers flocked to the waves along Newport Beach to try mastering the new craze. When the sun set, they needed some place to dance and Dick Dale delivered it at Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula. Nearly every week for two years, Dale and his band packed over 3,000 people into the ballroom.

Los Angeles, 18 March 2019 (MIA/tca/dpa) – Nearly 60 years ago, surfers flocked to the waves along Newport Beach to try mastering the new craze. When the sun set, they needed some place to dance and Dick Dale delivered it at Rendezvous Ballroom on the Balboa Peninsula. Nearly every week for two years, Dale and his band packed over 3,000 people into the ballroom.

“The energy between the Del-Tones and all those surfers stomping on the hardwood floor in their sandals was extremely intense. The tone of Dale’s guitar was bigger than any I had ever heard,” recalled Del-Tones bandmate Paul Johnson.

Dale, whose death was confirmed on Sunday, manifested a quintessentially Southern California story, forged in surf, sand and rock ‘n’ roll. They called him the Pied Piper of Balboa Beach, but his musical instrument of choice was defiantly not a flute. Rather, the electric-guitar-playing son of a Lebanese father melded elements of the music of his ancestral homeland with roaring instrumental rock sounds emerging in the late 1950s, and helped pioneer an iconic American genre known as surf music.

“When I got that feeling from surfing,” he told the writer Barney Hoskyns, “the whitewater coming over my head was the high notes going dikidikidiki, and then the dungundungun on the bottom was the waves, and I started double-picking faster and faster, like a locomotive, to feel the power of the waves.”

Those rushing guitar lines energized generations across the Southland and reverberated around the world.

Dale, who was 81, died on Saturday after a long bout with rectal cancer, longtime friend and former bassist Steve Soest said.

That guitar tone arrived via a blindingly fast picking technique, one of the centerpiece elements of his breakthrough hits “Let’s Go Trippin'” in 1961 and “Misirlou” the following year, that caused guitar picks to melt in his hand. A few decades later, director Quentin Tarantino tapped “Misirlou” to serve as the theme to “Pulp Fiction.”

The sound featured a liberal use of electronic reverb with his signature Fender Stratocaster guitar, cranked to wall-rattling volume through juiced up Fender amplifiers. Other rock instrumentalists charted wordless hits before Dale came to the fore in the early days of the electric guitar, among them Link Wray’s “Rumble” and Duane Eddy’s “Rebel Rouser,” but Dale helped push surf music into the mainstream through those high-energy performances, supplying a sound that paired perfectly with that growing surf craze.

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