Dick Dale is known as “The King of Surf Guitar” for a reason. In the early 60s, Dick Dale incorporated non-Western based scales into his music drawing on an Eastern cultural influence that would be embedded into many of his well known songs. Dale’s desire for a particular sound resulted in a number of things. One, was his use of guitar reverb that resulted in a “wet” guitar sound that would become a definitive sound in Surf music. Two, he pushed the limits of his equipment. Often blowing up guitar amplifiers for his hunger of loud sounds, Leo Fender would work with Dale to redefine not only guitar, and amplifiers, but also volume which until Dale came around wasn’t particularly that loud. Another interesting fact is that Dale is known for stringing his guitar in reverse since he is left handed. He often plays the chords upside down and backwards. Even when he has a left handed guitar in his possession it is stringed upside down.
Dick Dale quickly attracted attention locally for his wild live shows, drawing thousands of fans weekly for his live shows, which were usually at the Rendezvous Ballroom in California. With the Del-Tones as his backing band, Dick Dale released Surfers’ Choice in 1962. Recorded live at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa Beach, California, with some studio overdubs, the twelve track album helped to define the Surf music genre. With songs such as “Let’s Go Trippin’” which is often called the first Surf Rock instrumental recording, it helped to bring the concept of Surf music to parts of America. It should also be noted that “Let’s Go Trippin’” was initially released as a single in 1961 on Deltone Records, where it eventually reached # 60 on the national charts and even higher on local charts. Two more singles followed on Deltone “Jungle Fever” and “Surf Beat”. Following the release of Surfers' Choice, which was released on Deltone (Dick Dale’s own label) he acquired a recording contract with Capitol Records, which garnered him further distribution nationally. Word spread and Dick Dale began appearing on television shows and in films. In 1962, Dick Dale and His Del-Tones released “Misirlou”, which went to # 1 in Los Angeles. The song which is now his signature is a highly influential song and originates from a Folk song that has been played in numerous different languages and music origins such as, Greek Rebetiko, Middle Eastern Belly Dancing, and Jewish Klezmer.
Dick Dale had this to say of the song in the Los Angeles Times in February 1981:
“I still remember the first night we played it ("Misirlou"). 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. I guess that was the beginning of the surfer's stomp.”
Dick Dale and His Del-Tones recorded King of Surf Guitar for Capitol Records, it was released in 1963. The album featured covers and originals and was named after Dale’s stage name “The King of Surf Guitar”. There are even vocals on some of the tracks by Dale (although there has been vocals on album every Dale album), the album features stand out tracks such as “King of Surf Guitar”, “Have Nagila”, and a cover of “(Ghost) Riders in the Sky”. Dick Dale’s next album on Capitol would be the album known as Checkered Flag. Released in 1963 this is the first album that Dick Dale recorded in the “Hot Rod” style of Surf music. At the time racing, cars, and surfing was deeply embedded in American culture. Many of the songs on the album featured themes relating to car racing and hot rods. Several of the songs actually feature car noises in them. The album was also a shift in Dale’s style. While his first two albums with The Deltones were known as Surf music, his “Hot Rod” Surf music differed with slightly different beats mixed in with elements of his earlier Surf style of music. Checkered Flag’s follow up was Mr. Eliminator in 1964. This album continued the theme of hot-rod’s and cars, but also showed off Dale’s Eastern music influence on the track “The Victor”. Following the release of Mr. Eliminator, Dale would record one more album with His Del-Tones backing him 1964’s Summer Surf.
Summer Surf is often cited as a return to Dick Dale’s early Surf style of music, but it also featured many new elemental features that were not as prominent on early Dick Dale recordings. The album has more of a production based nature, often sounding glossier than previous Dale recordings, reflecting a Phil Spector and Brian Wilson based production style. There are also numerous experimentations stemming from a variety of multi-cultural musical styles. “Spanish Kiss” exercises a Spanish guitar style of music, “The Star (of David)” reflects a Hebrew musical nature, the Gospel stylings on “Glory Wave” and Dale’s own Trumpet lead song “Never On A Sunday” all add to the experimental side of Summer Surf. The song “Banzai Wash Out” is a track amongst the songs found on this album, with its traditional Dick Dale guitar leads, keyboards and vocal harmonies it is undeniably a stand out track found here along with a few others. “Tidal Wave” incorporates an almost Waltz-like sound into Surf, and “Surfin’ Rebel”, and the title track “Summer Surf” all feature elements of classic Dick Dale Surf Rock with horn sections and fascinating guitar leads.
Dick Dale continued to perform live, in 1964 the British Invasion began to take over the charts and America. While a live album was released by Capitol in 1965, Rock out with Dick Dale and his Del-Tones: Live at Ciro's, Dale was dropped from Capitol Records. He remained popular, but in 1966 he was diagnosed with rectal cancer forcing him to temporarily retire from music. Dick Dale beat the cancer and began pursuing other interests, becoming an environmental activist. Dick Dale came back to music in 1986 by recording a benefit single for the UC-Irvine’s Medical Center Burn Unit, he also recorded an album Tigers Loose, which was released in 1986. Dale was also in the beach movie Back To The Beach. While Dale returned to music, his return would take off to greater proportions when his song “Misirlou” was featured in the 1994 movie Pulp Fiction by Quinten Tarentino. Being used as the movies title track, Dick Dale was instantly exposed to a new and wider audience. Most recently Dick Dale’s music has been featured in the Guitar Hero video game series.
It should also be mentioned that today's episode of Revolution Rock (or Revolution Surf if you prefer), was co-hosted by Derk Brigante of CJAM's weekly Surf show Surphony of Derstruction. It can be heard every Tuesday night at 7 PM on CJAM 99.1 FM and streamed/downloaded via http://www.cjam.ca/
Revolution Surf Play List:
- The Lively Ones – High Tide
- Huevos Rancheros – Huevosaurus
- PJ & Artie – Squad Car
- Dick Dale & His Del-Tones – Night Rider
- The Hot Rodders – The Creamer
- Blue Demons – Apache
- The Squires – The Sultan
- Les Jaguars – Guitaire Extrodinaire
- The Rhythm Surfers – 502 (Like Getting Pinched on 502)
- Dave Myers Effect – Speed International
- The Revelairs – San-Ho-Zay
- The Avengers VI – Heartbreak
- Looney Tunes – Desert Bound
- Dick Dale & His Del-Tones – The Victor
- Taekshi Terauchi – Kuroda Bushi
- Fifty Foot Combo – Ali Baba
- Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet – That Was Ear Me Callin’ A Horse
- Atomic 7 – Stab It & Steer It
- The Surfdusters – Chill Out
- Mark Broadie & The Beaver Patrol – Theme From the Old West
- The Von Drats – Church Key
- The Robots – Stinky Juliens
- The Challengers – Volcanic Action
- The Tornadoes – The Gremmie
- Dick Dale – Ho-Dad Machine
- The Wipeouters – Shut Up, Little Man!
- Los Straitjackets – Tempest
- Link Wray – The Shadow Knows
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