by Paul Freeman [2002 Feature Story]

The fact that Dick Dale has yet to be inducted reinforces the notion that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is a sham. Dale is a force of nature who helped shape rock music.

The Musicians Hall of Fame in Nashville inducted him in 2009.

When we interviewed guitar legend Dick Dale in 2002, we marveled at the fact that, at age 65, he was still ripping it up on stages around the world. Eleven years later, following another bout with cancer, the indomitable Dale continues to rock up a storm. Like rock ‘n’ roll itself, Dick Dale’s music will never die.

True originals are scarce in the music world. Dick Dale stands among them, larger than life, the Paul Bunyan of rock, a Fender Stratocaster as his ax. His high octane instrumentals, such as “Miserlou,” which fueled the film “Pulp Fiction,” have influenced guitarists for more than 40 years.

The guitar innovator marks his 65th birthday on May 4th, 2002. That may be the age of retirement for some. But Dale keeps rocking harder than ever. His fiery performances are the stuff of legends. Few young players can match his on-stage energy.

“I get up there and all of a sudden the drive is there. It’s like flying an F-16,” says Dale, who happens to be a pilot. “You just say, ‘Go for it. Don’t look back.’ I get caught up in this tremendous charge.”

Dale thinks young. “My brain never left 20, but my body ain’t buying it,” he says with a laugh.

Never one to rest on his laurels, Dale has released a remarkable new album, “Spacial Disorientation.” It presents 16 dynamic, distinctive Dale performances.
“It’s like a musical roller coaster ride of emotions and sounds. Each song has to be a ten-plus, not just a filler. Every song is my best work. I finish an album and think, ‘I’ll never be able to record again, because I’ve just done all my best stuff.’”

“Spacial Disorientation” roars into gear with such powerful Dale originals as “HMFIC” and “The Eliminator,” followed by a sizzling version of Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water.” But Dale doesn’t always rock the Richter scale.

The album also contains acoustic gems, Latin and Middle Eastern flavors, down-home blues, a plaintive Dale vocal on “Belo Horizonte” and an exquisite rendition of “Silent Night.” He revels in variety.

“I’m always the rebel, going against the system. So I went against what they all told me to do. They said, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ In other words, go with the same thing all the time. But I don’t believe that. I can find something beautiful in every style of music I hear.”

Dale’s show’s draw diverse crowds. He says, “If you go to a Dick Dale concert, you’ll see ages six to 106. All walks of life. You’ll see teens with tattoos and body piercings next to college professors. You’ll see an array of everybody.”

Born Richard Monsour in Massachusetts, he taught himself to play a multitude of instruments, including drums, trumpet, trombone, sax, piano, accordion, ukulele, banjo and guitar. “I had no formal study. I just get sounds out of instruments. I don’t know an augmented ninth from a 13th. And who cares?

“The people who come to see me, they don’t know the difference either. They just know what they feel when I play something. That’s basically what it’s all about. I don’t play to the perfectionados. I play to the grassroots people.”

Dale and his parents moved to Southern California in 1954. He dabbled in country music. Then Dale met Leo Fender, the guitar and amplifier manufacturer. Fender handed him a new creation, the Stratocaster. It was like Thor getting his hammer.

The left-handed Dale, playing the instrument upside-down and backwards, conjured amazing thunder from it. His percussive, staccato strumming style can be traced to his childhood admiration of big band drumming great Gene Krupa.

Dale, an avid surfer, developed a sound that reflected the fearsome majesty of crashing waves. He began playing at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California, packing four thousand screaming, dancing fans into the place every weekend. Dubbed “King of the Surf Guitar,” he inspired later surf acts, including the Beach Boys.

Wanting to crank the volume ever higher, Dale blew up more than 50 amplifiers before Leo Fender designed the mighty Showman amp for him. No wonder Dale has been called “the father of heavy metal.” Dale’s influence spread far and wide. He pioneered the use of reverb. Jimi Hendrix idolized the charismatic guitarist.

In 1961, Dale’s single “Let’s Go Trippin’” soared up the charts. But he wasn’t hypnotized by the spotlight. “I never wanted to tour. I was surfing every day, from sunup to sundown. I had lions and tigers and other animals. I didn’t want to leave them. Music was only a window. One should have many windows in life.

“I’d rather be jack of all trades, but do them each well. That way your life is exciting. My curiosity has always driven me to delve into many different things.”

Dale has always lived life to the fullest. Serving in the Air National Guard, he rescued downed aircraft crews and earned a Presidential Letter of Commendation
for his heroism. His wide-ranging interests include martial arts, horses, archery, environmentalism, the study of indigenous peoples, and preserving endangered
wildlife. His menagerie has included such exotic animals as ocelots, cheetahs and jaguars. A licensed pilot, he has two planes and private airstrips.

Even though he didn’t focus narrowly on his career, Dale’s rise continued. With his band the Deltones, he continued to record electrifying rock instrumentals. He appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” as well as in such movies as “Beach Party” and the Marilyn Monroe vehicle “Let’s Make Love.”

In the mid-’60s, cancer came close to wiping him out. But above all, Dale is a survivor. When Quentin Tarantino resurrected the 1962 “Miserlou” recording for his 1994 film “Pulp Fiction, he lifted Dale from cult status to rock icon.

“Most people make a movie first, then put the music to it,” Dale says. “Tarantino is different, unorthodox. He said, ‘Dick Dale, I’ve been a fan for years. I would like to have your permission to take ‘Miserlou’ and use it as a motivating energy force to create a masterpiece of a movie to complement the masterpiece of your song.’ I said, ‘Well, go for it.’ This is a guy who’s had doors slammed in his face by the system. And I’m always for the underdog.

“He wrote the movie listening to ‘Miserlou.’ That’s why it was the title song. The movie ended up doing $300 million and look what it did for John Travolta. Look what it did for Dick Dale.”

It took Dale around the world. Adoring fans filled venues in Europe, Australia, Japan and South America, as well as the U.S. and Canada. Dale and his Stratocaster, affectionately known as “The Beast,” proved they could still thrill. His music now ignites many movies, TV shows, video games and commercials. “Miserlu” is a staple at major sports events.

Dale lives on a 29 Palms, California ranch. It’s nestled in the high desert, surrounded by mountains. Ten-year-old son Jimmy -- who’s already an accomplished guitarist/drummer and martial arts enthusiast -- sometimes performs with Dale.

Dale loves his home, but continues to tour. The connection with fans remains important to Dale. He answers countless e-mails sent to him through his www.dickdale.com web site and stays after performances to meet audience members.

He says, “I was close with Elvis and Colonel Parker once said, ‘To make somebody a big star, keep them away from the public and then they will become mysterious. But how long are we on this Earth? I believe, if somebody paid money to come and see me, why not step close to them, be friendly with them, talk with them and know them?”

“Spacial Disorientation” is dedicated to a fan who suffers from muscular dystrophy. Accompanied by his parents and a nurse, this young man attends as many Dale concerts as possible. Dale says, “He’s there on a gurney, with tubes coming out of his throat. He can only move his little fingers. He’s an inspiration. We’ve become close.

“I think I’ve been kept alive for a reason -- to continue reaching people. If you can touch somebody with your music and make their day, what could be more important? Music is a tool that allows you to reach out. When I’m out there playing, I’m just trying to make people happy.”

Dale pours his heart and soul into every performance. “There’s a saying -- ‘You’re only as good as your last show.’ Well, I believe that you’re only as good as your next show. If somebody came to see you and now they come back, bringing a friend, you owe it to them to put on a show that’s as good or better. It’s a lot of pressure I put on myself.”

He’s willing to subject himself to agony, to give his fans ecstasy. “I’ve gone through a lot of pain on stage. The faces I make when I play are not show business. That’s pain. I’m pulling on 60-gauge strings, when most people play on six, seven, eight, nine, 10-gauge, little baby strings. They call my strings ‘telephone wires.’ So when I play on those, the pain goes through the fingers really bad, through the calluses, then it touches the raw meat that’s underneath. I play so hard that the guitar picks just melt down.

“When I play my guitar, I don’t play with my fingers like people like Clapton would. I play from my abdomen and it’s all muscular. So I’ll pull on it and maybe pop my back or pop a rib out, because I’m pulling down so hard on the guitar. I play very, very physical. One man told me, ‘You look like you’re chopping down a tree.’ Another man said, ‘You look like your trying to exorcise Satan out of your body through the guitar.’ It’s an energy force that I build inside.”

He holds nothing back. “It’s like an explosion. My head pounds. Reaching for high notes singing, I can feel the blood in my vessels go. When I play the trumpet, same thing. Feels like the blood vessels are going to burst. A lot of great horn players died of hemorrhaging, aneurisms. Well, I can’t stop or slow down. When I go for it, I go for it.

“When I die, it’s not going to be in some rocking chair, holding a can of beer, with a gut on me. It’ll be in one big explosion on stage and body parts flying everywhere.”

While he’s still in one piece, Dale will keep working. He stopped surfing years ago, when a wound suffered in polluted ocean waters nearly resulted in a foot amputation. But he welcomed the opportunity to play a surf shop owner in “Local Boys.” Music from “Spacial Disorientation” is used in that film. He’s also featured, along with Mike Myers and Jason Priesley, in the TV spoof “The True Meaning of Christmas Specials,” written by Kids In The Hall’s Dave Foley.

Hopefully Dale, who has never consumed drugs or alcohol, will continue creating guitar excitement for years to come. “I don’t think of tomorrow, because I don’t know what tomorrow is. If I worry today about tomorrow, I’ve screwed up today. I don’t worry about yesterday, because yesterday’s gone and I can’t use it anymore. Three seconds from now, I could drop dead from a stroke. So I just think about this very moment. Each moment that you are breathing, savor that moment.”

For the latest news and tour dates, www.dickdale.com