Dick Dale is in a small group of great musicians. He created a sound. In the way that Bill Monroe created bluegrass or W.C. Handy is credited with establishing the blues, Dale created surf music. Dale plays the Hi-Tone on Friday, May 9th.
Surf music sprung like a Greek god from the the head of Dale (née Richard Anthony Monsour) in the late 1950s. There was something about the giant waves of amplified notes and the swells of heady rhythm that spoke to the hearts of California's adolescent baby-boomers.
Dale's wild sound summons visions of California. That is due in part to his close relationship with electric-guitar pioneer Leo Fender. Fender was famous as a tinkering experimenter in both guitars and amplification. It's said that Fender fell out laughing when he gave a prototype Stratocaster to the lefty Dale, who never thought twice and flipped the instrument backward years before Hendrix popularized the move.
Dale's music also reflects his Middle Eastern heritage. Before he learned guitar, an uncle taught him how to play the tarabaki (also known as the goblet drum) to accompany him as he played the oud (an Arabic take on the lute). Those microtonal notes would influence Dale, whose sound would always have a Moorish, Spanish sound. That sound fit perfectly into the competitive, immersive culture of surfing.
As Dale took off in popularity, Fender was right there at his side developing amplification to keep up with Dale's energetic and sold-out live performances.
Dale's California celebrity manifested itself in some interesting places. He composed the soundtrack for the Space Mountain rollercoaster at Disneyland. Younger audiences will associate Dale with Quentin Taratino's Pulp Fiction soundtrack, which included Dale's "Misirlou." — Joe Boone