Born Richard Anthony Monsour, 4 May 1937, Boston, Massachusetts
Dick Dale is the inventor of surf music, a genre that had its greatest popularity between 1961 and 1965. Influenced by Duane Eddy’s twang, he played a heavy staccato on the bass strings with the reverb turned up high. His importance and influence are not adequately reflected in his meagre chart success. In the 1990s his music was given a new lease of life thanks to its use in movie soundtracks, national commercials and TV series.
Dale is of Lebanese descent from his father and Polish-Belarussian descent on his mother’s side. Born in Boston, he grew up in Quincy, Massachusetts, in a middle class family. His first instrument of choice was the piano, followed by the ukelele and finally the guitar, playing a right-handed guitar left-handed. Later he would also learn to play trumpet and drums. In 1954 the family moved to Southern California where Dale formed his own group, the Del-Tones. They landed a regular gig at the Rinky Dink Ice Cream Parlor in the beach town of Balboa in 1960 but soon moved to the bigger Rendezvous Ballroom, also in Balboa. There Dale played to thousands of surf fans during the weekends. Dick’s first records were mainstream vocal rock and roll numbers, like “Ooh-Wee Marie” (1958) and “Jessie Pearl” (1960) and did not yet foreshadow what was to come.
In 1961 Dale and his group cut their first instrumental single, “Let’s Go Trippin’”, often considered to be the first “surf” record. Like the vocal records from 1958-1960 it was released on Del-Tone, a label owned by his father. “Let’s Go Trippin’” sold extremely well regionally and reached # 60 on the Billboard Top 100. But it was the third instrumental single, “Miserlou” (1962), that would set the pattern for hundreds of guitar groups to follow. The addition of a Fender reverb unit produced the definitive surf instrumental. The surfer’s slide effect was created by Dale with a swoop of the hand down the guitar’s fretboard. In November 1962, “Miserlou” was included on his first LP, “Surfer’s Choice” (Del-Tone LPM 1001). Though its success was mainly limited to California, “Miserlou” attracted the attention of the big record companies, who were lining up to bid for Dale’s services. Capitol came out victorious and signed Dale to a five-year contract in February 1963. The label also reissued the Del-Tone album and two Del-Tone singles on Capitol.
For the next two years Dick Dale recorded extensively for his new label, both as an instrumentalist and a vocalist. “King Of the Surf Guitar” (named after his performing nickname) was the first new album on Capitol, followed by four further LPs. But only one of these was a live album, Dale’s preferred recording environment. In the studio the raw power of Dale’s guitar was largely lost. In spite of all the promotion, only one Capitol single (”The Scavenger”, 1963) entered the Billboard charts, spending one week at # 98. It was his second and last chart entry. Dale’s audience was dwindling and he was overshadowed by younger surf bands like the Surfaris (“Wipe Out”, # 2) and the Chantays (“Pipeline”, # 4), who had monster hits with their own original tunes. The British Invasion did not immediately sweep surf music away, but by 1965 the genre was in decline and the successful vocal surf groups (Beach Boys, Jan and Dean) moved away from their initial surf image.
Fed up with Capitol’s mishandling of his career, Dale left the label in 1965. By then he was a sick man. Doctors diagnosed rectal cancer and cut fourteen inches out of his rectal tract. But he recuperated, although Dale would only record a few singles during the next 20 years. Then in 1987 Paramount Pictures hired him as one of the vintage surf performers for the soundtrack of the movie “Back To the Beach”, a reunion of Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and their beach pictures of the early 1960s. Dick Dale played “Pipeline” with Stevie Ray Vaughan (released as a Columbia single) and found himself “rediscovered”. In 1989 Rhino Records released a CD compilation of his best sides for Del-Tone and Capitol. It gave Dale the clout to put together a new album, “Tribal Thunder”, which got good reviews and launched him on a major tour with a new band.
In 1994 “Miserlou” appeared on the soundtrack of Quentin Tarantino’s film “Pulp Fiction”, which gained Dale a new audience and even led to the formation of many new surf bands. Since then Dick Dale has recorded several new albums and toured extensively. Also he received several awards. He is still very active today.
More info :
Official website : http://www.dickdale.com
Discography : http://countrydiscography.blogspot.nl/search/label/Dale%20Dick
Acknowledgements : Steve Otfinoski, Michael Jack Kirby.
Dik, October 2015
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