ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JULY 15, 1993
By Steve Newton
For more than 30 years he’s been known as the King of Surf Guitar—he invented the “surf sound” in 1956—but nowadays Dick Dale tends to downplay that title. The 56-year-old guitar legend has just released his first album of new music in 18 years, Tribal Thunder, and it’s not so much surf music as just awesome instrumental guitar rock.
“I am not shutting the door on the world of surfing,” says Dale from his 80-acre game ranch in the high desert of Twentynine Palms, Calif. “It’s just that as I grew stronger and wiser and more focused, I’ve expanded into higher realms. And what it is is a roller-coaster of sound; I have found how to mimic the ocean, the waves, the thunder, the screams of my lions and tigers.
“You see, I got the power of my playing from my animals and surfing and from martial arts,” adds Dale. “When I play that guitar, I bang on it like I’m chopping down a tree. I don’t play a guitar like someone who went to school at Juilliard, playing with just wrist and finger action. All my action starts from my abdomen and goes through my spine and goes up to my shoulders and arms and legs.”
Dick Dale plays guitar like no one else on the planet, as anyone cool enough to see his show at the Commodore on Wednesday (July 21) will discover. He literally attacks the gold-flaked Stratocaster that Leo Fender personally built for him, declaring war on strings that are blister-raisingly thick.
“I pick so hard on those big strings that my picks melt,” says Dale, who used to pay the Beach Boys $50 to open for him. “When I’m sliding up and down those big 50-gauge strings, it’s like putting your hand on a grinder. My fingers will bleed at times and it’ll hurt, but I’ll just jump all over that stage, goin’ for it.”
Because of his reclusive lifestyle, Dale has assumed near-mythic status among other guitar players and fans who have only heard his ancient records. The closest many people have come to witnessing Dale’s wild style is watching the video for “Pipeline”, which he and Stevie Ray Vaughan recorded for the Back to the Beach soundtrack in ’87. The tune earned a Grammy nomination, but that’s not why Dale remembers it so fondly. As the video reveals, he had a ton o’ fun with Vaughan, who used to play along with Dick Dale & the Deltones records as a kid.
“When you see me jumpin’ all over him, I’m yelling in his ear,” says Dale with a hearty chuckle. “I’m going, ‘Come on, do it!’, ’cause I’m jumpin’ all over the place and he’s trying to concentrate. And when we wouldn’t [re-shoot the video] it was so funny. He looks at me and goes, ‘Jesus Christ! It took me 20 years to make it look like it’s simple!’ ”