Officially described by the guitar company as a “Fender Legend”, Dick Dale has acquired many soubriquets over the years including the Father of Heavy Metal, the Father of the Power Players and the Father of Loud. While there are others who could challenge these claims, there is one title that is beyond question: Dick Dale is undoubtedly the KING OF THE SURF GUITAR as only named after 17 surfers surfed with Dick in the day. This name did not come to him by the Business. Now for years after 61+ years in the business and the Creator of his own Genre of music in 1955 Dick Dale is Guitar Legend Dick Dale. The only guitarist who plays over 15 instruments and plays left handed upside down and backwards and at the same time self taught.
Dick was born Richard Monsour in Boston, Massachusetts on May 4th 1937. His parents were also American-born, their families originating from Lebanon on his father’s side and from Poland on his mother’s. In 1954 Dick’s father moved his family from Quincy, Massachusetts to El Segundo, near Manhattan Beach in California, to work at the Hughes Aircraft Company. Dick finished his senior year at Washington High School in Southwest Los Angeles before working for the same company (in metallurgy and the heat treatment of metals) and joining the National Guard where he was in the crash crew.
By this time he learned to play the trumpet given to him by his uncle and had moved on from a plastic ukulele to a hollow body guitar to which he eventually added a pickup for amplification. He played country songs by the likes of Hank Williams, but he also had a love of the big band sounds of Louis Armstrong and Harry James. He was particularly influenced by the rhythms of Gene Krupa’s drumming, developing his own ability by playing along to his father’s 78s on kitchen canisters using knives as sticks, and he also picked up on the boogie rhythms of the old black blues players.
Now on the West Coast, Richard Monsour bought himself a secondhand solid body guitar and entered talent shows in country bars equipped with only his tiny amp and its 10″ speaker plus an old microphone. It was Los Angeles disc jockey T. Texas Tiny who suggested that Dick Dale would be a better name for a country singer and, with the advent of Elvis Presley, he added rockabilly stylings to his repertoire.
By 1958 Dick had left his job with Hughes to concentrate full time on music with the continued support and encouragement of his father, Jim Monsour. After considering an offer from Bob Keane at Del-Fi Records, Jim started the Deltone record label as an outlet for Dick’s music and his first three releases in 1959 and 1960 were rock ‘n’ roll vocals.
As well as learning to surf and taking up with the surfing crowd, Dick was making the acquaintance of other musicians and generally raising his profile locally. He even secured a small part as an Elvis Presley impersonator in the Marilyn Monroe movie Let’s Make Love. It was whilst playing the Rinky Dink Ice Cream Parlor at Balboa with his cousin, Ray Samra, that the group of musicians who were to become the Del-Tones started to form around him. Dick’s popularity had secured him a regular gig at the Rinky Dink, and he moved to Costa Mesa to be closer to the little shop he opened opposite the old Rendezvous Ballroom where he sold records, repaired record players and gave guitar lessons. Most of the crowd who came to the shop and the gigs were surfers, and it became Dick’s daily routine to surf, open the shop, go surfing again, and then play the Rinky Dink or, later, the Rendezvous Ballroom.
The Rendezvous was the home of Dick Dale & The Del-Tones from 1958 throughout the second half of 1963 with their line-up of two guitars, two saxes, piano, bass guitar and drums. Membership of the band was fairly fluid and at various times in these early years The Del-Tones included the following musicians: Art Munson and Nick O’Malley (guitar); Barry Rillera (sax/guitar); Jerry Brown, Larry Gillette and Lee Farrell (sax); Bill Barber (piano), Ray Samra, Rick Rillera, Bryan Dietz, Jerry Levington and Fred McNut (bass); George Dumas, Drew Johnson, Jack Lake and Jerry Stevens (drums).
Dick was by now playing a Fender Stratocaster. A conventionally strung, right-handed model played upside down by the left-handed Dick. With the tremolo bar and control knobs obstructing his style, Dick encouraged Leo Fender (whose factory was a mere 25 miles away at Fullerton) to produce a left-handed model with a right-handed neck so that he could continue to play with the strings set the same way.
Over time Dick worked with Fender to help develop the Dual Showman amp with its two 15″ JBL speakers to give the clean, undistorted power required to reach a hall full of foot-stomping kids. But the biggest breakthrough in Dick’s sound came with a reverb effect for guitar. He wanted to add vibrato to his vocals and suggested the reverb unit on a Hammond organ to Leo who came up with the Fender Reverb Unit that Dick ended up using to enhance the sound of his guitar. This tube-powered spring reverb gave the guitar a dripping, wet sound that became a trademark of surf music. The Fender Reverb was produced from 1961 to 1966 when, it was replaced by the solid-state model. But, demand has meant that the tube version has twice been reintroduced and it is still available today.
In the summer of 1961 Dick recorded an instrumental he had created that the kids at the Rendezvous loved to stomp to. Let’s Go Trippin’ (c/w Del-Tone Rock) was released on Deltone Records in September and is widely regarded as the first surf instrumental record. What made it a surf record? In Dick’s own words: “Surf music is one thing: it’s a heavy staccato sound that is played through a Showman amplifier – nothing but.” Such was its popularity that it reached the Billboard Top 100, peaking at #60 in November – quite a feat for such a small label. Three more singles followed in 1962: Jungle Fever / Shake n’ Stomp, Miserlou / Eight Till Midnight and the vocal Peppermint Man c/w Surf Beat. In November of that year Deltone released their first and only LP: Surfers’ Choice by Dick Dale & The Del-Tones. It was a phenomenal seller, shifting 75,000 copies in three months in southern California and awakening the interest of Los Angeles-based Capitol Records – the first major label on the West Coast.
Surf/Rock Music was becoming a national craze as both The Chantays and The Surfaris reached the Top 10 with their big hits Pipeline and Wipe Out. After the January 1963 release of A Run For Life c/w Lovin’ On My Brain, a deal with Capitol saw them distribute Deltone reissues of both the Miserlou and Surf Beat singles. Capitol also reissued the Surfers’ Choice LP which made #59 on the album charts and they pushed Miserlou hard, but it failed to chart nationally.
Dick’s summer ’63 album crowned him King Of The Surf Guitar, although the instrumental content was reduced down to five tracks compared to the seven that had featured on Surfers’ Choice. The second half of 1963 saw Capitol release no less than four Dick Dale singles, but perhaps this was overload as only The Scavenger just scraped into the Top 100.
Capitol had also picked up on The Beach Boys and, whilst they were best known for their surf songs, The Beach Boys’ early singles always paired a surf vocal with a hot rod lyric on the B-side. Hot rods were seen as the latest teen craze and Dick’s next album in the fall of ’63 reflected this. Checkered Flag contained just a couple of surfin’ titles and the following spring Mr. Eliminator was all about roaring rods. As far as the instrumental stylings were concerned, however, little changed apart from the actual titles and a few added sound effects to create a surf or hot rod atmosphere. It was back to a surfin’ theme for the summer of ’64 with the Summer Surf album which, like its predecessor, saw Dick supported by a full team of session players replacing his live band who had played at least some part on the previous Capitol recordings. Dick saw out his Capitol contract early in ’65 with a live album, Rock Out – Live At Ciro’s, but then disappeared from the scene as surf music became yesterday’s thing and he was diagnosed with terminal rectal cancer. The doctors gave Dick three months to live.
After an operation to remove a section of bowel, Dick gave up smoking, closed up his shop and retreated to Hawaii to recuperate. He spent five years there, eventually returning to playing before relocating to Riverside, California in 1971. Bringing over his Hawaiian girlfriend Jeannie, a top Tahitian dancer, he set up The Dick Dale Show and toured the Las Vegas, Tahoe and Reno club circuit, wisely using the money he made to invest in real estate. In 1973 he appeared at the 1st International Surfers Stomp at the Hollywood Palladium organized by Jim Pewter, who encouraged Dick back into the studio in the summer of ’75. Using Dick’s own band they recorded at Original Sound Studios and at Gold Star in Hollywood. The result was a very fine set of classic Dick Dale titles that GNP Records purchased for immediate release as Dick Dale & His Del-Tones Greatest Hits 1961-1976.
In the early 1980s there was renewed interest in surf music and Dick’s name was back out there again as he released a strong live album, again with mainly old titles, called The Tiger’s Loose. But it was 1993’s Tribal Thunder album for Hightone Records that really signaled a major turning point in his career. With new material and a new, stripped-down line-up of just guitar, bass and drums, Dick Dale blazed his way into the CD age. The perfect placement of his original single version of Misirlou in the opening sequence of Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 film Pulp Fiction gave Dick’s career a major uplift and brought him to the attention of a younger audience. Thirty years down the line it was suddenly cool to play surf music again and a myriad of young guitar bands were out playing the style across the States and around the world, while 1994 saw Dick’s second CD for Hightone Records, Unknown Territory, another blast of mainly new material.
In support of this Dick was gigging extensively, including internationally. In 1995 he toured the UK and the respected BBC disc jockey John Peel, who used Let’s Go Trippin’ as the theme for his program Home Truths, was determined to have Dick play a live session for his show. The pair got on famously, Peel telling Dale: “Don’t you ever come over here and not stop in for a session.” It was an honest open invitation and Dick returned four more times to record sessions for the John Peel radio show.
Iconic British independent label Beggars Banquet signed Dick for his next album Calling Up Spirits in 1996, while his most recent album was 2001’s Spacial Disorientation for his own Dick Dale Records released through the Music Force Media Group. Since then Dick has fought off another bout of cancer. He and his wife Lana Dale are Living in 29 Palms, Ca. and enjoying touring and as they put it the DD Music Lover Family all over the world. DD and Lana are a love story that will one day be made into A movie. Lana Dale is Dick’s Life as he puts it and always has been.
On an Important Note The Legendary and Iconic Dick Dale has lost literally everything four times and not including his Health as he had to battle Rectal Cancer as well in 1964 and beat it them. Twenty five years ago it all began again and so far and I thank God The Great Dick Dale is still with us miraculously. He gives the credit to his beautiful and saintly wife Lana Dale.
Be sure to check dickdale.com for all tour listings or write firstname.lastname@example.org as she answers well over 2500 emails per week form DD Music Lovers all over the World.
Englishman Tom Walbank was born in the town of Wells,1969, in the county of Somerset. Raised in Totnes, Devon, he discovered blues in his teens, beginning harmonica (which remains to this day his main instrument).
He studied the harp style of main influence Sonny Terry and played constantly through his twenties after moving to Edinburgh, Scotland. Here he joined blues trio 32-20 and then, with guitarist Steve O’ Connor, the acoustic blues duo Hot Tamales.
After meeting and marrying his wife, Leia Maahs, he moved to California in 1997. He also started playing guitar around this time in the style of John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Son House and Big Joe Williams.
Moving to Tucson in 2000 he started playing constantly in the local bars and clubs, establishing himself as a force on the local music scene, either solo or with guitarist Doug Smith or with Dimitri Manos and Mike Bagesse, aka the Ambassadors.
He has recorded ten albums and appeared on twenty others, usually adding harmonica. In 2009 he scored the movie Good Boy. He has won best blues band in Tucson five times, best blues band in Arizona once and (with pianist Arthur Migliazza) best blues duo in Tucson once, representing Tucson in Memphis in the International Blues Challenge both times.