Contrary to popular belief, Dick Dale's sound ranges beyond surf, metal and '60s hot-rod music. Before he revolutionized electric guitar at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California, in the '50s and '60s, he discovered how to apply "accentuation of rhythms on guitar" by listening to big-band era jazz drummer Gene Krupa.
"I play to the grassroots people," he says. "All different styles of music. I love all different windows in life."
Now 69, Dale recorded seven LPs for Capitol Records, including Surfer's Choice and Rock Out with Dick Dale and His Del-tones: Live at Ciro's in the '50s and '60s. Sundazed Records will reissue Dale's entire Capitol catalog, plus bonus tracks. Dale and his 15-year-old son Jimmy are completing a film documentary, Passing the Torch. Guitar Player magazine recently presented its Guitar Legend award to Dale.
Growing up in Boston, he idolized country music pioneer Hank Williams before his family moved to Southern California in 1954. "Country has always been my heart," he says. "First thing I ever learned was on ukulele called "The Tennessee Waltz." I learned guitar when I listened to Hank Williams. I used to play for 25 cents, selling my black-and-white pictures. Yeah, I cut my teeth in country. My whole dream was being a country artist."
In the '50s, he met Leo Fender, who gave him his first Stratocaster electric guitar. Playing a right-handed Strat upside-down with his left hand, Dale created rapid staccato lines, sustained hollow tones and introduced loud amplification to rock music.
"I play everything a certain way. I either get passion out of it or I get pain. I told my son to find the beauty in every style. I play my guitar like I'm holding a woman or like I'm flying an airplane — very gentle on the yoke. Yet I also play it very heavy. One guy said, 'You look like you're exorcising the devil out of you.' Everything comes from my body. I just find out whatever makes their eyes open wide, and I go to it."
The Gen-Y and iPod generations know Dale's signature tune, "Miserlou," from Quentin Tarantino's film Pulp Fiction and his appearance on Black-Eyed Peas "Pump It." They've heard his tunes on Pepsi and many other TV commercials and on Disneyland's Space Mountain roller coaster ride and on the soundtrack for the History of NASA video shown in Space Mountain.
Now he plays everything from "Miserlou" and "Let's Go Trippin'" to "Steel Guitar Rag" and the Black-Eyed Peas' "Pump It."
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