Saturday Night Live
sketch. He's quite simply a formidable six-string force of nature. After a move from East to West Coast with his parents in the early '50s, the teenage Dale, a former drummer and fledgling guitarist (a lefty who has always played backward and upside down), met guitar pioneer Leo Fender. Fender used Dale as his test subject for the newly developed Stratocaster and then tried to build an amp that Dale couldn't destroy with his staccato picking and excessive volume techniques. After 49 tries, Fender came up with Dale's indestructible Showman amp, and freakishly loud guitar music of all genres was born. In the meantime, Dale's concerts at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Balboa, California (he often paid the newly formed Beach Boys $50 a night to open for him), solidified his reputation locally as a red-hot guitar slinger. Dale and his father recorded and pressed singles and sold them at shows, resulting in a Warner Bros. recording contract -- one of the largest of its time. Several hits followed, including Dale's signature "Miserlou," but surf guitar gave way to the British Invasion in 1964, and Dale faded from the spotlight. His cancer diagnosis in his mid-20s led him to Hawaii for treatments and recuperation, sidelining him for years. Dale eventually returned to California, where he became a huge success in real estate and settled on a large piece of property, where he keeps and trains exotic animals. Quentin Tarantino's use of "Miserlou" in Pulp Fiction
revived Dale's career, resulting in several albums and tours in the late '90s (Dale even had a stint on the punk-oriented Warped Tour). His unique attack guarantees that he goes through 100 picks a night, shredding them on his impossibly heavy-gauge strings, which have been compared to everything from bridge cable to power lines. Dick Dale, now in his 60s and on the cusp of releasing his latest album, Spatial Disorientation
, retains his title of "King of the Surf Guitarists" and remains an American guitar legend and a true musical original.
Mondo surf guitarist Dick Dale is to guitar aficionados what Mike Ditka was to the Superfans on the