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Dick Dale Still Goes Trippin’

Dick Dale Still Goes Trippin’

“Clapton said to me, ‘With you, Dick, there are many imitators, but no duplicators.’” – Dick Dale

On Surf Beat: Dick Dale Still Goes Trippin’

BY MARK HOPWOOD

For rock musicians and audiences, 79-year-old guitar legend Dick Dale’s primal California scream has proven unforgettable.

A genre-starting talent, Dale visits Sister (407 Central Ave. NW) on Monday, May 9. Opened by local “surf noir” band Phantom Lake, the 21-plus concert starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $30. ABQ Free Press caught up with Dale by phone at his ranch home near Twentynine Palms, Calif.

Dale calls his genre “surf rock,” and pretty much every rock guitarist with a Fender knock-off has experimented with the Dick Dale sound. If you’re unfamiliar, start with instrumentals such as “Wipe Out” and journey through the sound of America’s original boy band, The Beach Boys, and sandy offshoots such as Jan and Dean.

Check out Dick Dale’s pre-Trump hair in the video for his 1987 collaboration with Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Pipeline”:

Yet Dale’s experience has spanned so many eras it seems unfair to pigeon-hole him with a “King of the Surf Guitar” label. But Charlie Daniels once sat elbow to elbow with Dale in the front row of a Nashville awards show.

Dale recalls, “As I was looking at all the famous musicians being honored, I nudged him and said, ‘What am I doing here?’ [Charlie] had his big old hat on, and he looked down toward me and said to me in his country accent, ‘Suuuhn, they can’t do what you can do.’”

Dale recalls, “As I was looking at all the famous musicians being honored, I nudged him and said, ‘What am I doing here?’ [Charlie] had his big old hat on, and he looked down toward me and said to me in his country accent, ‘Suuuhn, they can’t do what you can do.’”

In the 1950s, Dale was chosen by his friend Leo Fender to quality-test his first Stratocasters. He helped create his tube amps and discovered reverb for electric guitar.

“I sang country like Marty Robbins, but I couldn’t sustain the vocal notes with his sort of vocal tremolo,” Dale said. “I tried a natural vibrator, and then I made an echoplex. It wasn’t very good.

Dick Dale, the king of surf rock. (Courtesy of artist.)

Dick Dale, the king of surf rock. (Courtesy of artist.)

“But I had a Hammond organ at my house. I took it apart in my living room and adjusted its reverb so I could sing through it—a birdcage microphone like Frank Sinatra used to carry around. I took it to Leo and said, ‘This is it.’ It made me sound like Dean Martin. Then I said to Leo, ‘What if I played guitar through it?’”

Dale doesn’t use special effects on his guitar or amp. “In the late 1950s, I snapped the vibrator bar off on my Fender, and the nub of the piece is still flush in it,” he said. “I liked the whammy bar on the Gibson they gave me, a Country Gentleman. It made the most beautiful sound. I used it to play pretty Latino songs because it gave a real nice, soft sound.”

At a similar awards function, Dale remembers conversing with Eric Clapton. Dale noted that many musicians there could play multiple musical styles as opposed to his more singular sound. “Clapton said to me, ‘With you, Dick, there are many imitators, but no duplicators.’”

“Clapton said to me, ‘With you, Dick, there are many imitators, but no duplicators.’”

The songs Dale will play here in Albuquerque emphasize the first beat of basic, four-count rock. Audiences love songs where the first beat is emphasized, and that reaction is important to Dale.

Dick Dale with Phantom Lake

Monday, May 9, 8:00 p.m., 21+

Sister, 407 Central Ave. NW

sisterthebar.com

Tickets: $30

“I don’t play for musicians,” he said. “I play for grassroots people.

“I play the guitar like a tree: The trunk … is the base string, but it is not played hard. Then I play the branches and the leaves, but only loud enough so you can hear the voices and the words.”

The artist’s performance sets are minimally planned out, and Dale said songs can shift rhythms quickly, depending on where he wants to go that night. “And with my diabetes, I don’t even remember where I took the song after the night’s performance.”

Dale has chased many whims beyond his primary musical interest, and the man has amassed a heap of amazing stories to match. Yet his body is betraying him. Dale suffers a multitude of life-threatening illnesses.

While these conditions don’t dominate his musical life, they are always on his mind, because he needs to keep working to cover the cost of his and his wife Lana’s medical expenses.

“I have to keep doing this,” Dale said. “We have $3,000 a month medical expenses. I talk about it onstage. I joke, but I [also] try to encourage anyone with similar conditions to keep on pushing through. Don’t let it get you down.”

When his health allows, Dale takes a southern tour through Florida, a northern tour through New York and a western tour through the Southwest. He used to fly. Now he’ll drive a Ford van—with a Chevy van convoy—from his ranch near Twentynine Palms, Calif., throughout the Southwest.

That’s part of life now—and Dick Dale is all about living.

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Reporter, editor and photographer Mark Hopwood serves as president of Hopwood Communications. Contact him via email at mchopwood@msn.com.

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.